To the barren one (on Mother’s Day)

Colleen Elisabeth Chao is an editor and author. She enjoys dark-dark chocolate, side-splitting laughter, and half-read books piled bedside. She makes her home near Boise, Idaho, with her husband Eddie, their son Jeremy, and Willow the dog. 




To the barren one (on Mother’s Day)

To the barren one (on Mother’s Day)

To the barren one (on Mother’s Day)

This Sunday, you will not be far from my thoughts, dear one.

With every fiber of your being you long to be a mom. You were made for motherhood, and everything within you cries out against your barrenness.

I remember.

I was 35 when I gave birth to my first and only child. Due to some health complications, I can’t bear any more children. If I’d scripted the story of my life, I would have had my first at 24 (he’d be 17 now) and at least two or three children after that. Instead, my fruitful years were spent celebrating everyone else’s babies—one birth announcement and baby shower after another.

Whatever could I do with empty hands that were made to hold children?

God met me in my emptiness with strong words that forever changed me. He sang Isaiah 54 over my longings, and as I clung to this Scripture through those waiting years, its truths were engraved into the marrow of my soul.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;

break forth into singing and cry aloud,

you who have not been in labor.

For the children of the desolate one will be more

than the children of her who is married, says the Lord.

Could my childless life truly be as rich and full as my friends who had children? Could I sit through yet another baby shower or Mother’s Day assured of some glorious purpose in my pain?

God said so, right there in the pages of Scripture—so I took Him at His Word.

I poured out my life and love into my teenage students and college-age girls. Over the course of my single years, I opened up my heart and home, discipling women, counseling kids in crisis, and leading Bible studies where God showed up in spectacular ways.

I wasn’t always faithful to invest well, and sometimes my sorrow and longing overshadowed my ministries, but by God’s grace I began to feel the weighty truth of Isaiah 54—although I was not yet a mother, I had dozens of spiritual children. I felt rich. Unspeakably, filthy rich.

But there was yet another aspect of Isaiah 54, a far scarier aspect that compelled my heart to continue hoping for children of my own. While I felt wealthy with spiritual children, the longing for marriage and motherhood wouldn’t go away. I didn’t quite know what to do with these words:

Enlarge the place of your tent,

and let the curtains of your

habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back;

lengthen your cords and

strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread abroad

to the right and to the left,

and your offspring will possess the nations…

Although God wasn’t signing on the dotted line, promising to give me my own flesh-and-blood, I wanted my heart to be full of faith that He couldI wanted to hope past the taunting tick-tock of my biological clock. I wanted to believe that with just one word He could turn my barrenness into fruitfulness as He had for Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, and Elizabeth.

Hope is scary, but it is our lifeblood.

So I fought to cultivate hope first and foremost in Him, and then a lesser hope that He would one day fulfill the longings of my heart for children.

The years passed by, and while I continued to bear spiritual children, marriage and motherhood still eluded me.

Isaiah 54 sustained me again and again:

Fear not,

for you will not be ashamed;

be not confounded,

for you will not be disgraced;

For you will forget the shame of your youth,

and the reproach of your widowhood [singleness, barrenness]

you will remember no more.

For your Maker is your Husband,

the Lord of hosts is His name…

I have a friend who waited till she was 41 to become a mother. I have other friends who continue to wait, well into their thirties, forties and even fifties. I had a lesser wait at 35. But those lessons learned while sitting in church every Mother’s Day, as long-stemmed roses passed me by and I sat alone while seemingly every other woman stood to be appreciated—those lessons will never be forgotten.

And so this weekend, I’m thinking of you, dear one. Although we may never meet on this side of eternity, I’m praying that your Maker, who is your Husband, will grant you hope in Himself, faith that He can do the impossible, and the blessing of many spiritual children.

Sing, O barren one… for you are precious and fruitful and honored in His eyes.