Monday, June 28, 2010

Letters to a Friend

I've been thinking a lot lately about an ongoing discussion with a good friend.

Thursday night I left the family high and dry and met a dude I hadn't seen since Clinton was in office.  My friend was in Houston to pledge his fealty to HM Queen Elizabeth II at the Brit consulate the next day.  He's going to be a dual citizen so as to support as many failed World Cup teams as possible.*  I took him to this dive seafood joint to celebrate, and we were just about the last ones out.

Six months back, one located the other on Facebook, that best and worst of websites.  We corresponded for a good while in these long letters, er, posts.  The conversation ranged as far as can be imagined:  How each spent the last 15 years, politics, culture, economics, religion, lots of religion.  He's a minister, and an expert on our tradition's history.  As we wrote, I thought about those old books anthologizing letters written between friends (and enemies).

We'd speak on the phone, we'd write.  The subject finally turned to having kids, and more specifically, their choice to wait.  One day, he wrote this:
When you had a ‘little [E.C.]’…what thoughts went through your head?

We still don’t have kids even though we love them. It’s just this world is such a rotten, crummy place for children and raising a family. I can hardly get past that concern. If you have a child, how, in this world, do you raise them to be God’s person? It is a really tall task. I mean, you can do your best and some idiot can undo all of that love and concern in just seconds.

Then there are the questions of, “What if this child is not healthy…what does that do to the ministry we have for God? How does that hinder (or help) it?”

So did you think that through? Or, did having a kid just sort of ‘happen’…. ;-)

I think for a lot of couples it just happens, but we have been more deliberate purposefully. We know life changes with children…which means we are having to think it through.

Any pearls of wisdom?
Shazam.  When you're asked that kind of question, there's no fudging an answer:
Yes, I was scared enough to wet myself that our child would be disabled...  Not smart. Not pretty. Have 11 toes. Have no toes... Would be miscarried. Would be unpopular and unsocial. Would never find a mate. Would find a terrible one. Would rebel and hate us. Every fear that you've seen, have heard, or have imagined went through my mind... For awhile.
Oddly enough, understanding the gravity of the decision doesn't necessarily push you towards saying 'no.'  You just realize just how high the stakes are.
I worry that Jack won't be a Christian. That he will see my unbelief, my inaction, my hypocrisy, and say it's not worth it. Say that God is not worth it. Man, that scares the living daylights out of me.
If you don't know, ministry badly chews up kids (and ministers).  The children get to see all the ugly, normally unseen parts of church life and church struggles.  My friend worried what that sort of life would do to a child's view of God.  It's a darn good question.

Having children is an exercise in trust.  The 100% self-reliant folks need not apply.  Because you're gonna need some extra hands:
If you're worried about bringing a child into "this world" you're probably not worried about that. You're worried about something else: Chance. Fate. The unknown. Evil. Yourself. There were kids being born in Jerusalem in 69 AD. But more interestingly, there were kids being born around Jerusalem in 71 and 72 AD. After mom and dad saw what Rome (through Titus) could do, saw all of the uncertainty the world could bring, they kept having kids...**
Eventually you realize that as many calamities as you can fear, there are an equal number of wonderful things to hope for.

As I think I've told you before, kids are resilient. And if we made it through to this point, they can too. Will all of them? No. Will, as you said, some idiot come along and undo everything some parents have done? Yeah. And that's why you prepare, teach, ask God to make you a better preparer, and teacher, and person...

So at some point you have to say, "God, I trust you to make this child what s/he will be, and to make me strong, smart, good, trusting, kind, and resourceful enough to bear whatever you give to us."
I did my best to convince him they were exactly the people that should be having kids:
Being deliberate about this isn't bad. I wish more people would be intentional, and think things through. I would love to know people like y'all are raising kids...
Some of the people that probably should be having kids, well, aren't.  (For now, let's put aside those that for whatever unfortunate reason cannot.)  How many would-be (good) parents are sitting this one out?  How many (good) children aren't being born?

So did I convince him?  No idea.

Jack's Line of the Week:
HM:  "Jack, do you want some berries?"
JMW, Capt.:  [enthusiastically  nodding]
HM:  "What kind of berries?"
JMW, Capt.:  "Dakbewah." [Jackberries.]
*Pip pip, cheerio, Wayne Rooney, and the colour grey to you, old boy.  Bob's your uncle.  Blimey!

**I know, I know, you can easily argue they didn't have much choice - but let's assume the conscious decision.


Jennifer Reinsch said...

Very thought-provoking post. If I had any brain power left today, I would comment on it, but since I fear any comment I might currently make would border on incoherent, I'll refrain.

Oh my goodness, Jack is getting so big.

Anonymous said...

nothing in life is guarenteed! Love the way the toes dig into the climbing wall--the climbing gear is definately in tact!

Marc Ayers said...

Your comments were spot on. The reality is that we are not in control of our own lives, and are not really in control of those little ones entrusted to us. We do our best to raise them and guide them toward Christ. But there is always the chance that things do not go the way we want them - that is part of the great drama of Creation. But, then again, how do we know that when our plans for our kids go awry, that diversion will not end up being for the greater good of them, us, the Kingdom, the World? (See Joseph and his brothers. Also see, of course, Obi Wan Kenobi giving up his life on the Death Star and becoming a power ghost.)

We are called to be fruitful and to transform the world, sanctifying it to God. Throughout Christian history, the family - not personal evangelism as we know it today - was considered the primary mode of growing the Kingdom. We have children and raise them to serve and follow God; they do the same. If we do not engage the world in this way, we lose that magic that only children can bring - to us as well as to the world. As any parent knows, children are the greatest sanctifying agent imaginable. They force us to re-evaluate, re-prioritize and sacrifice. (For example, I have already given up my dreams of forming an 80s hair band rock group that I was planning to call "Sidewinder.") They force us to die to ourselves, and it is with that focus that we can best help transform the world.

Children bring such magic and wonder into the world, and actually see the magic and wonder in it in ways that we have forgotten. The point is that we never know just what effect any given child might have on the world, even if the world is in bad shape. We should not deprive the world of the chance to find out.

El Comodoro said...

Marc! Ladies and Gentlemen, my brother from another mother has arrived. They will let ANYBODY in here!

That's exactly it - doing your darnedest to have children that change the world, and yet are not changed by it, at least not in any (eternally) meaningful way.

Reminds me of Romans 12. We're to sacrifice ourselves (as you said - v1), reject conformity with the world (v2) and overcome the "I'm only one person and can't really do much" argument by joining our selves/gifts together in Christ (v4) with humility (v3).

And you're absolutely right that we're taking on bigger decisions than we're able by deciding to (with good intentions) withhold ourselves, or our children from walking around this ratty joint.

We've forgotten God's power to best use us as his tools. At his good pleasure. As he wishes.

And that's a great comfort.

Are we doing Family-Lite? Has it lead to Evangelism-Lite?

(Almost shot coffee out my nose with the power ghost comment, by the way...)