“All honor, all glory, all power, to you.”
As our church’s musicians and singers completed the first verse and rose into the chorus of this familiar hymn Sunday morning, I could clearly pick out the soaring soprano of one of the vocalists. It was my eldest daughter, Faith (aka “The Mall Diva”).
I am usually moved by this song, but never quite in the way I was yesterday as my child, for the first time, was one of the ones leading our congregation deeper into God’s presence. I nearly reeled as my mind flashed through the memories of her as a baby in the church nursery, of her growing up through the children’s and youth ministries … and of her now not just worshipping God herself, but helping others do so as well. It was an unexpected parental dividend and I felt an almost electric sensation, one not of pride but of being a part of something almost too big to be seen except in sudden slivers of the sublime.
And I thought of Doug’s post from a week ago called “Living for Today” that was launched by an article in the Guardian entitled, “No kids please, we’re selfish.” The latter article somewhat anxiously considered the ramifications of an (arguably) increasingly self-centered Western culture that considers children too much of a bother. It sketched the lives of several successful people intent on wringing everything they could get for themselves out of life … as long as it didn’t involve children.
While I personally can’t think of any adventure with the scope, stakes and potential fulfillment of raising children, I’m not going to assume the childless are inherently “selfish” – or assume that those with children are automatically enobled by the experience. Indeed, those who have kids simply to “fulfill” themselves are every bit as selfish, in my mind, as those who can’t be bothered. Nor would I suggest that someone who shudders at the thought raising kids “owes” it to his or herself or to society to have kids anymore than I would encourage an inexperienced non-swimmer with a heart condition to take up whitewater kayaking. (My concern isn’t so much that there aren’t enough children coming along, but that there aren’t enough parents.)
Seeing my daughter take on a new responsibility, using talents I had no way of bequeathing to her or of coaching her in, was gratifying on a deep, deep level for me. Raising her and her sister has taken up a lot of my wife’s and my time, attention and money. There are innumerable things we might have invested these resources in if we hadn’t had kids but I can’t think of a one that could have given me a moment like yesterday’s – or the many, many other moments we’ve enjoyed in watching our daughters become blessings to us and, most importantly, to others.
My wife and I have always known at a certain level that we are not raising our daughters for ourselves, but ultimately for others. As a result, there have been decisions we’ve made to do things in ways that would be more difficult (at least initially) for the two of us but were part of our responsibility. I’ve known I have to pass something on, just as someone passed it to me; to give what I have received.
What would I, personally, have done with all that time and money if I hadn’t had my kids? Could I, like some of the people in the Guardian article, have become a force in the world, or someone important? Could I, like they, have written books? Perhaps. More likely, knowing myself, I’d have probaby frittered it all away with little to show for it.
Yes, perhaps I may have written books. Without my kids, however, I have no idea what I would have written about.