Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Have or Not to Have? The Dialogue with God About Building Your Family

In every marriage of childbearing age, this question will inevitably surface time and again: Do we have another child or not?  And in some ways, "To have or not to have," is not so far from the original phrase, "To be or not to be?"  We are considering something of such magnitude--do we bring a new life into the world that would not otherwise be?  And close on it, follow feelings about our own capacity to be as we bring more life into the world!

Any discussion of this topic demands a certain level of sobriety.  We are discussing the most fundamental issues of life.  We are discussing whether we are to participate in the advent of another person in history, a person that without our participation would never be.

The only starting place for a conversation of this magnitude is surrender.  God has chosen to be his most vulnerable with us by letting us participate in the decision about new life.  He has given us a say as to whether or not a new person will be birthed for eternity.  This is humbling:  that God would allow me to have this voice in his creation.

Many of the questions surrounding family size and even contraception are centered around the self. How many children do I want?  How many children can I handle?  If I say "Yes" to another child, to what am I saying "No"? Questions around finances arise, "Can we afford another child?"  "Another child could mean a larger vehicle,  even the need for more space in our current house."  "Do I really have to think about children every time I want to be intimate with my spouse?"  These are questions that are centered in the limited perspective of the here and now and in the small sphere of two;  so while they are important in our dialogue with God because we must be real and honest with him, they also must take their place in the greater conversation which has elements far beyond just the two of us. Being in God's kingdom requires that we move beyond the scope of our own lives and our own understanding of them.

It is hard for us to imagine beyond our limitations, but that is exactly why God calls us into the supernatural place where we have to trust his vision, not our own.  This is why no decision about having children should be made without the direct communion with and guidance of the Lord. The Psalmist gives us a good guide, "Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain."  We could spend our lives trying to strategize, control, manage our resources and miss the mystery God is calling us into--one which requires faith in a God who sees all.

This is why doing something permanent to one's body, male or female, to prevent the conception of children means one completely closes the door to this dialogue with God.  I cannot predict when God might call on me to sacrifice my body for the sake of a new life, when he might call me into faith rather than leaning on my own understanding.  Also, in the moment in which this decision is being made the facts and feelings (however powerful) are tied to a certain moment in history, facts and feelings that could change over the passage of time and shifting of circumstances.  We do not expect God to tell us when we marry all the different places we will live and the jobs and friends we will have.  We also cannot expect that he will tell us how many children we will have.  This is something that unfolds in relationship over time.

If I had done something permanent to my body to avoid pregnancy, I would not have had my fifth and sixth children, and our family would be impoverished because of it.  After my fourth child and difficult pregnancies and post partums, I said half in jest, "Only if the Angel Gabriel appears to me will I have another child."  It took a little while, but slowly my feelings changed, and I knew our family was missing someone.  Then Nathanael came.  My hemorrhaging with him was so frightening, I fully believed God was saying we were finished.  In fact, I believed God said that to me.  Now I know God allowed me to believe that simply to give my mind, body, and imagination space to recover.

One night I was hovering between sleep and waking, and I felt the presence of a child that was not yet in our family, and I felt I heard God's voice saying, "You would not want to miss this one."  I was shocked when I found out I was expecting a sixth and struggled throughout the pregnancy with fear for my life.  But I knew that if God was giving me a gift, I would not want to miss it, and that perhaps my understanding of my own limitations needed to be challenged by a God who had an abundance of resources.  (You can read that story in my blog post on "What is a Woman?")

I had not been able to engage God in the conscious place of my soul about another child.  It was too overwhelming to me.  But God knew that I was fighting to stay in a place of surrender and that if he asked of me to bring another child into the world, I would do it in his grace and strength.  How glad I am that God overrode my own feelings, my genuine reservations, and my sense of limitations, and gave me the opportunity to go deeper with him into Mary's, "Yes. Be it done unto me according to your will."  I could allow God to give me the supernatural capacity to receive another life that I in my own strength could not imagine.  After all, God does not provide for the hypothetical child but for the real one resting in our arms.  I will not say it has been easy, but I could not imagine my life without the children God chose for me.

As we journey into Advent, we must not allow ourselves the illusion that Mary's story was cozy, that somehow the renown she enjoys is enviable.  Mary is our icon of the "Yes," because she said it even when it meant facing the suspicion of her parents, her betrothed, and indeed the whole village, in a time when stoning was the punishment for adultery.  We know that Joseph didn't believe she had conceived as a virgin until God sent him a dream.  Mary had no say in her circumstances, even the long trip away from home on a donkey while very pregnant into a place she did not know, to give birth in someone else's home without the people around her she knew and trusted.  And she faced all the usual fears of any mother giving birth, and all the pain and the blood.  Afterwards, she had to flee into Egypt, a most foreign culture, as a new bride and mother, while fearing for the life of her child. Mary in our day would be a great candidate for processing trauma in therapy sessions.  She had no control over her life once she said, "Yes."

And yet, she gave us Jesus.  God looked for a mother who was willing to share his sufferings. And now she shares his glory.

God allows himself the limitation of our "No."  It is humbling and frightening to think that God puts himself in the position of allowing us to assent to a new life in the world.  Is it possible that God might dream of a person in history of whom we could, even unknowingly, say, "No, that person will not be."  Though we cannot begin to understand the mystery of the way God's will and our will work together, God does seem to allow us the power of refusal.  How many blessings have we missed simply because we cannot stay in the place of trusting God's eternal and infinite view because we are overwhelmed by our small one?

Sometimes the barriers we feel in our own souls, even disequilibrium in our families, or those places where refreshment is needed, are answered by the child God is bringing.  That little one actually becomes the missing puzzle piece.  This one may bring much needed humor, joy, a dislodging of rivalries, a new thoughtfulness and care from other children, an expansion of love.  This child could also mean that you have to be stretched and transformed in constant connection with Jesus because you can't parent this one in your own strength. You are thrown into the arms of God like never before. But isn't that the place we were made to be?

I must always be in dialogue with God about my participation in his vision.  Ephesians 3:14 speaks of praying to the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  The Father names our families.  He shapes and forms;  he knows the people that must be part of it.  He can expand our vision from our small space and slice of time to something so much broader that can allow for the weaving of our own stories into the eternal story.

This is not to say that we cannot cooperate with God in spacing children for the purpose of catechizing, for seasons of family stress, and for times of health troubles or extreme trials.  God has made a woman's body with rhythms that are predictable so that we can choose to wait.  If he had wanted it to be totally out of our hands, he would have made women randomly fertile or constantly fertile, as men are. Even Pope Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae" encouraged discernment when having children, while still honoring the possibility of life in the conjugal relationship.

But I cannot decide that this request of God--to have another child--is not going to be an option in my walk with God.  And that is what sterility surgery is.  It is saying that this is not something I can be called on to do for the kingdom--ask me anything else, for money, time, any other sacrifice but not that I live through another pregnancy and raise another child.  What greater gift can we give to God than to lay our bodies--our fertility and sexual drives included--on the altar as an offering?

If you are reading this and are someone who chose not to consider having more children, and you even wonder if maybe you foreclosed on God's work in your life, remember that the Lord is gentle with us.  He is aware of the influences that were in our lives that we did not then know to challenge. I would encourage you to open and maintain a dialogue with God about your choices because even the hindsight God gives us can give us wisdom to share with others.

The Church is the most responsible for teaching a theology of family that has more impact than the cultural psychology of family, and it needs not just the clergy to do it, but the people of God, from empty nesters to families to celibates.  I wish that I had been open to children earlier, but I did not have the teaching even to consider it.  I regret the children I did not have, but I know I can write to encourage others.

Children embody the kingdom of God--Jesus said so.  He also said for us to bring him the infants. Scripture also teaches us that children are a blessing and a reward.  As we seek to live as Christians in a world shaped by the personal right to control birth and where children are our personal right and an extension of our own desires, let us keep in mind where we may need to have our minds renewed in our perspective on children and family.  Let us ask God to build our houses and name our families and stretch our understanding of the supernatural provision we cannot see until we step out in faltering faith. May we not lean on our own understanding but submit our way to him.

After all, God may have a child he wants in history at a specific time, and he has chosen you to be the parents and shape this child for a kingdom work you could never do.  You would not want to miss that one.

"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 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."  Psalm 127


  1. Love this! And love the connection to Mary's "yes!" I've been formulating how to write a similar post for some time. I'm reminded of this part in That Hideous Strength:

    ‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.’

    ‘She is but lately married,’ said Ransom. ‘The child may yet be born.’

    ‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren…’

    1. What an apropos quotation, Noel! Thank you for sharing it. I could drive myself crazy if I tried to figure it all out. I'm glad God is unveiling to me what I need to know as I journey along trying to stay in place of surrender.

  2. What about when we try to say yes to children, but God says "not yet" or even "no"? Just like not wanting children doesn't mean that God might not be calling you to have them, being eager for children does not mean that God will grant them.

    I've encountered women from church who've seen my small family and assumed that I was resisting God's call to have children. They told me that I must be doing something wrong -- I wasn't taking good enough care of my health, or I was working too much, or I was caving to cultural pressure to stay child-free. Really, I was spending most of my energy working with my doctors to manage PCOS, a common but chronic health condition; I was working only part-time; and I myself was getting impatient to have a kid in our home.

    Blocking out out the voices who told me that our childlessness was a result of selfishness or some other sin took work -- so much work that we considered leaving Rez for another church where we wouldn't stick out for being a small family. We stayed because we found several other couples within the church struggling with the same thing, but it is hard to find each other when it is obviously an unsafe topic to bring up casually. You don't know whether someone is going to say "I'm sorry, I'll pray for you, what do you need?" or if they are instead going to explain to you why they think your childlessness is your own fault.

    About 1 in 8 couples deal with infertility at some point. The most thorough studies show that at least 30% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. I would encourage anyone to remember this when they ask friends about their family planning. We can't assume someone is saying no to growing their family. Assume instead that they might be waiting or grieving. Otherwise, we may accidentally communicate that church is not a safe space to wait or grieve.

    (Stat sources: and )

    1. Dear Alyssa,

      I am SO glad that you wrote to me. I am truly devastated that this has been your experience at Resurrection. I, too, struggled with infertility; so I am very aware of the loneliness, but I never experienced such overt criticism. Just so you know I NEVER assume that couples without kids are just being selfish or choosing not to have children. I actually assume they are desiring children and look for opportunities to pray for them. I actually had considered putting in a paragraph about the Lord building our families when we can't have children as and when we want them and even had a paragraph about people having children from wrong motives (such as activism), but I started to feel that the post was too long, and that I was moving out of the scope of the subject. I will pray about writing a post about this subject of infertility and community, because it is something I have lived through, and it is painful.

      I would like you to pray about approaching those women who were insensitive to you and telling them how their comments almost led you to leave the church. I think a gentle challenge to them providing some context could spare some other women in your situation that pain.

      One thing to keep in mind is that these pro-baby women are also women that will truly intercede for those who they know want children. So if you can forgive their insensitivity and briefly tell them that it is a struggle physically for you and that their comments are hurtful, but would they please pray that God will give you children, you may find them to be your greatest prayer warriors. That may be more than you feel comfortable doing....I don't know. I do know that when I finally began having children it was a time in the church when many were struggling with infertility, and a group of older mothers prayed intentionally for all of us. As far as I know, we all have had children, and I believe God broke through because of their prayers.

      I am so grateful that you are in a good support group, that you have Auden (!!), such a direct gift and miracle from the Lord, and trust that God will build your family in his timing and in his way. Whatever happens, I know that God has a beautiful design for your family. You are his story in progress. The Lord will also be preparing you to minister to others who may encounter the kinds of challenges you have had. I am so sorry that you have had this difficult journey with your own health. It sounds like a living trial. I cannot imagine such a debilitating condition. May God bring you complete healing. And thank you for being so forgiving and staying at Resurrection. We need you, and we need you to fill out our culture with your very presence and voice. Please do, as you feel free, bring to light to others who seem to be the "big family" sort how difficult it can be for couples who long for family to feel at home unless there is a concurrent culture of love, understanding, and genuine empathy.

      God bless you, and I pray that my blog post did not stir up more pain for you. Again, thank you so much for writing to me.

      With love,


  3. Hi Katherine,

    I found this post to be beautiful, thought-provoking, and wildly countercultural--just what I have come to expect of you! I hope you don't mind if I play some devil's advocate. I wondered a few things:

    1. What if the husband and wife don't agree about this? I know more than a few couples where one wanted more children, or was open to more, and the other one did not and did not change that position.

    2. I was a little confused by your saying that you "regret the children [you] did not have." Maybe this is a philosophical question, but do those children exist? Do you mean you regret not having children earlier, or that you feel that there are actual children that God had in mind for you that you didn't have because you weren't open to them? If you had children earlier, wouldn't your entire family be different because of timing? I'm not trying to split hairs, but this seems like another area where one could have unnecessary guilt (though of course we can't control what we feel guilty about and need to give it all to God).

    3. Sometimes I'm puzzled when people will use technology to track their fertility (like with an app or even by taking their temperature with a very accurate thermometer that wasn't invented until recently). And they are so careful and know every detail of their fertility--this seems similar to a physical barrier, or even to the decision to have one's tubes tied or have a vasectomy. Yes, the latter is usually permanent, but sometimes we so steel our wills and so perfect our ability to understand our bodies that this carefulness and understanding become an impediment to God's will and timing. Being able to predict one's fertility (with the help of technology) can become a source of pride and precision, and that doesn't seem right. Sometimes I wonder if getting a physical operation isn't the same as being uber-careful with natural family planning.

    (to be continued because my comments are too long for the computer to accept)...

  4. 4. I have a friend (in her eighties now) who is very mild mannered and doesn't exaggerate much, who told me that when she found out she was expecting her seventh child, she wanted to put her head in the oven. I do think that God stretches us and that we must rely on Jesus in each moment, but at the same time, the prospect of another child brings some people to such levels of anxiety or depression that just are not what God wants for us. There's something so important about supporting women's mental health. Being the mother of many little children can be so, so difficult--is it best to remain open to more when the difficulty is great? Along with this, one of the reasons the difficulty can be great is that in our culture there is not a lot of social support for large families. Resurrection is the only church I've attended where large families were common. To so many people (in the Church!), four children is too many, and more than four is just crazy. It's hard to feel connected, supported, encouraged, etc. in this environment.

    5. On your point that a child can be just what is needed, even when a child seems like the last thing one needs, I must say that God gave us a beautiful fourth child who is such a gift to our family, who was a surprise. I see this, and I see how he has smoothed some of our rough places and brought us together, and also ironically improved my mental health...and yet I still want to listen to those who feel that another child is too great a burden to bear.

    6. Lastly, you infer that our children will do great things in the kingdom of God. And I am very hopeful about this. But while we dream and hope of what our children might accomplish for the Lord, shouldn't our motivation in having children, and being open to them, be simply the gift and affirmation of life? I have recently met some homeschooling families where there is an expectation of greatness, and a hope that the (many) children will be so well-formed and unique..for God's glory, of course! It seems like an odd attitude when they are trying so hard to live lives of sacrifice and surrender. I write this partly because I am currently pretty sure that my three year old will have a police record in the coming years. Obviously, I'm joking...mostly...

    I hope you don't mind me bringing up these questions. Know that they come from only the deepest respect and gratitude I have for you and your articulate, powerful, and much-needed voice.

    Much love,

    1. Annie,

      Thank you so much for being in dialogue about this vitally important subject. I will respond point by point. This will have to be posted in two or three segments.

      1.This is a very different dialogue than the dialogue with God but still quite a conversation. Husbands and wives not having the same degree of openness on this issue can lead to great disunity. The “open” spouse cannot force having a child on the other, just as God does not force it on us. Maintaining unity in the marriage as much as possible through honesty and prayer and not distancing oneself from the one who is not as open is important. We take our cues from the way God allows human decision to come to bear. And the open spouse has to be confident that God may be doing a different kind of work of surrender in his or her heart--a deep surrendering of control to God in honor of another. But in the dialogue with God, I believe the open spouse can ask God to overrule the efforts to prevent (even naturally) having a child and give a child if this is his design. I think this request is different than simply asking God to overrule contraceptive efforts of both spouses. God sees the openness of the one, and certainly often when God brings a child, the spouse who was not open finds joy in receiving a new child. Hypothetical children are hard to love.

      But I do believe that if one spouse has a conviction against contraception that the other does not, he or she can request that NFP be followed for prevention.

      I have seen every iteration of this situation: the wife who didn’t want another one (in many cases), but God overruled, the husband who didn’t want another one, but God overruled, cases when a spouse either gets sterilized to the distress of the other, or where one insists on the other being sterilized and is angry that the other will not. In the situations when God has overruled with a child, I have seen a blossoming of love and recognition that their lives did have space for another child. In the cases in which sterilization is on the table, the marriage suffers with a deep disunity. I do think any kind of sterility or expectation of it over and against the desire of one in the marriage is deeply damaging to the bond between the husband and wife. Even if the feelings about having more children are fundamentally different for each spouse, an open dialogue will encourage the unity between them; but unity will be damaged when either party is strident.

      2.As Aslan said, “I don’t tell you what would have been…” (something like that). I don’t think children exist that I didn’t have. That is part of the sadness of it. At the same time, in God’s providence, as you say, I have the children I have because of when and how all of this unfolded. I think any time we recognize that we had a fundamentally wrong disposition for a season, we regret what might have been. But we must quickly relinquish that to the gratitude of what has been.

    2. 3.The understanding of the interrelating between God and us about our fertility as a conversation illuminates the difference between NFP and contraceptive practices. We have all learned that the best conversations occur when each person stays within the bounds of their side of communication, fully speaking, but also creating space for the other to fully speak and be heard.

      On the one side of the conversation there is the human being: we bring to the table the gift of free will which is never violated by divine action--we bring the power of fertility, entrusted to us by God. Because NFP is a practice that seeks to stay within the bounds of the normal rhythms of fertility, it is a practice that can be seen as taking place within the bounds of our side of the conversation. It is a bringing to bear of the dignity of our free will into the bedroom. God never requires us to have sex every time it is possible. We choose when we come together, respecting that God opens and closes the womb. NFP still acknowledges the natural outcome of sex, and does not require that women become like men.

      On the other side of the conversation is the creator of all things, the one who dreams each person, knits them together in the womb, the one who opens and closes the womb, the one who unfolds history, both our personal history and the history of the world. In this conversation he has laid himself bare before us, becoming completely vulnerable, because no matter how great his desire is for the creation of a child, he waits for our Yes. NFP allows us to remain open to the presence of the Lord at the other side of the table. The rhythms of engagement and abstinence usually necessarily bring about the conversation about the possibility of children that would not happen with contraception, and certainly not with sterilisation.

      Contraception, however, sends a completely different message. It says: I am not concerned about when, in my body, you open and close the womb. I have taken matters into my own hands, and I want to have sex without the natural consequences you created to be part of the marital act. Whatever you may be dreaming of in your divine imagination, does not inform my decisions. What you may be asking of me, I cannot hear. The message of contraception is --there is only one person at the table. I have turned my face away from whatever may be said.

      Having said that, though I believe NFP is more likely to keep the conversation open, I’m sure the heart disposition could also turn away from children. This is always possible with anything--the actions that should create a softness of heart become simply a form without the content.

    3. 4 and 5. Mental health is a reason to space children. But as you said, we never know when a child may bring the healing we need and desire. When I have a friend struggling to stay afloat, I encourage a season of waiting. Having said that, in two recent cases when I have expressed concern to two different friends about possibly getting pregnant, both of them did even using NFP, and the child brought much needed joy and hope. Our posture toward someone trying to remain sane needs to be understanding and gentleness, while still holding out the supernatural possibility that God may use what we least expect to deliver us. We also need to remember that God does many times ask people to do what they think they do not have the capacity to do, and that when they look back on their lives, they realize it was the making of them. Someone who feels they are drowning with children, may look back in their old age and find that that season was difficult but the rewards were eternal and far outweighed the struggle. But in the moment, we are incapable of that kind of objectivity. We need one another to provide that long view.

      6. I agree that we bring children into the world as an affirmation of life and an openness to God. I think that the friends you mention are looking at “greatness” in a worldly way. I do expect my children to live into the dream and purpose of God for their lives, but it may be unrecognized, hidden, and from the world’s perspective, very small. Also, the great thing our children may do is birth another whole generation of children who do the small but godly work of being light and salt. You may have read my post, “Dreaming the Right Dreams.” I think that applies here. I don’t birth children to bring me glory, or themselves, but because as I am open to life, life multiplies and brings a harvest much bigger than the simple seed we laid in the ground.

      I always enjoy your feedback and thoughts. Thank you, Annie, and sorry for the delay in response. Advent is in full swing over here.

      Blessings and Joy,

    4. P.S. Annie, I realized I did not comment on the lack of support you feel having more children than the average American, even Christian, family. This must be extremely difficult. My sister used to express this, "We are the only family I know with a big van..." and more. Sometimes God calls us to live prophetically, and this means you are blazing a path in a jungle, a path many others may follow simply because they saw you living this. I am going to pray that you will actually have the blessing of knowing that you sparked a vision for family in someone else--that there will people in the world because of your commitment to family that would not have been here otherwise. At the same time, you need community, someone who shares your passion, your convictions, and yes, your difficulties. Cry out to God for this. I am praying right now that God will bring you someone. You have no idea what seeds you are sowing in the lives of others who simply observe. I know of someone who wrote to a friend of mine saying that years before she had watched my friend nursing in public. At the time, she had inwardly disparaged her, but it had planted a seed. She was writing from a distant state to say that today she has three children already and is living out what she saw my friend doing in that one brief moment. You never know the impact you are having, Annie. May God bring you encouragement even today!

  5. The notion of being in dialogue with God about any decision, be it having children or anything else, should be a given for any Christian. Yet why do you only focus on saying 'yes' to God's call in having children to the exclusion of the reality of women saying 'yes' to God's call by not having children or not having more children? (Or, to broaden it, the decision by some women to say 'yes' to God's call to celibacy instead of going their own way and getting married and kids only because they are a part of a church subculture in which that is the norm). Your reflection on what God might say regarding having a child seems quite one-dimensional. I am thankful that women like Karen Miller and Val McIntyre (and multiple other women either on church staff or in lay ministry) chose not to have lots of kids. They have provided so much spiritual mothering and pastoral care to me and countless others because of their surrender to the Lord in choosing to not have a large family.

    1. Thank you for raising your concerns. My response will have to be in two segments, as it is too long; so please read both.

      Blog posts by their nature have to have a fairly narrow focus, and I tried to make clear at the beginning that I was speaking about married couples of childbearing age. Celibacy as a calling is a passion of mine, but it was not in the scope of the post, as celibates are not making decisions about children. I’m sorry that the post seemed one-dimensional to you. I actually think I was adding a dimension often missing in evangelical, and even catholic, homes when it comes to decisions surrounding children, and that is the dimension of the supernatural. Ultimately, I was making the point that it is not simply “our choice.” God, as the namer of our families, should have a side of the dialogue. I am glad your understanding of the Christian life is that that is normal; I have found that when it comes to the subject of having children, there is a blindspot for evangelicals. This is where the dialogue stops. It is as if the imagination for it isn’t even present. Of course, there are many exceptions, but I wrote the blogpost because I wanted to highlight an often missing dimension in our thinking.

      Scripture gives us many pictures of how women have responded to to God's call in regard to the question of their fertility--there are women, like Mary, who respond to God's call to bear life into the world under profoundly difficult circumstances; there are single women like Martha and her sister who certainly devote their lives to the Lord in a profound way; there are women who struggle with infertility, like Hannah, Samuel's mother, but Scripture simply does not provide us with any examples of women choosing sterility within marriage. Without exception, Scripture describes children as blessings, gifts, rewards, never as something to be avoided for the sake of the kingdom.

      It is extremely important not to conflate Celibacy with intentional sterility within marriage because while they may share a similar result, (no children are born), they represent fundamentally different attitudes toward the symbolic meaning of sex.

    2. Getting married and having children isn't a subculture created by certain pockets of the church, it is rather the historical witness of the Church from the very beginning--that marriage and children are inherently normal and good and sacramental. Celibacy has also always existed as a separate, honored and beautiful calling, and Stewart and I have tried to restore the language and vision for this, as it has not been very active in the evangelical imagination to view celibacy as a life of devotion, a legitimate calling to be a mother or father in the Church. Stewart has taught clearly and profoundly on this subject.

      It is also very important when diving into this discussion to be tender and accurate when describing another woman's life and choices. In the same way that is a potentially devastating mistake for someone who advocates for openness to life to assume that a woman with no children has chosen this, when in fact she may be heartbroken through infertility, it is important not to assume that a woman in ministry with a small number of children has accepted the theological position that she needs to limit her family size in order to serve God.

      It is one thing to be grateful for the way in which a woman has accepted with grace and love the limitations that she has experienced in her fertility, but it is another thing entirely to assume that this is something she "chose." The beauty of responding to God’s call and nudge is that he is the head of the Church, and in his sovereignty he provides for her care through celibates, married couples who live with infertility, and married couples who bear children as he gives them. We certainly all need a vision for how God can use our state to bless the Church, and the women you name have certainly done that.

      The question of how having children will impact a ministry is also not absent when making the decision to have or not to have a child. But when we fully grasp the gravity that accompanies our ability to say yes or no to the arrival of a soul in this world, we realize that we are dealing with something far larger than the question of what the parameters of our own ministry will be--there are so many questions that only God knows the answer to: What unique gifts would this soul bring that the world is waiting for? Who will receive the love of Christ through the love of this child? Who will this child mother? Who will this child father? Having this conversation with the Lord with openness requires that we recognize that the decision to have a child impacts not just our own lives but future generations and even eternity. Children can be ministry that extends into the future. Only God knows who he needs in the future, and he just may call me to participate in a long term ministry that is beyond my vision and even my earthly life through the bearing of the child who will do that very work in a future time.

    3. A point of clarification to the post from Anonymous - my mom, Karen Miller, did not actually choose to not have more kids. She was unable to have any more children after she had me, and it was a great source of pain in her life. God has blessed her with many spiritual children, but this was not her original plan. She watched her dream of having a large family die, but she surrendered her hopes and dreams to the Lord and he has blessed her with a fruitful ministry. (I share this with her permission.)

    4. Anne,

      Thank you for this comment. Though I knew this about your mother, I did not feel free to post that since it is her story. But I tried to provide a suggestion that that truly was the case. Your mother is a great example of someone who desired more children, lived through the grief of that limitation, and then threw herself into nurturing spiritual children, of which she has MANY! I am indebted to her for her love and care for me, as well.

  6. Katherine,

    Thank you. You say the most important things, the truths at the root of the issue, the way I wish I could articulate (especially in those moments when someone asks if our last child was an accident). I have struggled too much to try to understand WHY God would put such power in our hands, and even wanted to relinquish that power completely, but instead He has guided us to seek Him earnestly when prompted to consider welcoming a "new" eternal life. What a glorious dance!

  7. The responses to the comments have been as helpful and informative as the blog post itself. Thank you so very very much, Katherine.

  8. It is so hard in a short blog post to deal with all the nuances and anticipate questions that may surface; so I am glad when people send questions and ask for clarifications. Thank you for the encouragement, as I often spend as much time responding to comments as I do on the original blog post. :) Blessings to you!


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