I’ll never forget the tears that came to the eyes of a 90-year-old single woman as she mentioned the absence of grandchildren in her life. She had never married but had spent years on the mission field and as a mentor to many all her life, including me. She was highly respected in our church and by all who knew her. She was one of those people whose vitality made you forget her age, and we all marveled at her keen mind and interest in everyone around her. Knowing all this I was surprised by her tears, while also realizing the need at all stages of life to mourn the absence of that which never was.
Childlessness is an ache many singles and couples carry. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be especially challenging. While these days honor the men and women who have given of themselves to raise children, they often leave those who are childless wondering if their contribution in life has any similar merit. Sermons, books, and inspirational quotes meant to encourage parents sometimes inadvertently pass judgment on the childless.
A quote I read one Mother’s Day illustrates this well. As I opened the bulletin in church that morning, I was presented with this message in bold type: “The highest calling of womanhood is motherhood.” While intending to affirm and encourage mothers, the message conveyed judgment and condemnation to me that somehow, by no choice of my own, I had missed that highest calling. I’m grateful the Lord immediately whispered to me that the quote was not true, and was a human’s perspective, not His.
What God Says About Our Life’s Purpose
More important than what people think, though, is what God says. As we open the Bible and begin reading in Genesis, we see that God’s command to the first man and woman is to “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”  After the world had been destroyed by the flood, God’s command to Noah and his sons was once again, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”  Further in Genesis we see that the great promise God gave to Abraham was that “I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you.”  This promise/command was passed down to Isaac,  and to Jacob. 
The emphasis of the Old Testament was the looking forward to a specific event: the coming of the Messiah. Every man and woman longed to be the parent or ancestor to this Promised One. To be denied a child was to be denied the possibility of this blessing.
As we turn the pages to the New Testament, we read that the Messiah was indeed born, grew to be a man, and through His death and resurrection became the Savior of the world. Before He went back to heaven He gave a new command, one which was to become the new focus and purpose of our lives as Christians:
“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, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 
Throughout the New Testament we no longer see the command to “multiply and replenish the earth,” nor do we see the lament of women who were barren.
Jesus had prepared His disciples for this new emphasis and purpose for our lives when He told them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.”  He also drove this point home when his mother and brothers came to see Him and He said, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” He looked around at His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.” 
We see this new focus in Paul’s writings as well:
“I want you to be without concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but because of what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.” 
So as we read through the New Testament we can see that the emphasis has shifted away from that of multiplying biologically as families, and has moved towards the importance of multiplying disciples for the Family of God.
Biological families are still His design and plan for continuing the human race, and the intact family is the most ideal means of multiplying disciples for God’s Family when parents raise their little ones to serve Him. The purpose of having children should always primarily be to raise them to be disciples of Jesus, not for the fulfillment of human desires.
Our Desire to Have Children
We desire to have children for several reasons.
One is to experience the joys of having our own child. This seems to particularly affect women, perhaps because their bodies regularly remind them of their capacity for bearing a child. However, many men also have an innate desire to pass on their name, and traditionally children have been an indication of a man’s manhood and strength.
Another reason is because parenthood makes us “normal” and enables us to fit in with our peers who get married, have children and, in due time, have grandchildren as well. We seem to have this innate desire to be like everyone else.
A third reason is to pass on our values and beliefs to the next generation, leaving a heritage to our children and grandchildren. We all want our lives to matter, and to leave a contribution that long outlasts us.
Our Desires Fulfill God’s Purpose
As we take a closer look at these basic desires for wanting to be parents — to have the experience of reproducing biologically, to fit in and be normal, and to influence future generations — we should take note that the first two are basically for our own personal fulfillment (while also recognizing them as normal desires and part of how God designed us).
However, the third desire for having children — to influence future generations — is part of God’s New Testament command to “go and make disciples.” It is a desire we can fulfill whether married or single. In fact, as Christians, it is far more than a desire and a goal—it is a command which Jesus gave us.
Fulfilling this Command is Not Optional
Those who have children and raise them to be disciples of Christ are fulfilling this command. It involves much personal sacrifice and giving up of one’s own aspirations to achieve the goal of producing not only biological offspring, but spiritual offspring.
Those who don’t have biological children also have the responsibility of multiplying spiritually, and have the opportunity to do so in perhaps more far-reaching ways than having children, if they use their freedom to do so. Accomplishing this also involves much personal sacrifice and giving up of one’s own aspirations, just as parenthood does. Paul, a single spiritual “parent,” referred to this lifestyle as a sacrificial and yet joyous one: “Even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” 
Every Christian a Parent
Whether married or single, every Christian is called to reproduce and be a spiritual parent to spiritual children. The possibilities of ways to reproduce spiritually are endless, and God has given us the uniqueness of our own personalities and talents to creatively reproduce for the Family of God.
The Lord has often encouraged me with Isaiah 54 which uses the metaphor of a childless woman:
“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities. Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame; don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood. Indeed, your husband is your Maker —His name is Yahweh of Hosts — and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” 
Isaiah also uses the metaphor of a childless man in Isaiah 56:
“The eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold firmly to My covenant, I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off..” 
The New Testament has several examples of spiritual parents. The Apostle John, a single man and most likely childless, wrote, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”  Paul referred to Timothy as “my son”: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  He also said that he had “fathered” Onesimus: “I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains.”  We have no indication that either of these men had biological children, and yet their spiritual children were many. In fact, we today are spiritual descendants of Paul and John!
Parenthood — Our Highest Calling
Parenthood is part of our highest calling if we mean giving birth to spiritual children and nurturing disciples for Christ. Passing on our faith to future generations is God’s command to every Christian, not just to parents.
While it distressed me a bit to see my 90-year-old friend shed tears over the absence of biological grandchildren, it was also a joy to see her smile through those tears as I read Isaiah 54 to her. It was a joy to me to remind her that in the two letters she’d just read to me, both young people had mentioned she was like a grandmother to them. One was a young man from Honduras, the other a young woman from China; both she had mentored spiritually. She had indeed enlarged her tent throughout her life. Her spiritual children and grandchildren were not only many, but spread far and wide across the globe. I left her apartment that day humbled that I’d had a part in helping her see the far-reaching productiveness of her for God’s Kingdom, which was her greatest desire. She has since passed on to her Heavenly home, but she left a legacy that will live on through eternity!
The absence of children and grandchildren may always present a certain amount of emotional difficulty throughout our lives if we are childless. But if we are reproducing spiritually by encouraging others in a relationship with Jesus, we can be sure we will also leave a heritage for coming generations, even for eternity, that is “better than sons and daughters”!