Every woman knows about the “biological clock.” As women age, the reproductive system becomes less robust with each passing childbearing year. Females are born with about 2 million eggs in their ovaries. By the time they’re 37 years old, they have about 25,000 left. By 51, the number plummets to only 1,000. And we can’t make more.
It’s different for every woman, of course, but in general terms, a woman’s most fertile period is in her teens, 20s and 30s. This is the time in her life when she is likeliest to become pregnant and carry a child to term. The older we get, the less likely we are to become pregnant. It’s been like that since time immemorial.
And speaking of time, there comes an age-related point in a woman’s life when fertilization no longer becomes possible. That stage is called menopause, and usually happens during a woman’s 50s. Simply put, the ovaries no longer release eggs, and without an egg, a child cannot be conceived. Women that reach a “certain age” are past the ability to bear children. This is a universal concept understood by people around the world, across the cultures, and throughout the span of time.
There are exceptions. The Guinness Book of Records (2019) holds that the oldest woman to have conceived and borne a child naturally (i.e., without the aid of IVF) did so at the age of 59. That’s quite late in life. But it‘s by no means the record.
The Book of Genesis tells of a faithful man named Abraham. One day, Abraham was praying, and he asked the Lord who would inherit all that he owned. Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless, so it seemed that it would have to be one of their servants to inherit their lands. The Lord answered him in a vision, assuring Abraham that he would indeed be a father, and a father of countless people.
When she heard Abraham‘s account, Sarah must have felt depressed and frustrated. After all, she was in her late 70s, well past the age of childbearing. Looking at the bleakness of her circumstances, she decided she would use whatever was in her own power to make the vision come true. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me,” she reasoned. That was Mistake #1.
So she offered Abraham their maid, a younger woman, to sleep with him and bear him a child. She was willing to overlook the fact that a marriage bed is built for two, and it is never wise to invite another into it. Mistake #2.
Hagar then became pregnant. Suddenly the fertile young maid thought herself above her old barren boss, and they bickered. Sarah began to mistreat Hagar, and made an enemy of her stepson’s mother. Mistake #3—and this mistake would have far-reaching circumstances suffered by us even to this day. Read on.
Ishmael was born, and became Abraham’s first son. But Ishmael was not the one God had in mind when he made His promise to Abraham. Thirteen years later, in the timing God had originally intended, God came to Abraham again. But instead of revealing Himself in a vision again, God showed up in person.
“As for Sarai your wife...I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Genesis 17:3, 15-16)
Abraham, like the rest of us, couldn’t see past his own nose. What God was saying was impossible. Though he was laying prostrate before the Lord, Abraham actually scoffed. Sarah was 89 years old by now. Whoever heard of a 90-year-old mother?
But this is God we’re talking about. God—who made the heavens and the stars, the earth and everything in it. God, who can divide a sea in half, who can walk on water, change weather systems, convert the molecules of water into wine, and make corpses live again. God.
“Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
(Genesis 17:19, 21)
Is that clear enough for you, Abraham?
Apparently, it wasn’t for Sarah. She remained unconvinced. So God paid Abraham another visit, and rephrased his earlier pronouncement—this time, loud enough for Sarah to hear.
“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” (Genesis 18:10)
If God Himself makes this kind of announcement, you can go ahead and start planning your baby shower.
Not Sarah. Abraham may have scoffed, but Sarah outright laughed. Sarah believed what the deep wrinkles on her face told her, what her sagging body told her. She was simply too old. Sarah was entrenched in the natural, physical world. And she had no idea what God was capable of.
"Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord ? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:13-14)
We may be stuck in the natural world, Sarah, but God is supernatural.
If you know who God is, then I don't need to tell you how the story ends. Sarah did indeed get pregnant, and at 90 years old, she bore a son. Isaac was the son of promise, a covenant made between Abraham and God thirteen years earlier. Through Isaac there would be many descendants, among them the forebears of Jesus Christ. "Kings will come from you," God had promised him. Including the King of Kings.
There are two important lessons to learn from this story. First, we must internalize that God is the God of the impossible. As He said, nothing is too hard for Him. So do as Abraham did, and bring your concern in prayer to God. Then stand back and watch for God to do what He does best.
Second—and this is the really hard lesson—wait. Wait for His perfect timing. He will act according to His perspective and His will, not our expectations. Remember, there are no deadlines for God. God could make a child grow inside a woman who'd stopped menstruating for forty years. And this child would be blessed as an ancestor of God's own perfect Son. Because by not waiting for God, and orchestrating a child of their own outside of God's will, Sarah and Abraham created two sons whose human descendants would be at odds for centuries to come...Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews, and Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs. Sarah and Abraham had no clue what their little misstep would cost, and neither do you and I. That is why it is absolutely essential that we obey God fully and immediately, and not try to handle things on our own. We don't want our disobedience to become Ground Zero to worse things down the line.