Why Do They Have No Children?
DELE and Fola,* a married couple, lived and worked at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Nigeria. Shortly after they began serving there, Fola’s mother came to visit. She had traveled far to discuss a matter of great concern to her, one that had given her many a sleepless night.
“You do such good things for me,” she said to them. “You send gifts, and you visit me. Those expressions of love are precious to me. But they distress me too because I always wonder who will do such things for you when you are my age? You have been married for two years now, and you have no children. Don’t you think it’s time for you to leave Bethel and start a family?”
Mother reasoned like this: Dele and Fola have spent enough time at Bethel. Now it is time for them to think of their future. Surely other people can take over their work. Dele and Fola need not give up the full-time ministry, but they can take up another avenue of service, one that will allow them to have children and experience the joys of parenthood.
Mother’s concern was understandable. The desire to bear children is fundamental and common to all cultures and times. Childbearing rouses profound feelings of joy and hope. “The fruitage of the belly is a reward,” says the Bible. Yes, the ability to bear children is a precious gift from our loving Creator.—Psalm 127:3.
In many societies, married couples face immense social pressure to bear children. For example, in Nigeria, where the average woman gives birth to six children, it is common at weddings to hear well-wishers say to the newlyweds: “Nine months from now, we expect to hear a baby crying in your house.” As a wedding present, the bride and groom may receive a baby crib. Mothers-in-law closely watch the calendar. If the bride is not pregnant within a year or so, they probe to see if there is any problem that they can help to solve.
To many mothers the reason that a couple gets married is to bear children and to carry on the family line. Fola’s mother said to her: “Why did you get married if you are not going to have children? Someone gave birth to you; you should give birth to your own children.”
Apart from that, there are practical matters to consider. In many African nations, there are few governmental provisions to care for the elderly. Customarily, it is the children who look after their aged parents, just as those parents looked after them when they were young. So Fola’s mother reasoned that unless her children had children of their own, they would, in later years, risk being lonely, unwanted, and impoverished, having no one to bury them when they die.
Throughout much of Africa, it is considered a curse not to have children. In some areas, women are even expected to prove their ability to bear children before marriage. Many women who are not able to conceive will frantically seek medicines and cures to try to reverse their barren condition.
In view of these attitudes, married couples who deliberately refrain from having children are thought to be robbing themselves of something good. They are often viewed as odd, shortsighted, and pitiable.
Joy and Responsibility
Jehovah’s people recognize that while there is joy in rearing children, there is also responsibility. The Bible, at 1 Timothy 5:8, says: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”
Parents must provide for their families both materially and spiritually, and this takes considerable time and effort. They do not have the attitude that since God provides children, it is left to God to care for them. They realize that rearing children according to Bible principles is a full-time responsibility assigned by God to parents; it is not one that should be delegated to others.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
The task of rearing children is especially difficult in these “last days” of “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Apart from worsening economic conditions, the increasing godlessness of society adds to the challenges of child rearing today. Even so, throughout the world, countless Christian couples have taken up this challenge and are successfully rearing godly children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Jehovah loves and blesses these parents for their hard work.
Why Some Remain Childless
Many Christian couples, on the other hand, do not have children. Some are infertile and yet do not adopt children. Other couples who have the ability to produce offspring decide not to do so. Such couples do not remain childless because they shirk responsibility or are afraid to meet the challenges of parenthood. Rather, they have determined to give their full attention to different avenues of the full-time ministry that the rearing of children would not allow. Some serve as missionaries. Others serve Jehovah in the traveling work or at Bethel.
Like all Christians, they realize that there is an urgent work to do. Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” This work is being done today. It is a vital work, since “the end” will mean destruction for those who have not heeded the good news.—Matthew 24:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8.
Ours is a period similar to the time when Noah and his family constructed the gigantic ark that preserved them through the great Flood. (Genesis 6:13-16; Matthew 24:37) Although Noah’s three sons were all married, none fathered children until after the Deluge. One reason for that may have been that these couples wanted to devote their full attention and energy to the work at hand. Another may have been reluctance to bring children into a debased and violent world where “the badness of man was abundant . . . and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time.”—Genesis 6:5.
While this does not imply that it is wrong to have children today, many Christian couples decline to have children so as to become more fully involved in the urgent work that Jehovah has given his people to do. Some couples have waited for a time before having children; others have decided to remain childless and consider the possibility of bearing children in Jehovah’s righteous new world. Is this shortsighted? Are they missing out on life? Are they to be pitied?
Secure and Joyful Lives
Dele and Fola, mentioned earlier, have now been married for over ten years, and they remain determined to continue childless. “Our relatives still pressure us to have children,” says Dele. “Their main concern is our future security. We always express appreciation for their consideration, but we tactfully explain that we are very happy in what we are doing. As to security, we point out that our trust is in Jehovah, who cares for the welfare of all those who remain faithful and loyal to him. We also explain that having children does not guarantee that parents will enjoy their care when old. Some people care little for their parents, others are not able to help, and still others die before their parents do. On the other hand, our future is certain with Jehovah.”
Dele and others like him confidently trust in Jehovah’s promise to his faithful servants: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) They also believe that “the hand of Jehovah has not become too short that it cannot save, nor has his ear become too heavy that it cannot hear.”—Isaiah 59:1.
Another reason for confidence comes from observing how Jehovah sustains his faithful servants. King David wrote: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely.” Think about that. Do you know of any faithful servant of Jehovah who has been “left entirely”?—Psalm 37:25.
Rather than looking back with regret, those who have spent their life serving Jehovah and their fellow Christians reflect on it with satisfaction. Brother Iro Umah has been in full-time service for 45 years and now serves as a traveling overseer in Nigeria. He says: “Though my wife and I are childless, we keep in mind that Jehovah has always cared for us both spiritually and materially. We have lacked nothing. He will not abandon us as we grow older. These years in full-time service have proved to be the happiest in our life. We are grateful that we can serve our brothers, and our brothers appreciate our service, and they help us.”
While many couples have produced no fleshly children, they have produced children of a different kind: Christian disciples who worship Jehovah. The apostle John was about 100 years of age when he wrote: “No greater cause for thankfulness do I have than these things, that I should be hearing that my children go on walking in the truth.” (3 John 4) The faithfulness of John’s “children”—those he introduced to “the truth”—brought him great joy.
The same joy abounds today. Bernice, a Nigerian, has been married for 19 years and remains childless by choice. For the past 14 years, she has served as a pioneer. As she approaches the time of life when it will no longer be possible for her to bear children of her own, she feels no regret about devoting her life to disciple making. She says: “I feel happy to see my spiritual children growing up. Even if I had children of my own, I doubt that they would be closer to me than those I have helped to learn the truth. They treat me as though I were their natural mother, discussing with me their joys and problems and asking for my advice. They write letters, and we visit one another.
“Some view it as a curse not to have natural children. They say that you will suffer in your old age. But I don’t see it that way. I know that as long as I serve Jehovah whole-souled, he will reward me and look after me. He will never throw me out when I get old.”
Loved and Valued by God
Those who have given birth and have raised children who “go on walking in the truth” have much to be thankful for. Little wonder the Bible says: “The father of a righteous one will without fail be joyful; the one becoming father to a wise one will also rejoice in him. Your father and your mother will rejoice, and she that gave birth to you will be joyful”!—Proverbs 23:24, 25.
Those Christians who have not had the joy of bringing children into the world have been blessed in other ways. Many of these couples have played a vital role in furthering Kingdom interests in a large way. Over the years, they have gained experience, wisdom, and skills that enable them to make a valuable contribution to the Kingdom work. Many are at the forefront of the work.
Although they have remained childless for the sake of Kingdom interests, Jehovah has blessed them with a loving spiritual family that deeply appreciates the sacrifices that they have made. It is as Jesus said: “No one has left [literally, “let go off”] house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields . . . and in the coming system of things everlasting life.”—Mark 10:29, 30.
How precious to Jehovah are all those who are faithful! All such loyal ones, both those who have children and those who do not, are assured by the apostle Paul: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.”—Hebrews 6:10.
Names have been changed.
[Pictures on page 23]
Childless couples have been blessed with a loving spiritual family