The Waiting Womb
Thirsting for God from an empty well
By Faminu Imabong
My neighbor’s well is full
The water is fresh and clear
She draws with joy and singing
Her household too
Her children play with glee as their
mother’s bucket spills
Soon the jars are full and she rests
under the shade
I look on in envy
My well is dry
The water brackish
I cannot draw as the water is no good
I wait for the day when my well will be full
When I too can draw with joy and singing
I know that day will come. So I wait and wait
Lord, give me a child.” This five-word prayer is as ageless as it is timeless. It cuts across cultures, continents, ethnic groups, races, creeds, tribes, and tongues. There are no boundaries. In many a village, town, country, and region of our world, once a man and woman have been joined in matrimony, it is expected that the next thing will be children. Families eagerly await children—mothers and fathers do. So do grandparents and even extended family members. At marriage ceremonies in most parts of the world, right after the prayers for a long and happy married life comes the prayer for children. And though instant pregnancy, or any pregnancy at all, is no more a universal expectation, it is still true that a child born into a home is a thing of joy in all cultures the world over.
Most people believe that it is God who gives children. They are of course perfectly in the right. God made the human anatomy and instructed men and women through the institution of marriage to go forth and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). God declares blessed the one who has children (Ps. 127:5). Children are described as a heritage of the Lord, a source of pride, and a showing of strength (verses 3, 4). They are also considered a blessing of obedience and a reward for integrity (Deut. 28:4, 11; Prov. 20:7).
God is neither biased nor reticent on this subject. The Scriptures record His expressed promise that there would be none childless among His people (Deut. 7:14). And in line with the Scriptures practically all cultures consider children a blessing and enthusiastically welcome them.
Childless and Ashamed
Unfortunately, many women who do not conceive at all or do not conceive early in marriage are ostracized, persecuted, maligned, and often unloved. Some cultures consider such women cursed. The inevitable stigma is an onerous burden they and their families are forced to bear.
But before and beyond this public contempt, there is the unbearable pressure and heartache a woman as wife must bear for not conceiving. The curse always seems to begin and end with her. Medical science has shown that stress, worry, and emotional pressure are a hindrance even to a normally fertile woman. This being so, imagine how much more debilitating such distress would be to one who lives with the sense of guilt on account of her childlessness.
Stories abound of men seeking for offspring outside of monogamy through polygamy, child theft or sale, and other such unsavory practices, all in a bid to get children.
What does God have to do with such anguish? What does He care about it? The Bible shows that there are times when the Lord in His wisdom withholds this blessing for a season and for remarkable purposes. We may look at several such instances, beginning with Sarah, wife of Abraham. Though Abraham was a rich man and Sarah beautiful, they had no child. Abraham received God’s covenant promises regarding his being the father of many nations. God was very specific that the child of promise would be from Abraham and Sarah, giving them names that betokened this fact (Gen. 17).
And there was Hannah, wife of Elkanah. Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife. Peninnah, his second wife, bore him the children that Hannah had not. God had shut up her womb (1 Sam. 1:5). Penninah provoked her till Hannah wept. One year when, with heavy heart, she journeyed with her family to the house of the Lord. She was so unhappy that she refused to eat. Her husband tried to comfort her. At the tabernacle she poured out her bitterness and burden of spirit before God so much so that Eli the priest thought she was drunk (1 Sam. 1:13, 14).
There was also Michal, daughter of Saul, Israel’s failing king who gave his daughter in marriage to David. A different case of barrenness, perhaps, with malice and spite involved (2 Sam. 6:14-23), but no less a burden. Sarah’s shame and Hannah’s humiliation were Michal’s misery too.
And Elizabeth’s as well. She and her husband, Zacharias, the Temple priest, had no child. Like Sarah and Abraham, they were both advanced in years (Luke 1:7). Beyond Sarah and Abraham, they had probably given up hope.
Crying in the Dark
Why does heaven stay silent sometimes at the point of the deepest despair? when it seems so unbearable, and you can’t take it anymore? when you don’t know what to do or where to turn? when it seems that only God could understand, and He shows no great care?
This despair is not uniquely the province of barren women. They are surely not life’s only brokenhearted sufferers. Consider David’s cry: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11, KJV). David knew about pain that was not only physical. There is a physical, psychological, and emotional turmoil that we can go through that no physical remedy can cure or relieve.
The pain may have an explainable cause, but the road to healing, relief, and peace can be long and painful. Those who understand such pain might have suffered the loss of a loved one, been deeply hurt, suffered rejection, suffered depression, been betrayed, been unjustly treated, or been otherwise beaten down by life and circumstances. Sometimes there is no cure but waiting. Sometimes you must go through the pain.
The grief of the Old Testament patriarch Job, if weighed, would have been heavier than the sand of the sea (Job 6:2, 3). “The arrows of the Almighty are within me,” he cried, their toxicity poisoning his spirit; “the terrors of God do set themselves against me” (verse 4, KJV). And later: “When I lie down, I say, when shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day” (Job 7:4, KJV). It is more than he can bear in silence: “I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (verse 11, KJV). To Job, it seemed that God was purposely standing afar off from him (Job 23:3, 8, 9). Cherished friends of old had now either forgotten him or were avoiding him (Job 19:13-15, 19).
Jesus and Pain
In Gethsemane there was no cure for Jesus’ pain. Imagine praying till sweat drops fall. Hannah prayed so passionately that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Sam. 1:13, 14). Some have called it “groaning in spirit” or “a wilderness experience”—the name matters little. Only God’s grace offers any help, peace, or healing at these times.
As David answers himself for all the barren and broken and silent weepers through the nights of pain: “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Ps. 42:5, KJV). God is with us in our brokenness, David understands. He is with us in our barrenness. “Countenance” is another word for “face.” The help of God’s countenance is the sight of His loving face, the personal blessing of His very presence, whatever the cause of our loneliness.
Jesus and the Waiting Womb
God, in Jesus, has given the assurance of His presence with us in all our grief. But God, in Jesus, has also given specific answer to the lonely curse of barrenness.
When Elizabeth and Zacharias seemed to have surrendered hope and accepted their blight, He could still see their hearts. He still knew their long-silenced longings. And when they had no schemes left, no other plans to try, nothing but a brave face and a bleeding heart, God Himself still had plans for them. Plans of such moment that they must be announced in the Holy of Holies. This aged and barren couple would have a child. He would forerun the road of the ultimate child of humanity, the Son of Man, the transcendent birth that would answer the anguish, end the shame, and relieve all the misery of all the burdened hearts, broken souls, and barren wombs of all the ages.
Almost two millennia before Elizabeth, Sarah had laughed when God declared His sovereignty over the waiting womb (Gen. 18:9-12). “Why did Sarah laugh?” the Lord asked Abraham (verse 13). “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (verse 14). The Lord of life is also Lord of barrenness and secret longing.
Now Gabriel brought holy amusement to Elizabeth. For five months she wouldn’t let anybody see her in public, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:24, 25).
Elizabeth would prove that when medical science, culture, age, and nature considered new life impossible and deemed her incapable of conceiving, she could still, by order of the One who holds the keys of hell and heaven, who is Lord of the beginning and of the end, by order of Him who is the Lord of all life, she could still bear John, the forerunner of God’s anointed. He would undo all the blight of the world by becoming the curse Himself (Gal. 3:13). And because of Him the barren womb will sing, and claim the joy of bearing seven (1 Sam. 2:5).
The Lord through Isaiah encourages His longing daughters and languishing sons: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). “God with us,” Matthew explains (Matt. 1:23): Jesus, in fulfillment of Isaiah (verse 22). And the virgin has conceived; and Jesus has come.
And because He has come and saved His people from their sins, because He has mended all our brokenness, and healed all our diseases, and slain all our barrenness, the dark no longer weeps, and the night is no more silent. No, the day has come, and the womb no longer waits: “Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman” (Isa. 54:1).
Faminu Imabong, a working mom, lives in Lagos, Nigeria, with her husband and two children. An aspiring writer, she draws her inspiration from her faith and life’s experiences.