A pervasive myth in our culture is that commitment and sacrifice are barriers to our fulfillment - but family is really the path to fulfillment.
Part 1: Why Family? Purpose and Blessing »
In the midst of developing this series of articles, I was interrupted. Moving into the second trimester of her pregnancy, my wife was just getting over morning sickness when she had her worst day yet. She woke up with a migraine and nausea and then found she couldn't keep down any of the medicine that would treat those problems. She threw up multiple times. Eventually, the doctor's office encouraged us to go to the emergency room and get an IV drip going to avoid dehydration and a health risk for the baby.
Candice needed me through all this:
- to bring her breakfast (that she threw up)
- to bring her ice chips (that she threw up)
- to feed the kids breakfast
- to re-arrange my work schedule so I could take our daughter to pre-school
- to clear the rest of my work schedule because now Candice really needed me:
- to run to the drugstore
- to pick our daughter up from pre-school
- to feed the kids lunch
- to handle numerous phone calls and visitors at the door
- to feed the kids dinner (with help from some generous friends)
- and then to pack up supplies and arrange for someone (specifically those same generous friends) to take care of our kids while we took off for the emergency room.
So what was the topic I was planning to address in my post? The crucible of marriage and family, with "crucible" defined as "the state of pain or anguish that tests one's resiliency and character." Now my day yesterday is nowhere near the family crucible hall of fame. It's fairly routine for pregnant women to need this level of care and I'm aware of several who needed much more help because of greater complications.
Pregnancy is, however, prime time for me in my roles of provider and protector. It's also a reminder that the blessings of family are interwoven with the responsibilities and challenges. My problem is that it doesn't come naturally for me to lay down my life for my family. I do it because they need me to — because they're counting on me.
In the past nine years of marriage and six years of parenting, I've discovered servant muscles I didn't know I had. When I was single I thought I was a fairly altruistic guy. Having a family has helped me realize how selfish I really was (and can still be at times). Like the crucibles used in the labs to heat substances for refining, the responsibilities of family flare up and work to refine the selfishness out of me. God calls us all to think of others before ourselves — family tests our ability to do that on a regular basis. It adds a level of high heat that is rarely equaled in other settings. It's true that some people melt under the heat and either try to leave the kitchen or let the heat burn the wife and/or kids who need their help (I've been there). But if they can keep the heat contained in the crucible, it can do its refining work. This is consistent with Romans 5:3 and 4: "We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope."
Reflecting on the difficulties of maintaining happiness within family, Gary Thomas observed that maybe God didn't give us marriage and children to make us happy, but to make us holy. A pervasive myth in our culture is that commitment and sacrifice are barriers to our fulfillment — the crucible of family proves that they are instead the path.
In the last couple of years, social scientists who once warned about a population explosion and encouraged controls on reproduction are now making a 180 degree turn. Analysts such as Philip Longman warn fellow liberals that conservatives who choose to have children will win tomorrow's debates simply by sending representatives into the future. While it's no guarantee that children will believe and vote the same as their parents, the likelihood is that the majority will. Already there has been talk of a Roe effect in which the anti-reproductive agenda of the Democratic party may have cost them the past two presidential elections by cutting off a supply of future voters.
Anyone interested in fulfilling the High School graduation cliché of leaving the world a better place should recognize that leaving descendants can have lots of direct impact. Sting recently released a song called "Send Your Love" that touches on the power of having children in order to affect the years ahead. "Send your love into the future," the song says. "Send your precious love into some distant time." More importantly, Sting backed up his advice by having six children.
Students of the Bible discover that God sees the idea of leaving a legacy as much bigger than politics or personal values. Malachi 2 says:
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.
Author Gary Thomas once observed that those boring genealogy chapters about how so and so begat so and so may be among the most important in the Bible. He points out that for all his writing and speaking, maybe the most significant thing he did was "begat" his three children.
That was the message I got from my dad as he lay dying in the hospital. In his short 56 years, he launched his own church, negotiated over 500 cuts of songs he wrote and chalked up numerous other accomplishments. Yet, he told me, "Marrying your mom and having you and your brothers were the best things I ever did."
Our investment in family doesn't always show a return in our lifetime. One of the scriptures I leaned on the most as a single was Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Only recently, did I notice that in the scripture just before that passage, the Lord was telling the exiles in Babylon that He would take them back to Jerusalem in seventy years. That means a lot of the exiles who heard that message would be either really old or maybe even dead before that promise was fulfilled. So what "hope and future" was God talking about? To find that, you have to back up a few more verses:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
It's important to note that God not only blessed these exiles with hope and prosperity 70 years later, but that He blessed them during those 70 years through the families He encouraged them to form. It's also worth noting that the future blessing not only included a return from exile, but also continuity of a lineage that brought the Messiah into the world.
What legacy have you inherited? Whether you have received a rich or a poor spiritual legacy, you have the opportunity to contribute a significant chapter of your own to God's unfolding story throughout the generations.
My goal has been to offer answers to the question, "Why should men marry and have children?" Courtship experts Leon and Amy Kass remind us, however, that many people will not stop and ask these questions or seek diligently for solid answers, and yet may still do OK. In the marriage anthology they edited called Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, they write:
[S]ome people still manage to proceed from falling-in-love through courtship to marriage relatively thoughtlessly (or, if you prefer, "naturally" or "spontaneously"). And as a matter of fact, not many people in the midst of their premarital maneuverings, and not even those who consciously ask themselves such questions, recognize the complexities and profundities of the subject. Perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps if men and women really understood what they were undertaking, they would never marry but would flee in panic. Love and marriage, so the argument runs, are too important to be imperiled by thinking too much; hence, one should act first and perhaps gain understanding later of what one has done.
Perhaps the natural or spontaneous path will still be sufficient for many. As skeptics build stronger cases against family, however, it may be good for us all (married and unmarried alike) to have some Biblical vision on hand to help answer the question, "Why family?"
Copyright 2006 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.