My elder said it, my best friend said it, and—to her absolute horror today—my mother said it. Before I struggled with infertility, I have no doubt that I cavalierly said it to some of my friends, too: “Sarah was ninety years old before she had Isaac.” That seems to be the gut reaction whenever you tell your Christian friends that you’re having trouble getting pregnant. To be fair, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. All your loved ones want to do is bolster your faith by reminding you that you’re in good company, that the heroines of our faith had the same heartache that you do.
Consider some of the women in the Bible who struggled with infertility: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth. What do all these women have in common? God “blessed” them with children. And that’s great. In most cases it was miraculous! God looked down from heaven, saw their struggles, loved them, and blessed them with children. Sons, in fact. They all get the happiest of endings in the time it takes to read about three verses of Scripture. This is inspiring, right? This is why our loved ones reference them so readily.
The next time someone tells you about Sarah or Hannah, try to remember that response is coming from a place of love. Then smile tolerantly and forget it! The Bible was not written by women. If it had been, then we’d know more about these women’s day-to-day struggles and not go straight to the resolution of their stories. The matriarchs are minor characters in God’s redemptive story. The miracles of their pregnancies have more to do with the babies they had than the women they were. As a result, their stories don’t offer us modern infertility patients very much help.
The most inspiring woman in the Bible, to me, is granted three verses of Scripture. Anna was the wife of a temple priest, and she did not have children. She went to the temple courtyard every day, and she prayed. Because of her faithfulness, God promised she’d see the Christ child before she died. At eighty-six years old, Anna was doing her habitual morning prayer when Mary and Joseph walked in with eight-day-old Jesus. She saw (or maybe held?) the baby, she blessed Him, and then she died. That’s all we know!
At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38, The Voice)
Just like the matriarchs’, Anna’s story isn’t about Anna. Luke didn’t put it there so infertile woman could identify with her. Her story is in the gospel because she identified Jesus as the Messiah. The fact that she was childless is ancillary. I wish I knew more about her. I wish I knew how she survived month after month of disappointment. I wonder if she was ever pregnant. Did she have a miscarriage? Did she have a baby and then lose him or her to illness?
Anna teaches us something very important. Her three verses of Scripture prove that children are not a reward for a woman’s faithfulness to God. That may not be the primary point of the Scripture, but I know the Holy Spirit slipped the detail in there to give me hope when I needed it most.