For a few weeks in 2006, I led a small group in Union Square so that the regular leader could take a break. During that time, I came to know one of the women in the group fairly well. She was 23 years old and had just moved to NYC. One evening, the conversation turned to the topic of weddings. Although both of us had been in numerous weddings and thought that we would have been married by then, neither of us were. A few days later, she sent me an email and, although I no longer have the email, the relevant paraphrase was the following:
Bethany, I am so glad that you are still single because you have such an impact. It is very true when the Psalmist says, “Sing, O barren woman … because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
Barren? Really? Did I mention that I was only 29 years old at the time?
Of course, I knew that she meant to be encouraging, and so I laughed about it and replied nicely. However, irrespective of her intention, I had to figure out what it meant that a barren woman has more children than a married woman. Today, in Psalm 113, we read:
[The LORD] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.
How can a barren woman be a happy mother of children?
Twice in Genesis – after the creation of Adam and Eve, and after the flood – God blesses his people and says, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (1:28, 9:7). In addition, in Psalm 127:3-5, we read, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward … Like arrows in the hands of a warrior … Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Clearly, God created procreation. But, he did not do so merely to have warm bodies fill the earth. Rather, his purpose was to fill it with worshippers. What happens to a baby who does not become a worshipper? That is a scary thought.
The family of God is not built on blood relations. In Matthew 12, while Jesus was talking with a crowd, someone told him that his family was outside and, in response, he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Likewise, Paul wrote in Romans 9:8, “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise …”
So, how is a barren woman a happy mother of children? And, how does she have more children than a married woman? Here is how: she participates in the spiritual regeneration of His people so that they are born anew in Christ. This is the multiplication that God spoke of in the Garden. Creating children is not the ultimate thing; creating worshippers is.
Admittedly, I want to be married and have children, but until that day comes, I want to participate as much as possible in the rebirth of God’s creation. Therefore, I lead a small group in my home every Tuesday. But, you don’t have to lead a small group; there are hundreds of ways to have children without procreating: teach a Sunday School class, help out at the nursery, practice hospitality in your home, have a welcoming heart, adopt a child, support a non-profit that promotes regeneration … There are hundreds of ways that the barren woman can be a happy mother. And, in that role, can follow in the steps of Jesus who, having had no children here on earth, is called, “God the Father” in one part of the trinity.