Why Family? Part 1: Purpose and Blessing

Jun 29, 2006 |Steve Watters

Single men have asked "Who should I marry?" and "When should I marry?" But now they're finding themselves asking a more fundamental question: "Why marry?"

"Why family?" is a question people ask today in a way they never did before. Social scientists have observed that while single men have been asking "Who should I marry?" and "When should I marry?" for some time, it's fairly new for them to add the question, "Why marry?" and then if marriage occurs to ask "Why have children?"

Socrates once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and a growing number of singles are taking that truth to heart in regard to a path their parents and grandparents followed without much thought. Some skeptics encourage deep reflection prior to marriage as a way to avoid divorce. They ask singles to pause and take a rational look at marriage before riding the crest of infatuation into a potentially bad thing. Other skeptics question the whole institution of marriage in a day when many of the benefits of matrimony are increasingly available to guys without a formal commitment. In that light, they ask, "Why take on the headaches, the costs, the risks and responsibilities of marriage?" "Why lose my freedom?" "Why limit my options by committing to one person?"

Some guys concede that marriage is worth those tradeoffs but reserve greater skepticism about having children. Why not just enjoy a childless marriage? I get the sense that guys asking these questions are finding better reasons not to marry or have children than they are reasons to go for it.

I'm afraid that our churches and friends in the faith community have little to offer us on this subject as well — with few prepared to provide a Biblical vision for family in the midst of our skeptical culture. Even those we know in strong families often can't quite articulate why a young man should pursue what they have.

How would you answer the question, "Why family?"

Purpose

Upon hearing the story behind the ring Bilbo had left to him, Frodo said, "I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?"

"Such questions cannot be answered," replied Gandalf. "You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

Even though it ended up involving untold peril and hardship, there is something envious about Frodo discovering his purpose in life. For many young single men, a sense of purpose is highly elusive. In an affluent culture, where money can deliver all kinds of stuff and experiences, it becomes that much more frustrating that it can't deliver purpose. Consider this passage from the book A Whole New Mind, by Dan Pink:

Abundance has brought beautiful things to our lives, but that bevy of material goods has not necessarily made us much happier. The paradox of prosperity is that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal, family and life satisfaction haven't budged. That's why people — liberated by prosperity but not fulfilled by it — are resolving the paradox by searching for meaning.

Why do you think The Purpose-Driven Life has sold 25 million copies? Why do you think Wild at Heart has been so popular with men? These books offer modern readers an opportunity to rediscover timeless Biblical truth in order to restore purpose and vision to their lives. Unfortunately, these books have little to say about family. Yet family is woven throughout the Bible as an element of purpose — especially in the initial creation and commissioning of humans that takes place in Genesis.

Take a look at Genesis 1:26-29 and Genesis 2:18-24. Theologians find in these two passages a commissioning for men to get out in the world and to be stewards of God's creation — creating and developing the world in His image. It's also clear, however, that God is directing men to take on that challenge and responsibility in partnership with a wife. Using strong verbs, God calls a man to "leave father and mother and be united to his wife" and to "be fruitful and increase in number."

Young men longing for purpose in life should recognize that Genesis offers a rough outline for their calling. While it doesn't tell them what creative or developing work they should take on, it does indicate to them that a wife and family will be central to accomplishing that work. Unless they are among the small minority of men who are given a gift of celibacy that allows them to take on their calling without the companionship of a wife, family will be the organizing structure and central element of their purpose.

A man's calling to create and develop will intersect with family in two ways — both in his pursuit and cultivation of a family and then in how family will bring support and motivation for the creative and developing work a man has been called to do.

A young man who prayerfully discovers whether he has been called to do his work in family or in celibate service will then gain a new perspective for all the other decisions he has to make — regarding his time, his money, his sexual drive, his vocation and his avocations.

One of my favorite lines in It's a Wonderful Life is when George Bailey's mother says to him, "Why don't you go see Mary? She may be able to help you find the answers." While we all know that only God can complete us and that only He has answers to our deepest questions, we can see from Genesis that He created marriage and family as a path by which many of those answers will be revealed.

Blessing

As our generation increasingly takes a cost/benefit analysis approach to getting married and starting a family, it seems that the cost side is easier to articulate.

The 20,000 Quips and Quotes book on my shelf offers more entries on the costs of marriage than the benefits — with quotes like, "The trouble with wedlock is that there's not enough wed and too much lock" and "Marriage is a feminine plot to add to a man's responsibilities and subtract from his rights." When it comes to the costs of parenting, there are even calculators available now to let you know how much you can expect to shell out to raise a child over a lifetime (around $170,000 on average according to Parenthood.com).

These examples add to a growing list of costs (financial, emotional, social and otherwise) that we are told come with family. Yet the Bible describes family as a good thing and as a blessing. Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord." And check out how The Message paraphrases Psalm 127:3-5:

Don't you see that children are GOD's best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior's fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children!

While giving a blessing at my wedding, one of my graduate school professors noted that a blessing is not a passive thing, it's active — the intense opposite of a curse. Social research consistently reinforces the blessing of marriage in a man's life — showing that married men are much happier, healthier and wealthier. A study by Ohio State University showed that a person who marries (and stays married) builds nearly twice as much personal wealth as someone who is single or divorced.

One explanation for this blessing is Ecclesiastes 4:9 "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor." The economies of scale mean a husband and wife can pool their resources and efforts to make everything go further. I know I'm also healthier because my wife keeps things like vegetables in my diet and because she encourages me to have a doctor check things that I probably would keep on ignoring.

However, the primary reason men tend to benefit from family is because of the yoke that it places on them. Like the powerful oxen that can be guided with a yoke to cultivate the land, the structure of family channels a man's energy into productive causes. This is a principle George Gilder articulates well in Men and Marriage (especially in his opening prologue called "The Princess and the Barbarian").

A good recent example of the power of a yoke was the movie Cinderella Man. Based on the true story of boxer Jimmy Braddock, the movie shows the desperate times of the Great Depression challenging Jimmy's desire to be a good provider for his family. Going up against the daunting Max Baer, Jimmy is asked what he's fighting for. "Milk money," he says. While Max towers over Jimmy in the ring and even though he is known for killing a man with his powerful punch, he lacks Jimmy's motivation. In contrast to the earlier scenes of Max in a hotel room with two half-dressed women, we know Jimmy is doing his best to care for his wife Mae and their three kids. Towards the climax of the fight, Jimmy delivers every other punch following a mental flash of his family. It's the drive of a provider that ultimately proves to be his competitive edge.

PART 2: Why Family? Crucible and Legacy »

Copyright 2006 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.

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