Can You be Child-Free by Choice for the Kingdom of God?
Emily Timbol confesses in her piece “The Fruitful Callings of the Childless By Choice” that she's not sure if she’ll ever have children. And she promises it’s not because she and her husband are “kid-haters.” In fact, she explains, she very much enjoys children! She just believes she might have a different calling than motherhood over her life.
I, like Emily, have a distinct fondness for children.
I grew up around children. I babysat all through my teen years. I’ve worked for children’s camps, Vacation Bible Schools, and church nurseries. I have two nephews and two nieces, and they have taught me more about children and childcare than I learned in all my years leading up to their births.
Ever since my nephews were born, really, and I got to know all the stages of babyhood (and the joys those years bring) I smile when I see a baby. Pretty much any baby. It makes my husband laugh. Because, you see, I’m not particularly interested in having children.
Not because I’m scared to give birth.
Not because I desire to live a carefree life drinking margaritas on the beach with my husband until we keel over from the sheer thrill of our childless lives.
(Not even because my husband is mildly terrified of bringing another human life into the world.)
It makes me wince when I see Christians pester, or sometimes downright tear apart, couples who choose to be child-free. As if the biblical directive to Adam and Eve to populate the earth means that any couple not bearing children directly flies in the face of God’s will for their lives. As if the psalmist’s elation over bearing sons (the ultimate fiscal goal in a society that passed property from father to son) is a command for all to reproduce - straight from God himself.
It’s no wonder that couples unable to conceive feel such sting, such pain, such desolation. We have imparted to them (often without realizing it) that no family is complete without children. We have told them that because the Bible says “children are a blessing!” It must therefore mean childlessness is a curse, or else a case of lamentable selfishness.
We wouldn’t say this to their faces, of course. What feeling person would? We hold their hands, weep with them, and when the test results turn up negative, we remind them that they can still do so much for the Kingdom even without children. We remind them about foster care, adoption, and mentoring. We remind them that they can be father- and mother-figures to young people who desperately need them, even if they cannot hold their own baby in their arms.
How different from the responses so often given to couples who say they simply aren’t interested in having children. Without even inquiring further, the comments flow:
“You’ll regret it.”
“Why not? Children are a blessing from the Lord.”
“But it’s the most rewarding job you’ll ever have!”
Are those things truly fair to say? Fair to even think? Are those words full of grace and mercy?
The honest truth is that every husband and wife who elect to remain childless have their own reasons for doing so. Many do so because one spouse is a carrier for a horrible genetic abnormality, and any child conceived would suffer and die before or shortly after birth. Many do so because they live uncertain lives full of travel, or they live in poverty, or because they’re simply not sure yet if they want children.
Every family is unique, including my own. My husband has many years of graduate schooling ahead of him, and our journey could take us around the country or even to another country. Neither of us is in a profession to ever make very much money. Right now, both of us feel a distinct peace about remaining biologically childless – possibly just for now. Possibly forever.
And, for me personally, so much of that peace comes from work I hope to accomplish in building God’s Kingdom.
Have you ever taken the time to speak with someone who works in the foster care system? I have.
Has a young person with nowhere to go ever taken refuge on your couch for the night? My couch has seen such a guest.
Have you ever sponsored a child from a third world country, providing them the means to attend school and wear decent clothes? My husband and I do. (His name is Juma, and he is beautiful.)
So many children wander about this big blue planet, looking for homes and families. Some need money. Some need food. Some need love. I ache so badly, wherever I am, to be that kind of mother, that kind of embrace, to the children already existing in the world. I’m young, but I can see that God has given me the strength and the heart to do it.
Granted, we don’t know yet what this might look like for us in the long-term. We’ve talked about building a restaurant in a college town where college students can eat for free. We’ve talked about providing room and board to young people without a place to stay. We’ve talked about foster care – a system always overflowing with children in need of stable homes. Right now, we’re taking it one step at a time. Right now we’re not building anything huge, or starting anything life-changing. But our little newlywed apartment is always open to hungry, tired, or searching friends.
Understand, this isn’t a blanket defense of every childless woman. This is just a peek into my world. This is just a peek into the heart of a young woman with an incredible desire to nurture, and an overflowing love for children…who might not ever give birth.
So pause the next time you question the motives of a childless couple. They might be selfish hedonists, sure. Aren’t we all sometimes? But they might just be compassionate people who are very aware of children who already exist and are slipping through the cracks. They might have big plans to make great changes in the world. They might have a heart for the Kingdom of God.
Tread carefully on such hearts.
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com
Publication date: September 17, 2013