Category Archives: birth control…or lack thereof

The Reason Why We Have So Many Kids (Part 1)

If I had to name one question I get/have gotten asked the most over the last 5 years of blogging, it would have to be: “So, why, exactly, do y’all have so many kids?”

The “funny” answer, of course, is because we just like each other that much.

Although…as my sweet, usually demure mother pointed out that one time: “Oh brother. In your case, you’d only have to have had sex–what–6 times to get this many kids, so what’s the big deal?”

Whoa there, Mom.

Maybe I should take her on grocery runs and let her shut down all of the people who seem so worried about my bedroom TV situation.

Of course, I know that the question is not a literal one (at least I hope it never is) but an ideological one.

Why–when, in this day and age, we could feasibly control or limit the number–would we continue to have more children?

The short answer is that we believe that children, whether there be 1 or 20, are a blessing from the Lord and that we are not the ones “driving this flying umbrella” (as an animated bear named Little John once so eloquently phrased it…please tell me that there are some fellow cartoon Robin Hood lovers out there).

But you know I’m not very good at short answers, so let me just quote an exact question from a sweet reader recently and then do my best to flesh out the answers that she (and the rest of y’all) seem to want.

Here is it:

I have a question that I’ve been wanting to ask for a while now but I’ve never gotten around to it. I’ve been wondering what exactly your beliefs are about children and how you plan (or rather don’t plan) for them. What I mean is, from what you’ve said on your blog, I understand that you give over that control to God and let Him plan your family size. I think that’s wonderful and what a leap of faith! I’m curious where in the Bible you rely on for that truth. I’ve known many large families over the years (I’m the oldest of 11 myself) but often they’re Amish, Mennonite or some very conservative group (think the Duggars, which you must get compared to ALL THE TIME!).

So, one time, I stumbled upon this blog post by a woman who had converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, and one of her chief deciding factors was the Protestant church’s inconsistency in teaching when it came to birth control and trust in God.

As she said, her Protestant pastors were quick to recommend that she hold her money, her time, her relationships, and her possessions loosely, since they were not her own, but God’s. But when it came to child-bearing, they were just as quick to recommend birth control and “waiting, spacing, and planning for an ‘ideal number.’”

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She found the juxtaposition of the two ideologies jarring. And, while I don’t agree with many areas of Catholic theology, I found myself completely on board with her confusion. I felt it when, at 19, I went to standard premarital counseling with my then fiance (not Shaun), and the pastor looked at me with pity when I expressed my conviction that our number of children and methods of conceiving them should rely on the Lord rather than our own engineering. Shaun and I both felt it when various premarital counselors (“official” or otherwise) gave us their “best piece of marriage advice” (their words, not mine): “Whatever you do, don’t have kids too soon. And make sure you’re on the same page about how many you want to have.”

Thankfully, we didn’t consider Ezra “too soon” when he showed up a week shy of our first anniversary (honestly, I remember our looking at each other and saying, “Wow, the Lord planned that well,” since he was born 6 days after I gave my last Spanish final to my high school students…yes, I was a teacher in another life). And we were on the same page from the beginning about the number of children we wanted: however many the Lord has in store for us.

Another reader asked me to Biblically flesh out my reasons for believing that it isn’t our call to be “done,” citing the fact that the Bible is vague on various areas of specific life direction, including exactly when and how many children to have. I completely agree. There is no specific “thou shalt” for this topic. And, while I will reference scripture throughout this blog, I won’t pretend to know for certain how the Lord feels on this subject. I believe that being open to his leading in this area (and every other) is a matter of personal conviction and willingness and one that requires great thought and prayer.

HOWEVER.

On the flip side, I can find absolutely no Biblical basis for the bearing of children to be viewed in a separate category from all other areas of trust. And yet the prevailing modern Christian mindset is one of prevention and control rather than openhandedness.

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I was talking to a friend of mine recently who became a Christian in her teens and was counseled on her upcoming wedding by numerous Christian women to go on the Pill lest she become pregnant right away. This friend has two kids–a girl and then a boy–and she and her husband aren’t having any more, but she was still bemoaning her lack of knowledge. “I just didn’t know,” she said. “It’s what everybody told me to do, and, as a new Christian, it never occurred to me to do differently or ask why.” (She was distressed both by the physical/abortifacient ramifications of chemical birth control and by the assumption of the need to control it).

I’m the opposite. It never occurred to me to segregate childbearing from all other areas of God-reliance in my life. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my upbringing. My mom only had two kids–not because of prevention but because of her body’s inability to carry more to term. She and my dad always made it clear that they would have happily received any others that the Lord might have given them, despite the fact that we were quite poor  growing up.

Maybe it’s because when I read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths,” that I can’t seem to find a caveat to the “all.”

Not that I wouldn’t like to find a caveat sometimes. Because my “own” understanding says things like: but, if you keep having kids, you’ll never have a waistline again. Or a clean house. Or any alone time. Or a reasonable grocery bill. Or a peaceful retirement. Or anything other than a used car (okay, honestly, this one has never crossed my mind; I like used cars :) ).

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I know that I should keep going with: your children won’t go to the best colleges (because you can’t afford to send them all), you will be considered an oddity by your community, and your ministry opportunities will be stunted.

But I don’t actually care whether my children go to college (if they want to, and it makes sense, more power to them, but if they’d rather learn a trade, I’m all for it). My community is who I make it. And, even if my only ministry is that of training up my children to be lights in a darkened world, that would be enough (I’ve already had numerous opportunities outside of that, so I really do believe that the Lord can use me and my family in a variety of ways, no matter how large we are/get).

Jeremiah 29:11 says:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

I think we’re all pretty quick to assume that this means physical prosperity. That’s the American dream. But what if it were something so much better? What if it were the ultimate prosperity and sanctification of our souls?

What if, in daily taking up the cross of motherhood (because that whole dying to yourself {that is a suuuuper convicting link to click on, just FYI} business is real when you don’t get sleep for weeks/months/years on end, and your lap/breasts/womb/possessions/time are not your own), the Lord is forging a hope and a future through my children that I would otherwise be denying myself (and them) by choosing the limit of them?

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I think about the cultural norm for America. The Census Bureau numbers for 2015 show the average number of children per married couple at less than 2. That means a) that we’re not even replacing ourselves and b) that if I followed that norm, I would not have: Della, Evy, Nola, Theo or Baby #7 (possibly not even Simon). I can’t begin to fathom my life without even one of my sweet babies (or my kids’ lives without their siblings), and I am in awe of the fact that the Lord might have more already planned for me, prepared since before the foundations of the world, known in the deeps before they ever enter my womb, just waiting to offer me an even more amazing form of “prosperity” than I can even begin to comprehend at this point.

But…isn’t that kind of uncertainty about your future number of kids scary? Yup. But so is giving sacrificially when your husband works for himself from home (or in any other kind of position, for that matter) and your source of income could run dry at any time and being open to fostering-to-adopt or moving to another country for mission work.

And yet, I can find nothing unbiblical about any of those things. They are, in fact, mandated in the Bible when he tells us to give with abandon, care for the fatherless, and share the gospel to the ends of the earth.

And then, of course, there’s this verse:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children[a] of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.[b]

I don’t think that this means that those who have less than a “full quiver” (whatever that means, exactly) will be “put to shame” (my mother certainly wasn’t), but it certainly seems to view having children–even an abundance of them–as a positive thing.

I can’t write this post without reiterating one of the most crucial things that having lots of children has done for me. It’s not even a “side effect” that I could have really anticipated as a young woman with a conviction but no great yearning for a passel full of children.

Because, truth be told, I never had idealistic dreams of many small hands tugging at my skirts, and I am almost never immediately enthralled with the idea of another baby once those positive signals show up on the test. (It takes a few days). Mostly, it’s the pregnancies themselves that I don’t love, but this much I can tell you: not one single one of my other “objections” has ever been anything other than fearful or selfish.

And that is the great side effect of bearing children of any number, as I’m sure every mother reading this knows. It makes you less selfish. Or at least it should.

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As I said, this is true no matter the number, but I can’t deny that my own navel-gazing has lessened as each new child has joined our family. As our family grows, my own self-importance (not to be confused with worth) has diminished. And, y’all. It is so good.

Because I was never mine to begin with. I’ve been bought with the blood of the lamb, and every last precious child that he entrusts to my arms (and sometimes initially fearful heart) is simply a priceless loan from heaven. It’s a loan I can never repay and one which–like the manager who had much and, when he did well, was given even more as a reward–I desire with all my heart to steward well.

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