For the Children’s Sake

At our last family holiday, we had 9 children under age 7  playing and shouting and tumbling around us like so many cuddly puppies. We did some extra things, but most of the week was about making food and taking care of children.

Which seemed right to me. And it got me started thinking.

I grew up in a culture where children were at the top of the list of priorities. After your relationship with Jesus and your spouse, your children were the most important things in your life.Everything else came after that. There were Child Training topics and seminars at church.(Does anyone still have them?)  Huge effort and funds went into the church school to make it productive and functional for the sake of the children even if they could have been sent to public schools for free.

Last fall, four of us Mennonite Americans were in a Polish language class, and the theme of one lesson was computers and technology. We were to choose one idea from a list of nine and give our opinion in Polish. Should employers block websites from their workers? What’s the best way to learn a language? And so forth. Individually, we each chose the same topic to talk about: “Should children’s internet usage be monitored?”  Even our teacher commented that we were all interested in the same topic: children and their safety. It’s who we are and what we care about.

At any gathering of my friends or relations, there is always a good chunk of time given to the children’s latest capers and stories. We laugh and laugh, constantly amazed at their ingenuity and originality. We cheer for every baby born, and keep track of when they start walking and talking. What they do is huge and significant to us. A recent testimony from a mom showed me what she treasures: “God graces me through my children.” And isn’t anyone is better for having a two-year-old in their life?

Moms and dads in my world sacrificed and skimped and served in hidden ways to make happy, educational, safe lives for their children. I sometimes think we were the exception after all the horrible stories I’ve heard of trusts betrayed and hearts missed. It makes me want to scream and throw things and shout out a million questions. But even that response stems from my deep sense of what is right and good and what I grew up with.

My (limited) perspective tells me that valuing children is the right, whole way to live. The first social structure God created was the family, and it seems impossible to improve on that design. It seems to me adopting God’s values in all of life includes loving and cherishing children. Even if it doesn’t come perfectly naturally for some of us.

So we’re part of a pro-family counter-culture where we do our best to live well and according to our design. This leaves women who live with long-term singleness and/or infertility in a kind of no-man’s land. How to live this well is something I’m exploring and asking questions about.

These are some things I think we CAN do to reflect our design and to be more whole. I’d love to see your additions and ideas in the comments! (Or, if you’re shy, by email.)

  • Fight for the marriages and families of your friends.Pray for the struggling ones. Believe in and cheer for them.
  • Teach children and teens your interests in art and creativity. Use your  hands to be involved in their lives. I maintain there’s something sacramental about our hands and what they do.
  • Ask God for marriage and children for your single friends–and yourself.
  • Teach children’s Sunday school.
  • Help equip young women with domestic skills because they will be useful skills for life wherever they go.
  • Tousle a child’s hair when you walk past them. Cuddle a baby as often as you can.

No Complaining in Our Streets

There’s a phenomenon that I’m observing, and I’m not sure what to think about it. Has anyone else noticed it?

It’s this: it’s ok for young moms to complain about how tired they are and how cranky their children are. It’s ok for  other moms to announce to the world how worried they are about their teens driving, or the dreadful trouble they had washing their husband’s shirts, or how their house is always a wreck because of the husband and children. It’s all part of life; it’s expected–or at least accepted–to complain.

But it’s not ok for singles to tell their world about their worries. Wives can fuss about their husbands, but singles aren’t free to mention that their husbands don’t sit beside them at the church potluck. Wives are allowed to worry aloud about their husband’s job change, but singles feel unheard if they mention how weary they are of needing to decide every year if they’ll teach school again. Singles are expected to be independent but it’s ok if the wife complains that her husband didn’t fill the car with gas.

Maybe singles’ worries are more personal, and shouldn’t be public. Maybe they need a spokesperson who says ‘guess what–did you know the single girl who appears so happy and independent actually cries alot when she’s alone, and she wishes she had the things you complain about?’

What are the dynamics going on here with these unspoken rules about complaining? Can anyone tell  me?

Or maybe all of us, whoever and wherever we are, should try to stop complaining.

Heaven knows (and  my closest friends do too) that I do more than my share of complaining. I have no excuse except that sometimes it feels like the whole world has gone on without me and all I can do is wail. But a gentle voice emerges between the wails reminding me that there is something more sure than loneliness and stronger than pain. (You know how a parent talks to his child while the child catches his breath when it’s crying? That’s what God does to me.)

And if I listen long enough in my whimpering, that voice persuades me that I was really foolish to complain because I’m not the center of the world, and there’s a lot of heart break out there that I should care about, and how about washing someone’s feet instead of navel-gazing?

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