One of the constant struggles in my journey of infertility is to not believe the lie that I am defined by my infertility. Many times it feels like if you were to look up the word infertile in the dictionary my picture would be there staring back at you. Of course, it is easy to feel this way. Regardless of the medical condition causing the problem, the diagnosis from the doctor is that for the time being I am infertile. Infertility is keeping me from getting pregnant. Treatments, medicine, tests, and the like occupy my thoughts. I talk about it with my friends and family. I’m on a first name basis with my doctor. When it takes up so much of your time and money it only takes a few short steps to get to the point where you think it makes you who you are.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you are dealing with infertility and find yourself defined by what ails you. Maybe you look in the mirror and only see a woman with a faulty womb or hormonal imbalance rather than a daughter of King Jesus. I know I have.
After Mother’s Day it’s especially easy to dwell on these feelings. Amid the plethora of “happy mother’s day” niceties a couple of days ago you want to scream “It’s not a happy day and I’m not a mother!” Or maybe you are dealing with the aftermath of feeling like you stuck out like a sore thumb, surrounded by the happy moms and babies while your arms were noticeably empty.
I suppose the struggle with finding our identity in our circumstances is not unique to the infertile woman. The man who faces another week of chemotherapy surely wrestles with feeling like his cancer defines him. The unemployed college graduate with mounting college debt must fight the temptation to believe that a job will provide the identity she needs to make it in the world. But there is something about infertility that hits at the core of who you are as a woman. God created women to bear and nurture life. Prior to a diagnosis of infertility, many infertile women never imagined they would be facing this suffering. They thought motherhood would come naturally and easily. Bringing life into the world is a unique and glorious task given only to women. And when you can’t even do that, it jars you. But does it define you?
The reality is that as believers we can rest in the fact that our identity is not in our sufferings, disappointments, or losses. After our miscarriage I had to fight to believe that people didn’t see a big “M” on my chest whenever I walked into a room. We don’t bear the scarlet letter of our sufferings. While they do mark us and shape us, they do not have the final word in our life. We bear the name of Christ, who bore the most horrid scarlet letter for us so we could now be identified with him. This means that no matter what suffering we face, even as personal and deep as infertility is, our identity is not wrapped up in the trial. Because we are identified with Christ, one day we will no longer bear the scars of our suffering. What glorious news this is! Consider the words of Paul to the Philippians:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil. 3:7-9a).
This verse has been on my mind ever since Sunday. Paul is saying that any good thing and any gain he could have had before he counts as trash compared to knowing Christ and being found in him. Paul’s, and our, identity is wrapped up in knowing Christ and being known by Christ. Can I say this with Paul, that every gain I could have had, even the amazing gain of having a child of my own, is loss compared to knowing Christ? Sometimes I’m there. Other times I struggle to believe it. But I must remember that the lack of a child does not define me. Christ defines me. How could Paul face suffering in such great magnitude and yet still be joyful in the Lord? How could Paul endure hardship and alienation from people he loved and not turn his back on God? At times he must have felt like the only thing that defined his life was humiliation, pain, and trials, yet he remained steadfast until the end. Why? Because knowing Christ and being identified with him far outweighed every loss he experienced.
The family of God is made up of scarred, broken, suffering people. We have lost treasured possessions and loved ones, faced dashed dreams and expectations, weathered disappointment and sorrow. But all of these realities will not have the final say in our life. Because of Christ, every earthly gain we could have received is nothing compared to what we will get one day when we see Christ face to face. We are merely pilgrims on this earth, waiting for our final home in heaven. What we face on this earth does not define us because this is not all we have to look forward to. Yes, it pains us to walk through suffering. Yes, we weep and cry out to God for mercy and relief. Yes, we grieve and mourn over loss. But one day the God who started the good work in us, and secured our identity in Christ, will bring it all to completion. And it will have all been worth it.
It is tempting to look at my suffering and believe that it makes me who I am. It is tempting to believe that I can never be anything more than a childless woman. It is tempting to believe that my infertility makes me less of a woman and of lesser value in God’s economy. And Satan wants nothing more than for me (and you) to believe those lies. Christ secured our identity before we were even formed in our mother’s womb and long before we even knew we would be infertile. He bought us with his precious blood and paid for our sin so we could be brought into his family and given a home. This is our hope when we feel the ugly lies creeping in that tell us we are not worth anything because of our faulty bodies. We have value and identity not because of our own intrinsic worth, but because of the worth of Christ. And that is what defines us. Remember this truth, dear sister, when you see another negative pregnancy test or bleak diagnosis. You are a child of God. And God gives you your identity.