Editor’s note: This is a CBE 2022 Writing Contest Honorable Mention!
The day I turned twenty-nine, I found myself in deep dread. I could only watch in horror as my thirtieth birthday emerged from the darkness. Its maniacal grin glinted and twisted as the carousel of light and shadow turned from days into months until the dreaded day finally arrived.
I was scared, but not for stereotypical reasons like, I’m closer to wrinkles or I haven’t accomplished anything and am having an existential crisis. Instead, I was terrified because on my thirtieth birthday my husband and I would “chat” about how many children I would bring into existence.
Did you catch that? Even though I was far from interested in giving birth, we would not discuss “if” we had them, but rather, “how many.” For many women in the church, regardless of whether they feel called to welcome a child into this world, the presumptuous—and at times damaging—narrative is ever present.
Despite fundamentalist-leaning pressure, my conviction to remain child-free holds with unshakable firmness. In my mid-twenties, I was deeply bothered by my lack of desire to have children. I once told a church-going friend that I was not interested in having kids. Their face fell as they responded, “There must be something wrong with you.”
This person meant no harm, but their words felt like a blow. It was a heavy statement that dislodged an avalanche of pre-existing questions like, “Am I defective?” The burden was significant, but when I sought advice I received further unhelpful questions like, “How does your husband feel about that?” “Who will take care of you when you get older?” “Why are you so selfish?”
Even with the unanimously child-positive vote gifted to me by my confidants, I was far from satisfied. Years would come before I would face my fears and do the hard work. I searched for answers not steeped in culture. When the dreaded three-zero arrived, my desire to have children had not grown. Instead, I had become more rooted in a child-free stance, and I will happily share my insights as to why.
The author of Genesis 1:27–28 introduces us to a narrative of humanity’s creation: “So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth….’” A little later, the same instructions are given to Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” What many readers miss is that this command to “be fruitful and multiply” lasts only until the Abrahamic Covenant is reached in Genesis 12:2. In this passage, there is a fundamental shift in the language, as God is now the one providing descendants as he wills. The promise to Abram was vital because it ensured his ability to, through his descendants, pass on narratives about Yahweh. Once this promise is made, God renames Abram, “high father,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” This change in Abram’s identity further affirms God’s assumed responsibility for providing children—and for the specific purpose that those children will be a blessing to others.
Like any ancient text, there are a variety of interpretations surrounding the original author’s message and its implications for modernity. In his Commentary on the Torah, Richard Friedman claims that the instruction to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” has “been fulfilled” and does not require laser-focused observance in modernity. On the other hand, fundamentalists believe God’s instruction to “fill the earth” applies to all fertile couples regardless of their financial, mental, or emotional situation. As a result of shifts in medieval culture and the elevation of female domesticity under Protestantism, the latter is also prevalent in modern evangelical churches. Its glaring presence often lends to an assumption that child-free congregants suffer from “incompleteness” and “ungodliness.”
Christians must recognize that the prevalence of an idea is not indicative of its helpfulness or correctness in current or past contexts. Just as the nuanced nature of ancient texts requires interpretation and study, so does the Christian path if it is to be worth following. As we determine the wisdom underlying all Scripture, we must be okay with questioning our presuppositions and perhaps feeling uncomfortable as we do so. Although it may feel daunting at first, it is necessary to grow into a fuller knowledge of God’s multifaceted approach to self-revelation and our mission in this world.
Specifically, suppose the church continues to cling to the idea that all its couples must have children. If so, we will enable our cultural obsession to conceive children and bypass the wisdom framing the instructions in Genesis. As is the case with all God’s instructions, these were given so that the hearers would be blessings to the world and be blessed in their endeavors. While Genesis 1:28 and 9:1 unarguably communicate the fact that children are indeed a blessing, a wise reading of Scripture does not imply that everyone must give birth to and raise children to receive blessings and to be beneficial to the lives of others. In short, having children is one way God’s people can experience the richness of life and share that beauty with fellow humans, but it is only one way.
For further proof, we can observe the lives of child-free women in the Bible. Deborah, the fourth Judge of Israel, is not mentioned as having children, and some scholars question whether she had a husband. Her life differed from many women of her time, but her leadership skills significantly impacted Israel. Huldah, a prophetess who did not hesitate to tell King Josiah bad news and instruct him in the ways of the Torah is not known for her domestic skills. Ruth’s legacy is not highlighted by her duty as a wife or her ability to bear children, but by her faithfulness to support another woman, Naomi. And Mary, Jesus’s mother, witnessed her son championing women when doing so was far from conventional or societally acceptable.
We see the Spirit of God working through these stories to showcase the facets of God’s powerful, nurturing, intelligent, and faithful character to humanity. Ultimately, it was these women’s willingness to serve God through the Holy Spirit, not their ability to follow cultural expectations, that made a powerful impact on their communities and influenced generations with their faithfulness and wisdom.
In Galatians 5:22–23, Paul reminds us that God’s will for our lives is to bear good fruit in all areas, but his emphasis is not on childbearing. On the contrary, Paul praises his state of singleness as the most effective modus operandi for a Christ-centered mission: “I wish that all were [single] as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind” (1 Cor. 7:7).
Far from dissuading anyone who is called to marriage, Paul’s words serve as an excellent reminder for us to grow our giftings as he did— “fan into flame the gift of God, which is within you” (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul was given a unique path and accepted it, thus benefiting generations to come. We are to follow his example, but instead of replicating his actions footstep by footstep, we must practice, once again, our ability to find the wisdom behind the message. In other words, we must submit our lives to Jesus and become, in that context and calling, a blessing to others.
As faithful followers of Christ, we can know our direction is sure when we observe Christ’s ultimate call, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19–20). If we listen closely, we see how the Great Commission echoes an ancient assurance between God and his people. It mirrors the Abrahamic Covenant that promised the Creator’s will would be done. With this pledge in mind, we can be assured that making disciples does not have to originate from our seed. Instead, this call can be accomplished via various mediums that best fit each individual’s situation and God’s faithfulness. It assures us that God is the one to plant the passion and see it multiply in whatever ways our Creator sees fit.
Holding one’s own newborn may never be a dream come true for some, but wiping away the tears of a rejected child might be. For those not called to start a biological family of our own, we may nurture the hearts of the broken and those without caregivers, love the “unlovable” of the world, lead the disenfranchised to Christ’s mercy, or offer Christ’s compassion in the context of our imperfect communities. No matter how we bless others, we can do so knowing that the creative mission of God to humanity has no bounds or limitations. In conclusion, it is essential to recognize that we, children of God, are not defined by our compliance to cultural norms. Nonetheless, it is crucial to follow the call God places on us, no matter how non-conventional it is. God has called me to study the intricacies of theology and write stories that connect deeply to women who have felt misunderstood by the church, their spouses, and themselves. Just as the Spirit brooded over the waters in Genesis 1, there is deep joy, creative discovery, and freedom for others hovering over the blank pages of my journals, and I cannot wait to dig in.
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash
 All Scripture will be quoted from the NRSV translation of the Bible.
 This takes place in Genesis 17.
 Richard Friedman, Commentary on the Torah. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2003): 26–27. Friedman works within the Masorti–or Conservative–Judaistic worldview that focuses on the sociologically inspired lineage of Jewish law and tradition.
 Information extracted from the William Davidson translation of the Talmud: https://www.sefaria.org/Yevamot.2a.1?lang=bi
 There are many verses about the blessings of children. Gen. 24:60; Pr. 17:6; Psa. 127:3, 4, 5; 112; 115: 14; 128:6, 3; Isa. 54:13; Deut. 28:3; Pro. 20:7, 31:28, 1 Sam. 1:27; Luke 2:23 are a few of the many.
 Daniel Skidmore-Hess and Cathy Skidmore-Hess, “Dousing the Fiery Woman: The Diminishing of the Prophetess Deborah,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 31, no. 1 (2012): 3–4, https://doi.org/10.1353/sho.2012.0110.
Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Deborah,” The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary: An Indispensable Resource for All Who Want to View Scripture through Different Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002): 134–135.
 There are many examples of Jesus putting women first in his miracles and acts of redemption. John 2:1–11; Luke 1:35; John 4:39–42; John 4:26, Luke 24:1–12; Matthew 28:10 are a few examples.