The word barren describes an absence of life due to an inability to reproduce. It is not death exactly, but it is akin to death. Death describes a life that has ended; barrenness describes a life that, for whatever reason, cannot be.
Barren was one of the vocabulary words I taught my eighth graders when we read a short story called “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes. Hughes used the word to describe a city stoop, and in my head, I picture the word barrenness like I picture Hughes’ stoop – dark, shadowy, cracked, and dirty, absent of flowers, light, and beauty.
That’s how barrenness often felt to me too, in the year that CJ and I waited for a child. Each month, I would allow myself to hope, believing that maybe, just maybe, this time would be the time. And month and after month, when I saw the tell-tale signs of an empty womb, I found myself bowled over by a deep and profound sadness, aware that I was, in spite of my deep desire to give life, still barren.
At church, I watched the women with their small children, envying their full arms and busy, bustling pews. In my own row, it was just CJ and I. No diaper bags, no strollers, no children to fill our arms or our laps. Empty.
At small group, where I was the only woman who didn't have kids, I tried my best to participate in conversations even when they veered, as conversations of young moms often (and understandably) do, to topics like cloth diapers and bedtime routines. I'd done enough babysitting to hold my own most of the time, but inside, I felt excluded. Alone.
In my times with God, I sobbed, wondering out loud why He would not answer my prayers, certain that He was holding out on me, perhaps punishing me in some way. Sometimes, I was angry. Sometimes, I felt so sad that I didn't want to get out of bed. Sometimes, I just felt a crushing sense of despair.
One day, I bitterly told CJ how much I hated the word barren. He listened and then looked at me with a gentle and compassionate twinkle in his eye. “There is another word, Abby," he said. "It's a good word. It’s God.”
Paula Reinhart writes in her book Better Than My Dreams about the phrase, “But God…” She describes it as a phrase we must remember when our lives don’t turn out the way we always thought they should. In those moments, we see disappointment, failure, and the absence of God. But, she says, in every story, there is always a "But God...." God is always at work, even in what feels like His absence, bringing good to His children.
In my barrenness, I would come to discover, He was breathing new life into deep places in my soul.
To Be Continued...