When I was a young mother with an overflowing stroller, accustomed to strangers counting my children aloud, I could not have been more aware that this particular kind of fruitfulness was not generally admired in the world. I received vast amounts of godly encouragement from my husband, from the word, and from the church — but I was also very clear on why I needed that kind of encouragement.
Believing that what God says about children is true is not the same as living like it is true. As it turns out, this tremendous blessing of children that God sent into my life was the ground on which I learned the glorious truth that baskets full of fruit are heavy. Glorious, bountiful, fruitful, faithful living does not feel easy, carefree, relaxing, simple, or streamlined. The life of faithful mothering, it turns out, must actually be full of faith.
Mothers need to believe that the work we are doing is important, that it honors God, that it matters eternally that we do it well. And we need to remember these things when we are physically exhausted, emotionally frazzled, and spiritually thin. It can be hard to believe — in the middle of a wild day of toddler life in your little home — that what you are doing is kingdom-building, dragon-slaying, gospel-proclaiming, glorious work.
The flesh wants to see the Cheerios and the sippy cups and the sticky floors, and it wants to wallow in feelings of not being seen or understood. The flesh wants to believe that what can be seen easily by tired eyes is the extent of the matter. This is all. You, the bedraggled mother of all these dirty children, are wasting your life. You settled. You have been deceived, and now you are being shown to have been a fool with no ambition.
But the flesh, like always, is not on our side. It must be overcome by faith. It must not be listened to, put in an authoritative position, or believed.
Games We Play with Kids
I am sure that mothers throughout all of history have struggled with being discouraged, but our time is actually unique in the momentum that goes against the basic, faithful fruitfulness of Christian marriage. There were other eras when fruitfulness and fertility were still admired by the world. The flesh would not have needed to stand up to so much in that context, and the devil would have found other ways to keep women off task. But in this time, in our era, we are surrounded by a world that thinks it is inventing itself.
A young Christian couple can get married today and announce, without pushback, what their goals and dreams are. Essentially, this is our board game of life, and these are the rules we are playing with. Our goals are financial — we will view owning our own home as a reward. We want to plant for a life of leisure and harvest the blessing of relaxing vacations. In this world we think we are making, children would not be a blessing. They would not be a reward. They will not be our inheritance. We’ll probably choose a dog at some point. Success will be measured by our desires, and we will have done well when we have pleased ourselves.
But for Christians, we cannot imagine that we’re actually building this world, or the rules. We are not planning out the purpose of our own life — God the Creator has done that, and he has given us his word. This is the truth about the real world, about what actually matters, about what we must value and pursue and believe and live for. God has already decided these things, and they are not up in the air for us to decide.
What God Calls Children
If you look to Scripture to tell you what to think about children, you will find a shocking contrast to the worldly thoughts that all of us have been marinating in.
Even those of us who have always been pro-life have nonetheless taken on some thinking that children are objectively an interruption, a burden, a difficulty — unless you decided you wanted one like the world wants a pet. We have still thought the barefoot pregnant woman in the kitchen is a little lowbrow. We have allowed the world to shape our understanding on the most fundamental things of life.
What we need more than anything is to marinate more deeply in the truth of God’s word, to let those unbelieving thoughts be driven out by reality. Because what God says is reality, and we cannot and should not want to opt out of it. God says,
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is that man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3–5)
The modern Christian couple will shy away from almost everything in this passage. I don’t want that reward, thanks. I don’t care to be fighting with anyone, so this military language does not appeal. I’d prefer to not have a quiver of any kind really, much less one that is full of life. I don’t think that sounds like a blessing I want . . .
If you feel yourself shying away from the language that Scripture uses about children, know that what you are shying away from is blessing — God’s blessing. There is nothing in the world so heavy, so glorious, so desirable as God’s blessings.
Another Unexpected Blessing
Those first four children of mine that used to shock the world are now all taller than I am, all teenagers. It is easy for me to see the glory now. Proverbs 17:6 says that children’s children are the crown of the aged — and we are far enough into this parenting life to know that crowns are made out of things that take great effort. Gold that must be mined and refined in fire, precious stones that are found deep in the earth and cut and polished and worked until they can be set. Glory is heavy, like gold — but also like gold, it is real and precious.
God has blessed us with a surprise pregnancy this year, a baby number eight — and while being pregnant at 41 was never one of my plans or ideas, I am deeply grateful. I know from the inside out that what God says about children is true and real. And when people are inclined to look at me with my pregnant belly like I am the dot on a wild exclamation point, I agree with them. This exclamation point is needed, because it follows after a testimony that God is faithful. He is merciful. He is doing great things for us.
Our God is the living God, the one who spoke all of reality into existence. What he says about the world is reality, and what the world says about him is nothing but a mist.