This afternoon I was reading Family Driven Faith, by Voddie Baucham. I was challenged by his comments on our culture’s adverse reaction to big families. Here is an excerpt from the section,
Several months ago I was teaching this [Acts 1:6-8] at a retreat for a church tucked away securely in the Bible Belt. During the retreat I suggested that for some of those college students the application of this biblical principle might mean earning a linguistics degree and translating the Bible into languages of unreached people groups. As I looked across the room at the approving wide eyes and nodding heads, I added, “Others of you, however, may be called to have large families and train your five or six kids in righteousness so that they will in turn impact the world for Christ.” You could have the tension with a proverbial knife. This room was full of approving, eager young men and women turned into a convention of Martians hearing English spoken for the first time. They looked at me as if to say, “That was a good one. When are you going to say, ‘Just kidding’?”
I took that opportunity to make an important observation. I pointed out the obvious discomfort in the room and asked, “When did we begin to hate children?” [emphasis mine] Suddenly the attitude in the room changed. These young people were being forced to examine a cultural assumption that has been allowed to trump biblical truth for far too long in our culture. Again Mohler places his finger firmly on the pulse of the culture when he writes, “Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design.”
The idea that motherhood, fatherhood, and family are not as honorable as high-income careers or highly visible ministry positions is biblically uninformed at best and grossly heretical at worst. This attitude has been manifested in numerous ways in recent years both inside and outside the church. (p.24)
As I reflected on Baucham’s thoughts, I was challenged by my own sin in the way I view large families. Namely, not as a blessing, but rather as an object of abnormality. How wrong I have been! I have often sinfully joked with Shaun that I don’t want to have so many kids in our family that we look like a circus act, and I certainly don’t want to drive a church van just to seat our own family. This book is helping me to see how it is good and perfectly normal to have a “large” family set on glorifying God. I am not implying that everyone must have seven children. Rather, asking: Are we, as Christians, limiting our family size for legitimate reasons?
Let me flesh this out:
Over and over in the Old Testament we see that God gifted families with children. One of our preliminary commandments in Genesis is to fill the earth by having children! Genesis 1:28 says, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Likewise, 1 Samuel 1-2 displays children as a gift. It is the story of Hannah’s petition for a child. God remembers her request and gives her family a son (1:19). Additionally, the Lord blessed Hannah (vs. 20) and was gracious to her (vs.21) by giving her three more sons and two daughters! Numerous children were a gift from God!
One passage in particular often quoted on this subject is Psalm 127:3-5. It states,
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
There is much imagery that comes to mind when considering a warrior with his quiver of arrows. He is equipped by these arrows to fulfill his role as a warrior. I do not want to stretch the imagery too far (I am not a quiver full movement advocate), but one of the purposes of marriage is the propogation of children. This verse indicates that one is indeed blessed if the Lord allows a “quiver of arrows” (namely, many children)!
As Shaun and I were talking through this issue earlier in the day, I discovered my primary concern (involving this inhibition of a large family) centers on the fear of having six or seven rambunctious and disobedient children more than a rejection of having a large family altogether. We proceeded to talk through these thoughts. Before Shaun and I married, I made it a point to visit with several wives whom I respected in order to gain their wisdom on marriage tips and the like. Before were had Augustine, I repeated the process with mothers with whom I admired their godliness in parenting. Whether the parent had one child or four, the recurrent theme of how the child behaved focused around godly discipline and training. The way these children were raised-by the parent’s prayers, adherence to the Bible and hard work- was more of an influence in their consequence of their behavior than the behavior being effected by the number of children which a particular mother had. I am sure that one undisciplined child would drive a mother to tears and frustration much quicker than six children who have been disciplined to obey their parents. In relation to Psalm 127, it is our job as parents to guide the arrows of our children so to speak. If we take aim in how we parent, we are much more likely to hit the target than if we simply pull back the bow and see what happens. An arrow can be guided towards good or evil, and in the same way how we raise our children will either be for good or ill. So, it seemed my initial opposition to a large rambunctious family was not such a legitimate opposition any longer. But this is just one opposition (I think most oppositions are primarily culturally influenced) of many oppositions to large families. Here are some others (some objections taken from Baucham, p.25):
- Having a child too soon after marriage. A myth that children will ruin your time together as a married couple. This does not picture children as a blessing and a way to nurture your sanctification as a married couple.
- Having a boy and a girl makes the “perfect little family.” Implying that it is culturally appropriate to have one child of each gender. Since a couple has experience with both genders- what need is there for more children? Is our purpose in having children a way to be socially acceptable or should we consider parenting as a means to glorify God? Is having children primarily focused on our happiness (i.e. a boy and a girl makes me happy with this arrangement) or is our womb something we should consult God’s opinion about?
- “Don’t get stuck with a bunch of kids.” Again, clarifying that children are a burden and an object of taxation. Rather that viewing children as a way to train up worshippers of God!
- A diplomatic approach: the rising cost of tuition, groceries, clothes, etc. This implies that in order to have additional children we must be able to meet a culturally accepted version of finances. Do each of our children need their own room? Must we send our children to high-profile colleges? Must we dress our children in name-brand clothing? Or- we can only have additional children if we can still afford to have the financial lifestyle we enjoy (eating out, vacations, nice cars, nice houses). Perhaps our thoughts on having additional children shouldn’t be all self-focused. Perhaps it would strengthen our walk with Jesus to deny ourselves.
I think Baucham hits the sin of our hearts when he states, “The size of our families has become a matter of income and convenience. Our attitude toward children is “A boy for me and a girl for you, the praise the Lord, we’re finally through!” I am amazed at the number of people I meet who live in a two-thousand-square-foot homes with two cars parked outside and argue that they can only “afford” to have one or two children. Amazing! Our forebears successfully raised houses full of children in homes that we would now consider meager at best, but we can’t afford it.” (p.26) Our selfishness is blocking our eyes to see children in a biblical view.
Again, I am not affirming that large families are biblically mandated or that it is a sin to limit the size of your family. Rather, I am wanting to challenge ourselves to ask tough questions: Are we limiting ourselves from God’s blessings because of our selfishness and cultural bias? Or are we embracing an openness to be willing to glorify God in another area of our lives (that we may not be as inclined to)?
This is an area I am committing to prayer. Will you join me?
How has the culture influenced you in this area?
Thanks for reading!