Elayne is 14 weeks old today; she was 3 months old last Monday.
How time flies! Run through this much time 71 more times, and she’ll be 18: a strange thought, to be sure. Yes, that’s a lot of repetitions, but if they all go this quickly… well, it’s obvious that it won’t necessarily seem that long. I begin to understand my parents’ comments about how quickly we all grew up.
Begin, I say, because of course Ellie is only 3 months old. She’s cooing and laughing and starting to put things in her mouth and trying to roll. She gets happy when Mommy or Daddy enter the room, or come back after hours away at work, or put her where she can watch us while we’re cooking, or talk to her, or really do just about anything with her.
Except when she’s inconsolably fussy – which, seeing as she’s a baby, happens. Sometimes there is simply nothing we can do to make her happy. She would love to tell us exactly what she needs, I’m sure; we would love to know exactly what she needs so we can help her. (Of course, sometimes all she needs is to stop crying and go to sleep, because she’s crying because she’s overtired. These times are simultaneously hilarious and frustrating.)
I can see how people would find that children pull them apart in marriage, but I also see that (as with much of life) it depends on our focus. If we are consistently aiming to put Christ at the center, to love each other well, and to act as a team toward Ellie – taking the burden off of each other, even at cost to ourselves – our marriage is actually stronger. As Jaimie commented a few weeks ago: our communication is better now; our relationship is healthier now; our marriage is richer now. Ellie has made us closer, not drawn us apart.
Again: it’s easy to see how it happens, just as it’s easy to see how money can be contentious. Marriage and parenting make quite apparent how destructive selfish behavior is; they also highlight how powerful Christlike selflessness is. We’re far from perfect at it, of course, but even to be aiming at it – to therefore actively repent and apologize to one another when we fail – makes all the difference in the world. I cannot imagine how difficult a marriage aimed at our own self-satisfaction would be.
It is one of the beautiful ironies of life that only a marriage aimed at each other’s happiness rather than our own has any chance of producing true happiness. Likewise, only parenting that is willing to set the child’s good above one’s own can leave us glad at the end of the day. Relationships are hard work; taking care of a child is hard work. Yet they are both the best kind of hard work.
I feel I ought to mention something that’s been niggling at me for a while: the more time I have spent married, and (so far) the more time I have spent as a father, the more frustrated I get with our culture’s typical attitude toward marriage – and I mean our church culture as well as our secular culture. The latter I expect to view both selfishly, to see marriage as a trap and children as a burden. The former however, ought to see both as God does: truly good. Too often, instead, we act as though having children means your life is effectively over. This is simply nonsense. (It is, perhaps, reflective of our tendency to worship family and idolize our children.)
Likewise, the idea that somehow we need to be at a given point of selflessness and maturity before we marry or have children reflects a certain worldly wisdom, but it misses the mark entirely in my view. Selflessness is a commitment, by and large, not a state of being. We grow in selflessness by choosing to be selfless, plain and simple. If we are always waiting to arrive at some magical point, we will never be there. Marriage and children give us opportunities to exercise that choice, perhaps more frequently and profoundly than ever before – but saying "I’m not selfless enough yet" is really another way of saying "I don’t want to make that hard choice yet," which simply perpetuates the problem.
Maturity is important, it is true. Trajectory is more important, though: all the maturity in the world means little if we are stagnant or (worse!) going backwards; and all the immaturity in the world means little (not nothing, but little) if we are wholeheartedly seeking God and godliness.
This is not to say that everyone must immediately seek to have children upon getting married. It is, however, to utterly reject our culture’s view of children as burdensome and our tendency to resent the demands they make of us. It is to aim at Christlike dying to self every day whether or not we are married, whether or not we have children, so that should God choose to bless us with a spouse or a(nother) child, we will find it a cause for rejoicing and an opportunity to continue growing as we already are.
Rant over! I now return to my regularly schedule business of heading out the door for worship practice on this lovely Sunday morning. A post with pictures to follow sometime this week.