Why do we want to have children?
Why are there so many childless parents trying so hard to have children? What are their motives? Many want to have children so that they could bring life to an otherwise boring marriage. Marriage without children does not seem complete. For a woman, not having a child makes them feel unfulfilled. They hope that with children their lives will be richer and more fulfilled. Some want to have children so that the spouse will have greater commitment to the marriage and not leave the family. Others hope that they will be able to look after them in their old age. Some others would like their family name to live on after them. These motives, whilst not ignoble, are certainly inward- looking.
But more important than all these reasons, God gives us children so that we can share in His life and love in two ways. By having children in our marriage, the love between the couple can grow from strength to strength. Love grows not by keeping that love between two persons. When love is not shared it can become a worship of each other and narcissistic. Love, when shared, becomes richer and more fulfilling. For love to grow the love between two persons must be poured out of themselves into the world, in this case, a child, representing the fruit of their love. So God gives us children in marriage so that we can partake more deeply of the love of God.
Through the raising of children they will learn how to make sacrifices, not for themselves but for others. Lots of patience, perseverance and sacrifices are needed to bring up children. When they are young, they need attention and love, not just things and food. Parents will have to go through the process of coming to terms with each other on how they want their children to be raised. There will be times when children are sick or are going through teenage angst. All these require much giving and perseverance in love. In the process, the parents expand their hearts to love more and more, even when their children are ungrateful to them or take them for granted in later years. But if they teach their children well and are great mentors in love for their children, by the grace of God, their children will add joy and blessings to their lives.
Yet, this cannot be an end to having children. In God’s plan, every child has a mission too. They are not toys or social security for parents to be used and abused. Children in the final analysis belong to God and not to their parents. They are just guardians and custodians of God’s children. The primary task of parents is to help their children to fulfill their mission, their vocation and their calling in life. The whole task of bringing up their children is to help them to be prepared for the mission that the Lord has given to them. Only when that is done could we then say that we have fulfilled our role as parents. Otherwise, we have failed in our responsibility, even if we have given them a good education and the good things of life. We do not live for ourselves but for others and, most of all, for God.
Indeed, this was the case of the birth of Samson and John the Baptist to both couples who were barren, with one couple long past the age of child bearing. God granted the prayers of both couples with the gift of a baby but it is clear that He did not give them a child for themselves per see but because He had a mission for both of them. Samson was given to Manoah and his wife. The angel told them, “It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.” Samson was given for the sake of the people of Israel who were oppressed by the Philistines. God was answering the prayer of Israel, not just that of Manoah and his wife. He had a plan for Samson to be the deliverer of Israel.
Similarly, John the Baptist was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age. God too had a mission for him. He was not given to them primarily, but again for the sake of Israel and most of all, to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The angel said, “Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.” John the Baptist’s task was to deliver people from their sins and to be the forerunner of the Messiah.
Like Samson and John the Baptist, we must also consecrate our children to the service of God. Samson was forbidden to take “wine or strong drink.” He was to “eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s Nazirite from his mother’s womb.” So too was John the Baptist. The angel said, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink.” And just as Abraham offered Isaac to the Lord, so too Hannah, who was barren for many years, left Samson at the temple to serve God as a priest when he was still young. Indeed, we are all trustees of God’s children.
Every child who is baptized is consecrated to God for His mission. We should not think that good parents are those who help their children to be successful in life; doing well in their studies, building a great career and becoming rich and famous. This is too inward-looking and self-centered. It is about them, not about others. Rather, it is how we raise them up to be people who serve the Church and society that will determine whether they will find fulfillment and real happiness in life. We do not exist for ourselves but for humanity. We are born for a mission. Unless we help them to fulfill their mission in serving God and society, even if they are successful but live for themselves alone, we would have failed miserably because they will not find the joy and meaning of life.
In order to help our young children to walk the path of God, as parents we must be close to God, like Zechariah and Elizabeth. “Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord.” Unless as parents we are walking the ways of the Lord and listening to Him, how can we help our children to discern their calling in life? How can we be good mentors to them in terms of faith, service and love? Today, children need witnesses and mentors more than teachers. God-fearing and loving parents will form children who are God-fearing and loving as well. We teach them how to love and give, first by loving each other as spouses and loving them unconditionally. This explains why we need to cooperate with God’s grace. Raising up our children according to the will of God is not an easy responsibility. But with God’s grace, it is not impossible. In both scripture readings, we read of the work of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life. We too must trust in the Holy Spirit and in the promise of divine assistance of God to bring up our children to be serving and compassionate people.
So for those who do not have children, and you desire to have children, let us pray to God in faith and in trust. But we must pray with the right intention, that we do not have children to keep them for ourselves but to be consecrated and given for the service of God and the world. If we are asking for the right intention, the Lord can make us fertile and produce wonderful children for the good of humanity. Let us trust in the impossible. And even if He does not give us a baby, just trust that God knows what is best for us. We can still be equally happy by giving ourselves, our time and our love in service to others, just like priests and religious do. Happiness is found in consecrating our lives to the service of God and our fellowmen. Regardless of whether we have children or not, all life is reducible to loving and giving. So long as we give of ourselves, we will always find meaning and purpose in life. God will reward us in other ways. When we give ourselves to society, we could also say, “it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.”