Spoiler alert!! So today on national television I will tell St Pam Rhodes that I cannot pray for a child for myself. My Songs of Praise interview actually happened a few weeks ago and as soon as those words fell from my lips I felt both pride and shame in equal measure as I sought to explain the complexity of faith in the context of disappointment. As the weeks have gone by, those words, the confident, defiant ‘no’ that I declared within the ancient walls of Liverpool Cathedral have stayed with me and they have begun to challenge me, inviting me to once again to wrestle with that last element of faith I still cannot resolve in the face of loss. Prayer.
prayer is the most complex and difficult Christian discipline to wrestle with in the aftermath of suffering
Over the years I have written so many blog posts about prayer but have published so few of them. In my opinion prayer is the most complex and difficult Christian discipline to wrestle with in the aftermath of suffering and nine years since my first miscarriage I know my understanding of prayer remains incomplete and my prayer life is still deeply fractured.
I now know it is not bad to want to have children and this desire does not mean I am less satisfied by a life with God than those around me
Over the years I have tried every different approach to asking God for a child and none of them seem to have worked. I know those verses about asking, seeking and knocking and I have persistently done this. I have prayed, I have gathered others to pray, I have created reasons as to why those prayers have not yet been answered, hoping I’d learnt those lessons and was now ready for my blessing. I have sought the prayers of those who declare themselves experts at praying for babies, I have begged and bargained and yet somehow, this thing, this rite of passage that seems to come so effortlessly to some has never presented itself in my life. For a while I felt guilty, ashamed of how much I longed to be a mother but now I realise that this desire is not wrong, whilst at times I know it has become an idol, I now know it is not bad to want to have children and this desire does not mean I am less satisfied by a life with God than those around me. But as the years increased and the losses continued I decided to take this longing into my own hands because I didn’t believe I could trust God with it. He had let me down and I felt humiliated in prayer. I’d had enough of disappointment and opening my heart to him and so I closed it, just that bit, just that one desire. I prayed for blessings for others but just not for myself. That part of my life was cut off from Him now, it was safer that way.
I genuinely believed the disappointment of persistent prayer had earned me the right to limit God’s involvement in my life
I have been angry with God for so long and for so long I have believed my disappointment had earned me the right to be angry with Him. It felt like He’d abandoned me, He’d moved away from me and at times I genuinely believed He didn’t care about this painful part of my life and so that’s why I took it from Him because I no longer believed I could trust Him with the longings of my heart. But although I’d thought I’d neatly severed just one part of my life from the reach of God, it didn’t stay that way. The distance continued to grow, the portions of my heart hidden from God increased and so did the distance in intimacy with Him.
I genuinely believed the disappointment of persistent prayer had earned me the right to limit God’s involvement in my life until in the past few weeks He began to show me I was focusing more on the mystery of unanswered prayer rather than looking to who He is, my limited prayers limiting my view of Him. And oh how I have missed the intimacy I once had with God! The joy of sharing in this mutual relationship of love and the freedom and expectancy that comes from an unguarded heart. I miss sharing my whole life with Him, of talking with Him about we’re doing together and working in partnership rather than me taking control. I miss worshipping with a whole heart rather than a guarded one, of letting God’s love and goodness consume me rather than holding it at arms length. I miss Jesus, I miss His friendship and the fullness of life He offers me.
God is showing me how stopping risking in prayer is affecting my whole person
In the past year as well as blogging (occasionally) and talking to Pam Rhodes about childlessness, I’ve helped set up a coffee shop in the centre of our community and now we’ve started a church in that coffee shop and it’s amazing and yet, I realise how my divided heart limits my faith for this project and my prayers. Each Sunday my heart is consumed more by worry and insecurities than prayers of faith. I lead worship on Sundays now and yet my fear and lack of skill dominate my thoughts rather than a heart that longs to praise my Heavenly Father and I think it’s because I stopped risking in prayer. God is showing me how stopping risking in prayer is affecting my whole person. Because when we risk in prayer we’re saying ‘I trust you this much’ and right now I know my prayers are saying ‘I don’t trust you’.
my determination to take control of what I’d once given to God has spilled out into the way I live
But this challenge of asking, seeking and knocking with my whole heart has not just reminded me of how weak my prayers are, it has also shown me how much it limits my relationships. In the depth of grief I needed help, I was fed and cared for beautifully by my community but now my body has healed and I have learnt to grieve and the strength I have grown into has slowly once again built a wall around my heart and the desire to show I am capable and that ‘I’ve got this’. But deep down I know I don’t, I’m weak and fearful and yet I’m scared to ask for help and I think it’s because my determination to take control of what I’d once given to God has spilled out into the way I live.
when we risk in prayer we’re saying ‘I trust you this much’ and right now I know my prayers are saying ‘I don’t trust you’.
Dallas Willard writes about how, in the first 12 verses of Matthew 7, Jesus shows the ways in which we try to manage our world on our own lead to disaster – greater or smaller, sooner or later. Thankfully verses 1-6 show how our tendency to ‘manage’ or control our world is a universal human practice, but in verses 7-12, Willard says ‘Jesus shows us a truly effective and gracious way of caring for and helping the people we love and it is in the way of request. Of asking, which naturally progresses into Kingdom praying. It is a way that actually works, because it draws people into the Kingdom rather than into the web of our devices and plans for them. It creates the community of prayerful love.’
I stopped asking a long time ago and I realise now how I am living outside of this community of prayerful love both with my God who loves me and my community and I want to move through my kingdom of control and back into the Kingdom of God. I still don’t know why the same prayers appear to be answered neatly and others remain unresolved. It doesn’t make sense but I know I want to stop managing my world and my faith because it has hardened my heart to God and to those around me.
God came to bring fullness of life not wish fulfilment and I realise now that fullness begins when I let go of control and ask for help, even if it scares me.
Instead I am choosing once again to believe in God’s goodness and His love for me, for the wealth of promises He declares over me and the fullness of life He offers to me. I know my life may not look like I want it to but I know I want my heart to be free in His love rather than hidden from Him and I know I have to start by asking with my whole heart not just portions of it. I also want to experience that joy and freedom and intimacy with Jesus once again because I miss it so much and I realise now it wasn’t Jesus who left me, it was me, protecting my heart that created this distance.
God came to bring fullness of life not wish fulfilment and I realise now that fullness begins when I let go of control and ask for help, even if it scares me.
…”prayer is the most complex and difficult Christian discipline to wrestle with in the aftermath of suffering”…
Oh this is so true. A wonderful, courageous blog post. Thank you for helping me think this stuff through to the end.
Thanks so much Sarah, so glad it resonated with you. Lots of love xxxx
I should probably read this over and over again. My heart hardened after my third miscarriage. Actually, it hardened after I had a dream I felt was from God saying my baby would live. When that one died (a girl), I abandoned my faith. I neither wanted to relate to a god who does that kind of thing nor bother with a faith where god can’t talk via dreams.
Thanks so much for your encouragement and for sharing some of your story. I can also remember those times when I believed and others around me believed my baby would live and it didn’t and it’s so difficult to know what to do with that and I don’t think it’s a quick process either. Sending you lots of love xxx
I don’t know what you’ve tried but I had success with prednisolone. If you haven’t investigated Naural Killer Cells then you might consider it.
Hi there, thanks for your email. I have been tested for this but I am one of the 50% who don’t know why they’ve miscarried. Thanks again x
This is very honest and courageous. I’m so glad you have come to a place of trust in the God who loves us and holds us and frees us to be honest in prayer.
Thanks Margaret x
Thanks for sharing this, Lizzie. My relationship with God is very damaged as a result of my childlessness. I know He is good, but I don’t feel it. I can pray for others (I’ve been told I have a gift) but when it comes to myself, all I can do is desperately plead with God to help me survive. My husband is even worse in that he now hates God as since he became a Christian, everything has gone wrong in his life (job, health, family), and he blames God. It’s a daily struggle but somehow I hold on to God because I know His character. I just don’t feel His love.
Hi there, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing a bit of your story. I’m so sorry for the struggle you and your husband have been going through and I can totally connect with the pain you’re feeling. It’s so hard and so painful, for me, it’s taken years to even get to this point and I’m definitely no expert on this. I’m sorry to hear how difficult it has been for your husband as well and I can understand his reaction given all that you’ve had to go through. Please know that the struggle of childlessness is a very deep and complex grief and it creates far more stress than many people understand, with stress levels registering alongside the experience of bereavement and cancer, this is no small thing that you’re having to deal with. I pray for God to reveal his goodness to you and your husband, I pray for blessings and for joy. Don’t beat yourself up, just take each day and talk to God when you feel you can but don’t feel guilty, He’s big enough to handle your pain and your anger at Him. With much love xxxx
This may be a bit of a bonkers suggestion, but why not try an Individually Guided Retreat (IGR)? I know we have IGRs twice a year at St Oswald’s Pastoral Centre in Sleights, and I think the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield (near Leeds) also run one a year. It might give you the space to find that courage again.
In the meantime, I’m still praying for you both. Xxx
Hi Lou, thanks for this x
Thanks for your very courageous post. It gives me encouragement to trust God even when it is painful. All the best.
Thanks so much Linda. Lots of love xxx
Thanks so much for sharing. I have felt so isolated by the grief and struggle of infertility whilst surrounded by friends and family who have children and whose lives seem so centred on that, coupled with the classic “oh well I guess it doesn’t matter since you have a good job” or “you need to get prayer” comments. Just thank you.
Hi Kate, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. It really can feel so lonely and it just makes it even harder when people think they’re helping but just say really insensitive things. Please know you’re not alone, everything you’re feeling is normal and natural. Praying for good friends in the midst of it all who are safe people for you. Lots of love xxx
Hi Lizzie I’ve just returned from a spiritual Christian residential weekend as part of my training to become a pastoral assistant in my church. It was a great weekend however the issue of childlessness came up for me again as there was so much discussion during the 48 hours about people’s children and grandchildren. The people on my course are lovely and I’ve shared my inability to have children with them. I’m 55 and have come to terms with it quite well. I just think that there is generally a level of insensitivity through lack of awareness around childlessness which needs to be addressed certainly in the Anglican church.
If I was nearer I’d come and meet you for a coffee, By the way I too have a dog called Betsy. Blessings, Jackie
Hi Jackie, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. It can be so painful when you’re gathering with other Christians especially and the conversation turns to something that makes you feel so left out. I know a lot of people who are finding it hard with grandparent talk and whilst it’s not intentional it doesn’t mean it’s not painful. I totally agree there is a total lack of awareness in churches and I keep praying that somehow people will begin to look to those on the outside and consider what it’s like for them rather than go with the majority.
I would always love to meet up for a coffee, so you don’t know, maybe one day it will happen!!! I also love the fact that your dog is called Betsy!!!! It’s a great name! Thanks again for connecting. Lots of love xxx
Dear Lizzie, I am so incredibly grateful to have stumbled across Saltwater and Honey! Wow! We have dealt with childlessness for about 18 years now, with many more complicating factors in the mix! I’ve read on childlessness but none from the Christian perspective that so poignantly speaks to the feelings around faith, hope, belief, trust in the God who is absolutely trustworthy. “Prayer is the most complex and difficult Christian discipline to wrestle with in the aftermath of suffering”…..this so beautifully describes the struggle I feel in my Christian walk, as well as your description of holding back just this one part of my heart, which can lead to an overwhelming disconnect (from God/family/friends) and mistrust across all areas of life. Thank you for sharing your heart and struggle, your love for Jesus and others, your bravery! Much love and blessings.
Hi Hope, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. I’m so sorry for the struggle you guys have been through, it’s not an easy story to live out and there are so many complications to the struggle of childlessness that very few people realise. I’m so glad you’ve found the blog helpful and I really hope it encourages you that you’re not alone. Lots of love xxx
Thanks so much for this. It’s just what I needed to hear. Have now set a daily time to pray for the ‘big things’.
So glad it helped xx
Hi Lizzie, thanks for being so vulnerable and sharing your journey. I recently discovered your blogs and am reading your book. I am so thankful that you have been brave enough to share your story and journey of faith as it really is. I am childless by circumstance, Ive have had my own saga of illness, isolation and frustrated prayers, of thinking I was almost able to join in only to find myself on the outside again! Even when churches try to be inclusive they so often dont get it because their own framework and world view is that family is everything so by implication if you are not in one you are on the outside and at best you might be able to partake of the crumbs. Now I realise how little I have valued myself, how much I have felt inferior to all those who I have judged to be more successful than me. You address childlessness and the issues in the context of faith so well…the struggle of faith when prayers are not answered and you are still in the ‘muddle’ of it all. It is so healing to read and to realise I am not alone. I certainly dont think you are inferior, so by logic, I cant be either! You are amazing, and I am very thankful for you and Dave sharing your story. Love and blessings to you xxx
Thanks so much for your comment. Everything you say is so true, church can be a really hard place for all the reasons you’ve mentioned but it’s so frustrating because it shouldn’t be that way. Thanks so much for sharing and yes, you’re not alone! Sending you lots of love xxx
What a raw and honest blog post. I salute you for your courage in writing it and being painfully honest in doing so.
So, I’m a guy that has been diagnosed with azoospermia, and therefore my wife and I cannot have our own children. This has been a complex and painful journey for us.
Before our diagnosis, I was vocal about my faith. I dared to trust God for miracles and easily prayed for others, even publicly. I believed it would be a matter of time before God came through for us on the topic of children too.
Our diagnosis was confirmed after a testes biopsy. The procedure required hospitalisation. Prior to being admitted to hospital (it was a planned procedure), I visited someone who prayed over me for life & healing. I desperately clung to faith that a miracle will happen and that the doctors will somehow find a positive result. Two days after the op, the news came: confirmed, no sperm. I was devastated, my faith shattered.
Besides being overcome by grief at the news, I faced a crisis of faith. I believed (and I still do) that God promised me a family. However, the medical diagnosis was clear. No children of your own for you. Worse, I adore kids. Always wanted a family.
This is where I can relate deeply. Like you, I was unable to pray. I felt rage/anger like never before. A deep despondence, questioning my worth and the future. Questioning God.
But God… Slowly, though friends and over many interactions over many months, God has been coming for my heart. Bit by bit. It started with me having to repent from losing hope, for Christ is hope. I needed to repent of my anger, and the fact that I thought God was a liar.
To this day, I still don’t have an understanding of the reasons or the why this happened. One of the hardest things was to surrender my right to understanding.
I still have days where I grieve deeply, or where I find my faith challenged. Even days when I’m angry. And, I fully appreciate that our stories are vastly different (despite both being about children).
So I’ll end off with this: I think you are absolutely on the right track. Despite it being hard, trust God with your whole heart. And no matter what you do, don’t pull away from God. Life is found in Him. It is hard to sit with God after tragedy. It is hard to shout at Him, and bring your raw emotions to Him. To hear Him. But, like Adam hiding in the garden, God comes and finds us. Even in our deepest grief.
But only if we let Him.
Thanks for stirring my heart through your writing. For prompting me to share a small bit of my story. And thanks for putting in words what I’ve been feeling for a long time. ReadingIit opened the floodgates of my tears and brought a balm of shared experience to my heart.
May you find the love of a Father in your pain. I’m reminded of the scripture in Hebrews saying that we have a high priest who is not unfamiliar with our suffering and our human condition. May you find solace in that high priest, Jesus. Be blessed.
Dear Dirk, thank you so much for sharing some of your story. I’m so sorry for the pain and grief you’ve gone through and so glad to hear how God has been at work in your life over the years. Reading your story brings so many memories to mind of how my own faith has changed. I can totally connect with how I approached faith and prayer before and after the infertility and miscarriages. Thanks for the wisdom you share about what God has shown you and how he has brought healing in your grief. Thanks also for your honesty about the grief you still carry, grief is a funny thing and it never leaves us. It’s such a gift to hear your testimony and than, you so much for sharing.