Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Children

Number 1) I do plan on writing about our big move and our new home sometime soon; it has been a real whirlwind around here, but I had to get some other thoughts on paper first.

Number 2) I don't like to disclaim my posts, but I will say that none of this is a condemnation of others' choices. I just get to thinking and then I decide I need to publish my thoughts because I'm a glutton for punishment I like the feedback and discussion.

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with a good friend over the phone and we talked about a lot of things. Of course, the topic of children came up (as it always does with us girls!) and I mentioned that I wished I had started having children earlier than we did. The discussion meandered from there, but something struck me and I ended up having an involved discussion with my husband about it later that evening. What has been eating at me was the notion that young married couples, or newly married couples need time "just to themselves" before they have children.

Here's the deal: my husband and I didn't start "trying" for children until we'd been married for just over two years. Our reasons back then were mostly financial, but I think for me, the idea of having kids right away did not even enter my mind as a responsible thing to do. And then it took us two years to have our first child. We basically had four years to goof off as a married couple, doing what we wanted, when we wanted. It was a wonderful time for us, but it did leave me with one big problem that has been exasperated in my "childbearing years": selfishness. And aside from physical factors like wishing I had my early twenties self to chase my toddler around, my development of selfish habits and ways of thinking is the biggest factor in wishing we had our children earlier on in our marriage.

Of course having children straight away into marriage is a radical notion that raises a lot of eyebrows, even Christian eyebrows, who also would acknowledge that children are a blessing from the Lord. Why the contradiction? Something my husband pointed out to me is that the main reason God makes husbands and wives into one flesh is to raise Godly offspring.

Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. --Malachi 2:15

Thinking on this really got me. If my main purpose in life is to glorify God, and his main purpose for my marriage is to have Godly children for Him, then what was I doing putting this off for my own reasons? Even if those reasons sound totally reasonable and not at all selfish?

So I really wonder why this sentiment of having children soon after being married became regarded as irresponsible or crazy, even by evangelical Christians. Have we bought into the world's way of thinking that we better pack as much fun as we can into our years before kids, because when they show up the fun is over? And if we do think that way, what kind of attitude are we going to show to our children when they are here? Are we going to be looking for "me time" and "date nights" away from our kids because that is what we need just to tolerate them on a daily basis?

I don't have all the answers, because I struggle with my own selfishness daily. I just want to read one more blog before getting Ethan his snack. I just want them to nap a little longer so I can finish what I'm doing. And oh, remember when Steve and I were able to just go out on our own and I didn't have to worry about what I would wear that was easy for nursing, or what time to be home because the baby-sitter has a curfew?

The problem is that God sent us these children and they are a joy to him. He delights in them. He uses them to sanctify us women (1 Timothy 2:15 - one of my favorite verses!). And when I put off that sanctification in the beginning of our marriage in order to "have more fun" or "get to know my husband better before the hard work of children comes", I think I really missed something in God's Word along the way. And, of course, I say this now as someone who did have, what I believe to be, a misunderstanding about what my ultimate purpose is in life. I do want to goof off with my husband, I do wish sometimes that it didn't take half an hour to get out the door to do the simplest of errands, but God designed this for me. And it is so amazing that he entrusted these little souls into my care. So why was I putting it off?

I'm not a legalist, I don't think that people should never use birth control to manage the size of their family. I do think it is about intention and what someone's heart is telling them. My favorite non-biblical quote on that issue comes from a Credenda Agenda article that I read a long time ago (which is really fabulous, you should read the whole thing!):

So if a Christian couple have bought all the current propaganda, and they are diligently limiting themselves to 1.2 children, then they are allowing the current false assumptions of the world to dictate to them how the Bible is to be read. But if another couple know that children are a blessing, and they use birth control in order to "space" their seven children, I would be hard pressed to say that this was an example of some kind of compromise. A man can have a high view of apple trees and still not plant them a foot and a half apart in his orchard.

Anyway, all that from one phone call with a friend! Hopefully she doesn't mind being my jumping off point! ;) And it's not all her fault, I've been reading this lately that also got me contemplating about how I'm raising my kids and where I need to grow.

I think the next post will be a photo tour of our new home. Pretty easy and no real thinking or controversy involved, except maybe my husband's exasperation at having to move that big painting again because I just want to see what it looks like on this other wall.

5 comments:

Kristen said...

good post!

i think this is a wonderful idea that i never quite pinpointed before. we started "trying" just under a year into our marriage, with the intention of letting God decide the timing, spacing, and number of our kids until He led us to a different route. we felt really convicted to do that. it also took us two years before we conceived our first child (which was the third pregnancy, as our first two miscarriages were at the beginning of this process). and our second child was conceived when the first child was four months old, which thrilled us because we were so grateful to conceive again, and yes we were "trying".

i also agree that preventing pregnancy is okay (i love that quote about spacing the apple trees! awesome!), as long as you feel at peace with God over that. there were times we did not feel peace about it and followed God's leading. but we do currently feel peace about preventing, so we are following that leading as well. i truly believe God will lead you if you are open to His will.

and i also truly believe you should not get married if you are not ready to have kids. marriage does produce offspring, and God may choose to bring that early in your marriage, so if you aren't ready for that, you aren't ready for marriage.

it's crazy how we limit God's work in our lives because we think everything has to be logical and rational and well planned. honestly, that's not my personality type, so i am a little more inclined to accept crazy things (i actually love the crazy!). it's nice to have a down-to-earth husband who knows when and how to be level headed, but he also knows how to follow God's leading and has made decisions based on that that have seemed crazy to general evangelicals.

it seems we sometimes forget that following the original Radical is often times, well, radical.

Samantha said...

Jodi,

I am reading that article over at Femina too. Wow, very convicting and calls for some serious introspection!

I am glad that you are thinking these important matters over with your husband. Christians have not been thoughtful about the subject for many years. Our marital counseling consisted of "what kind" of birth control we were going to use, not "if." I think we are called to think through life's decisions in light of the Scripture and not just buy into the current day's philosophy without a further thought. Keep seeking!

Vicki said...

Glad to hear you guys made it safe! Good post- you always articulate these "difficult" subjects so well. I agree with you whole-heartedly. There have been times when Joe and I thought we missed out on some fun by starting so fast, but we believe that real growth that deepens our dependence on God came along with all these blessings. However, we are going to allow more than a foot and a half between the next 5 trees :) (ok, maybe not five trees...)

Kate & Summer said...

Honestly, I don't think selfishness in your early twenties comes from having no kids, it comes from being in your early twenties. So if you'd had your kids then, you'd have been the same way, only with kids! It's unlikely that being childless in your early twenties has somehow 'locked' selfishness into your character, because most people are like that at that time of life and don't stay that way. I'll be thirty-one next week, and for many, many reasons, I now wish I'd waited another five years before having Ella. Children shouldn't be having children, so to speak. - Kate

Steve Bremer said...

Kate makes a good point about the role of age in maturity. We should hope that as we grow up we will do a little “growing up”, and usually this is the case. This line of thinking can be taken too far, however, if it becomes a vehicle for excuses and not an explanation for change over time. “Teens will be teens”, for example, isn’t a valid excuse for teenage rebellion and selfishness does not really come from being young – it comes from our sin nature. I knew a lot of people who when they just turned twenty were a lot less selfish than others who were much older.

Also, circumstances impact how we mature. A child constantly indulged by his parents will be a shameful, self-indulgent adult – circumstances matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean that having children early in your twenties will make you less selfish than someone who waits until they are thirty. You can selfishly despise your children for shackling you while you are young; but if that is the case then you are not living by faith and trusting in the promises of God. If you live by faith, God uses the children to sanctify you, which is to say that you will be less selfish because of your children. This doesn’t just apply to having children, though, the principle is universal – taking communion without faith, reading scripture without faith, or disciplining your children without faith will always end poorly.

Dealing with selfishness need not be the only reason to want children when you are young. Our view of the biblical mandate to have children is important and we should shun elevating popular wisdom above scriptural wisdom. It is possible that waiting to have children is more honoring to God than having them immediately. We are not all cut with the same cookie cutter and Godly wisdom must prevail in each situation. When it comes to specifics, what is good for you may not be good for me; but in principle, what is good for you is always good for me, and that means that we should all read the bible and come away with the same high view of children and family and the same low view of worldly wisdom.

Unfortunately there exists an evil kind of individualism in Protestantism (at least in America) that sometimes makes what I have just said taboo among Christians. In some ways childbearing is a very private matter, but it is also a covenant matter. We are members of a community and we are not called to be individuals with a private faith, we are called to be members of a community whose Lord is Christ. I think the issue of childbearing and childrearing needs to be discussed in the church in a way that is deliberately contra mundum. I believe a lot of good would come from it.

Popular psychology usually has enough truth in it to be appealing to Christians, but more often than not it is anti-biblical. We should live in fear of conforming the Bible to our minds and a good first step would be to eschew any conventional wisdom that doesn’t find its support in scripture. Where in scripture are we advised to enjoy the first few years of marriage without children? Where are we told to take time to learn to love our spouses before we bring children into the picture? This advice is peddled by Christian counselors and psychologists, but it is not biblical, and we accept it because it is immensely convenient to our individualism and hedonism. Vacations, together time, and date night do not weigh heavily in scriptural promises of blessing; raising godly children most certainly does (Psalm 127:3-5).

Finally, I will say that there is a real danger of becoming judgmental in this matter. Thankfully, we are not called to divine the reasons why each couple does or does not have children and then issue our judgment on the matter. We have not been deputized as the childbearing police to inquire of each of the childless why they haven’t started pumping out the babies. We should admonish one another to think biblically, however, for the purpose of living rightly before God.