TIME Magazine recently featured an article about couples who choose to go on without kids. It’s caused quite a stir.
I’m sure I could weigh in – I am, after all, a father of 3. But I think the article serves more interestingly as a sociological piece. Our world would seem so strange to the ancients – or even to those in developing countries. Whereas they viewed children as a gift you hoped for, susceptible to early death, and also a means to economic security…we view children as a human choices made in our plan, objects of our medical-technological control, and a trade-off with our economic mobility. This is generally true regardless of how many children we do or do not have.
In any case, I think you can have some pretty horrible reasons for not having kids – just as you can for having them. And of course, there are some pretty glorious reasons to go one way or the other as well. And still, there are those of us who have kids by ‘accident’; others who cannot no matter what we try (both instances betraying the modern notion that children are mere products of our will).
Seems to me that our station in life is important, but it’s not always clear which is inferior or superior. What seems most important though is, having found our station, how we choose to live within it. If we’re ever going to be judged, I suspect it will and should be for that.
This is especially true for those of us who are Christians. The Apostle Paul teaches us that marriage is relativized in light of eternity (spoiler: there will be no marriage in heaven). Jesus subverts the sanctity of marriage, children, and family when he asserted that his family was not necessarily biological, but spiritual–i.e., those who do the will of my Father. Our “life stage” (that whole concept is demolished not only in modern thinking, but in view of the resurrection when we should no longer assume that every single person should get married, or that every married couple should have children, etc.), or station in life, as the ancients called it, is a present reality and of real importance. And yet it is not of ultimate importance. That’s why Paul could have the guts to say something as blasphemous as, “Those who are married should live as they were not.” If we were to follow that logic, we should also say, “Those who have children should live as they did not.” Being married isn’t better than being single, nor is having children better than not (although – most people still would prefer to be married and have children; it’s natural). What matters most is how, as a married person, or a parent, we give ourselves wholly to the Lord.
But if we take Jesus seriously, we could even say, “Those who are single or childless should live as if they were not.” Because our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our children aren’t biological but spiritual–those who do the will of our Father. Even if I am single – by choice or not – I am called to belong to and sacrificially love God’s family. Even if I am childless – by choice or not – I am called to care for “the least of these” and to make disciples, that is bearing spiritual children. Being single or childless means a large measure of liberty (although with loneliness mixed in), but the question Jesus and Paul would ask us is: What are we doing with that liberty? Are we living for YOLO? Or are we living for YHWH? (please don’t roll your eyes).
And this is where we, as Christians, must diverge from the contemporary ideas about marriage, children, and family. Our goal isn’t supposed to be personal fulfillment or self-actualization. Having children merely to make us happier is as evil as not having children for the same reason; because while either path can make us happy, regardless of the path, we are called to service, not to self-gratification. And children are not a means (or an obstacle – although Jesus says we adults can be one for them), they are human beings made in the Image of God, people whom we must continue to love and nurture even when their ability to make us happy diminishes. And so as followers of Jesus, while I think we can weigh in on topics like these, the most important question isn’t IF we should do this or that, but HOW. The goal isn’t personal fulfillment, but living wholly unto the Lord, offering our lives as living sacrifices to God – regardless of what kind of station we find our lives in.