"How many kids do you guys want to have?" they said from across the dinner table. My wife and I looked at each other. "I could see us having 2, maybe 3...possibly more," I said, smiling at my wife. "One of us wants more, one of us wants less, so we might just meet in the middle." "Oh! You want a big family!" they said in response. "Well," I said, "I was an only child, so having several kids has always appealed to me. I always wanted a little sister when I was growing up. How many kids do you want?"
The above is not a specific conversation with specific people - but it is one that my wife and I have had over and over in one form or another when getting to know friends or sitting around the dinner table with new acquaintances. After, "What do you do for a living?" and "Where do you live?" and "How did you guys meet?" and "Do you guys have kids?", it seems to be the next most common question. Now that my wife is pregnant with our fourth, the question often becomes, "Wow, four! Are you done after this one?"
It's funny the kind of answers people give to that question. Answers like, "Oh yes - this is definitely the last one." Or, said in jest, "Actually, we're not sure how it happens!" (guilty of that one, I’m sorry to admit) after which everybody uncomfortably laughs at the obvious feigned ignorance of the birds and the bees. I recently heard the story of a mother who was pregnant with her fourth say she wanted to name her latest child in the womb "Miny", because, she said, after this one, "They're ain't gonna be no Mo!" (eeny, meeny, miny...)
With medical advancements in both the approach to infertility and the approach to contraception, it's amazing how we as a culture and we as couples strive to control the flow of children, either doing everything we can to have them or doing everything we can not to have them. But what is God's perspective on family size and children? Does He desire us to have more or less, or does He just leave that up to us and doesn't care either way? And how might having children be connected to happiness and prosperity in God's economy?
Psalm 127 was written by Solomon, the richest and wisest man that has ever lived:
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so he gives His beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate." (NKJV)
While committing that chapter to memory during my devotional time this morning, it hit me that King Solomon might be making a connection between building wealth and having children in the home. I had heard the verse about making sure the Lord builds your house many times, and I had also heard the verses about children being a reward, but I had never made the connection between the two thoughts. Nor did I realize they were back-to-back in the same chapter of Psalms. Herein lies the value of memorizing an entire passage of scripture rather than just a single verse. The proverb-writer might be saying that there is a correlation between the Lord providing for us financially and physically through the building of our careers and businesses, and the provision and reward He brings by enabling us to produce children and build families. And since he describes a man as happy if his quiver is "full" of children, it seems that more children = more happiness. I'll add this is especially and definitely true when having children and building a family is led by and committed to the Lord, and within the bonds of marriage.
And then there's Genesis 1:28, where God says, "Be fruitful and multiply" to Adam and Eve right after He creates them. It's literally the first thing He tells them.
As I continued my study I realized that I didn't really know what Psalm 127:5 meant when it said those with a quiver full of children "shall speak with their enemies in the gate." Through some quick online research I discovered a great commentary on that verse from Bible Study Tools. Here's one quote that really stood out to me:
"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. Those who have no children bewail the fact; those who have few children see them soon gone, and the house is silent, and their life has lost a charm; those who have many gracious children are upon the whole the happiest. Of course a large number of children means a large number of trials; but when these are met by faith in the Lord it also means a mass of love, and a multitude of joys. The writer of this comment gives it as his own observation, that he has seen the most frequent unhappiness in marriages which are unfruitful; that he has himself been most grateful for two of the best of sons; but as they have both grown up, and he has no child at home, he has without a tinge of murmuring, or even wishing that he were otherwise circumstanced, felt that it might have been a blessing to have had a more numerous family: he therefore heartily agrees with the Psalmist's verdict herein expressed."
Doesn't this fly in the face of our society's perspective of children? Pregnancy or the prospect of more children is so often met with remorse or regret, and existing children are seen as a burden, as costly, or as a limitation to "what I'd really like to be doing right now." We carefully calculate what each new child brings - if it is a boy then he might have a ton of energy and be hard to manage as a child and eat us out of house and home when he becomes a teenager. If it is a girl then she might fill our home with emotional drama and then drain our IRAs when it's time to pay for the wedding. And if it's a second or third girl? Well, you better start saving now!
It's catchy to jump to these negative conclusions as soon as the gender is revealed so we can get a sarcastic laugh from our friends or roll our eyes. Chalk it up to misery loves company, I guess. Especially when having children and building families comes at the same time most of us are building our careers and establishing ourselves in business. It's then when children and their needs pose a direct threat to getting the promotion, making the sale, or being available for business trips. It's not hip to actually be excited about having more children (I'm speaking in generalities, of course. I know many of us are ecstatic about having and planning for more children). If we get excited then we must be some sort of glutton for punishment or reality TV show wannabe.
Of course the opposite is actually true - each child brings an immeasurable amount of love and joy into our lives as parents if we steward them well and intentionally train them to know and love God above all else. That goes for an only child on up to child # whatever is next. Each child has a unique personality and calling, and changes the dynamic of our family's collective personality. Psalm 139 says that each child born to us is "fearfully and wonderfully made," and "every day ordained for [them] was written before one of them came to be." That means God has been thinking about the lives and the potential of each one of our children's lives (and our own lives) since before time began.
We also know that couples who deeply desire their first child or deeply desire having more children, but have not been able to have them, suffer significant heartache. What must they think when those who are fertile bemoan another pregnancy or do all they can to prevent having another child? To them children are the farthest from a burden, and are instead a dream they only hope will be fulfilled. To them I say - don't give up on the dream! And be sure to take your desires to the God of the universe, the one who created the miraculous reproduction process to begin with. Take your desires to Him in faith and with your request made known unto him (Phillippians 4:6), and His peace will guard your heart and mind as you wait. We know at least six couples that have faced the trial of infertility for years on end, only to have the Lord bring forth children (often in multiples) in His perfect timing and miraculous working. And we have personally worked through the trial of mis-carriage, with two of our four children being conceived inside the would-be window of the previous pregnancy.
And then there are those that are called to a life of singleness. For them there is the prospect and reward of spiritual children, as the same Bible Study Tools commentary describes:
"He who is the father of a host of spiritual children is unquestionably happy. He can answer all opponents by pointing to souls who have been saved by his means. Converts are emphatically the heritage of the Lord, and the reward of the preacher's soul travail. By these, under the power of the Holy Ghost, the city of the church is both built up and watched, and the Lord has the glory of it."
Look - I get it - having children isn't easy. Sometimes there are medical reasons why a couple can't have more children, as it was in the case of my own parents. And it can be downright hard. It requires us to die to ourselves. It feels almost impossible sometimes to meet our kids' needs and not forget about our own. It requires real intentionality and right priorities to both maintain a healthy marriage and be a great parent. Oh, and make a living. And most definitely, everyone needs to know their capacity, and should only have as many children as they feel equipped and called to have. We aren’t doing them or ourselves any favors by having children and not stewarding them well. In fact, that’s a huge part of what we do at Totally Transformed Ministries - we address the hurts and wounds caused by parents who never dealt with their own issues and instead passed them on to their children in the form of abuse, wounding and strongholds of sin. We will all be held accountable for the responsibility we have to reflect the heart of God to our children and raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But God knows all of this. And we have the promise of Matthew 6:33 - that if we seek Him first and His righteousness, all these things will be added unto us. He will help us be the parents we need to be if we seek Him first and ask for the help.
My conclusion is this: Children are a reward, not a burden. Have them, and have as many of them as the Lord leads you to have. And don't apologize for it. You will never regret a larger number - even if it's more than you originally thought you would or should have - if you are prayerfully seeking the Lord after each one is born. As one good friend and mother of six recently said to us, "If we could do it all over again, we would have had a couple more."