Marriage and Children
If you are married, either you do or you don’t have children. And that’s a big deal. A very big deal. Some wit has said that, in the media, marriage is all about sex and hardly at all about children; but in real life it’s the other way around!
The Pain of Childlessness
Well, it may or may not be. One of the strangest and slowest pains in marriage is the longing for children who never come. Someone has called it “that strange grief that has no focus for its tears and no object for its love.” When someone dies, there is a sad day to remember, a sad place to visit, sad possessions to prompt memories, sad photos to trigger tears. But when a child has not been conceived, there is precisely nothing and nobody. And it just goes on and on in that strange interplay of hope and disappointment, month by month.
The Task of Nurturing Children
One of the really big purposes of marriage in the Bible is children. God blesses humankind with the words, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). To have children and nurture them, to bring them up in the love and fear of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4), to love them unconditionally, to provide them with a secure home, to discipline them (Heb. 12:7–9), to pray for them—all that is a wonderful privilege. In their most exhausted moments, a young parent can say, “I wouldn’t be without them!” It can be a desperately sad privilege, when they turn away from the God who made and loved them. But even in the sadness, it is a privilege. When asked about our family, my wife Carolyn and I usually say that, “God has entrusted us with three sons and a daughter.” I love that word “entrusted”. Children are not given to us; God entrusts them to us for a time. We have the weighty God-given responsibility to be to them a father and a mother who love them with something approximating the love of God. It’s one of the big ways in which parents serve God.
Serving God When Children Don’t Come
But what if we try for children and they just don’t come, whether naturally or by adoption? We are no less married. And we are no less able to love and serve God. Just as unmarried people can serve God wholeheartedly, so married couples without children can love God passionately and serve him with zeal and sacrifice. And just as there will be different ways in which unmarried men and women serve God, so there may be different outlets for childless couples to love God. Their home can still be an image of the love of Christ the Bridegroom for his church, his bride, and the loving submission of his bride to her Bridegroom. And it should still be an outward-looking relationship, seeking opportunities to pour out the love of Christ to men and women all around.
Whether married or unmarried, whether parents or childless, each of us is called to love the God and Father of Jesus, who made us and in Jesus poured out his love on us with every spiritual blessing.