HE REMEMBERS THE BARREN
HE REMEMBERS THE BARREN. By Katie Schuermann. Second Edition. Ft. Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2017. 144 pages. $18.00.
I recently won a copy of He Remembers the Barren in a giveaway sponsored by Front Porch Bliss. I was excited to win this book because it had long languished on my “to get to” reading list. I am glad to have read this book and my only regret is that I did not do so earlier.
I’d say this is the best book available on the topic of barrenness, but I haven’t read any others. My hunch is that it’s true though. Excellence has a way of making itself known.
Originally published in 2011, He Remembers the Barren was released in a second edition this year. The cover to the second edition is of a painting titled “Barren” by artist Edward Riojas. There’s a note in the front of the book about the cover’s artwork. It fits in marvelously well with the rest of the book. Another new feature of the second edition is that it contains an additional chapter on adoption that I believe was not found in the first edition.
What is it about this book that commends itself as excellent? Three things.
First, the vignettes of struggles are not pandering. If the reader is familiar with the pain of barrenness, they will immediately recognize these words as coming from someone who’s been there and done that. If the reader is unfamiliar with the pain of barrenness, they will get an honest portrayal of barrenness that is refreshingly uncomfortable. How can something be refreshingly uncomfortable? I ask you to be patient on as I’ll address this below.
Second, this book isn’t too narrow. It covers a wide array of aspects of barrenness. It speaks about the pain and the stigma of barrenness. It speaks about the anger and frustration of people’s thoughtless comments. It speaks about the men who are also suffering from barrenness with their wives. It speaks about childlessness apart from barrenness (widowhood, singleness, marrying late in life). It speaks about the ethical ramifications of procedures such as in vitro fertilization. It speaks against barren women receiving every word in the worst possible light. It speaks about diets. It speaks about miscarriage. It speaks about adoption. It speaks about friends who have been blessed with the gift of children. It speaks about vocation and opportunities. And most importantly of all, it speaks about Christ.
Christ. That’s the third thing that commends this book. This book speaks about Christ as the one who gives us everything we need. It speaks about Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. It speaks about Christ as our true identity. It speaks about Christ as the creator and we as the receiver of His gifts. The only healthy way to look at barrenness is through Christ. It won’t anesthetize the pain, but any other way of looking at barrenness will lead to idolatry or despair or both.
There is a lot to be learned from this book, and not just about barrenness. Rebecca Mayes wrote the introduction to this book and says, “People uniformly commented that the wisdom in He Remembers the Barren applies so well to suffering in general.” She’s right. Earlier I stated that this book was “refreshingly uncomfortable.” As a pastor, my parishes have recently suffered from an unprecedented series of deaths. All of us were thrown into suffering together. And suffering is uncomfortable. Many blessed and helpful things were shared between the brothers and sisters in Christ in the midst of our suffering, and not-surprisingly, some ‘less-than-helpful’ things were said too. I quickly noticed that the ‘less-than-helpful’ things that were said were typically attempts to remove the feeling of being uncomfortable. I recall one person saying “Pastor, I’m really concerned about so-and-so. I don’t think they’re handling the death of so-and-so very well. He didn’t even cry at the funeral.” Minutes later, another individual said, “Pastor, I’m really concerned about so-and-so. I don’t think they’re handing the death so-and-so very well. They cry all the time.”
It was then that I realized the issue isn’t crying or not-crying. The issue is that the observer is uncomfortable in the midst of grief…and they want me, the pastor, to guide the grieving to do so in way that doesn’t make others uncomfortable. This is not only an impossible task, it’s unhelpful. Acknowledge the pain for what it is. Be uncomfortable, and so share the burdens of your brothers and sisters in Christ. This book addresses this issue in words much clearer than my own.
One of the greatest strengths of this book is the way it talks about our desire to “control” things. We trade the “gift” language of Scripture for the “control” language of the world. When we do that, and when things don’t work out as we hope, then we feel like failures. We have enough failures to confess before Christ and one another, we don’t need to make up new ones.
This book is has seventeen chapters. Each chapter concludes with a reading from the Psalms, a prayer, and a hymn verse. The book also comes with study guide question and a Q&A of frequently asked questions.
Pastors need to have this book in their personal library. It’s a valuable and faithful resource on a very emotional subject matter. It’ll give wisdom to pastors, comfort to the barren, and guidance for everyone else.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.