You Can’t Have It All

Carrie Underwood accidentally stirred the the twitter pot recently when in an interview with Redbook she said that at 35 she may have missed her chance to have a big family.  This was of course one answer to one question in the interview but people jumped on it.

Now Carrie wasn’t trying to say that no one over 35 can have a kid.  She also went on to say that they have talked about adoption and they do a lot to help kids which she enjoys. But that wasn’t good enough for many who insist that there are no limits to fertility.

I bring this up because I think we need to be honest about where our culture is at. Especially as we navigate singleness, marriage and children.

First, we have convinced ourselves that 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40.  But that simply is not true.  We tell folks not to hurry and grow up, to enjoy life before marriage, to take advantage of singleness.  Frankly we worship youth in our culture.

One reason the secular culture (with the western Christian culture often tagging along) worships youth is that we don’t have a right view of eternity vs. the temporal life.  Without going into a complete ten page theological dialogue here I want to address this.

In the temporal life we have a physical, and even eventually a mental peak.  What I mean is that at first, physically we are growing and then maturing.  But at a certain point, we start to age in a different way.  We have passed our peak physicality.  This is true for me at 45 years of age.  I can get in the best shape possible but odds are I won’t jump or run or even lift what I did in my 20’s.  All of my reverse dunking on the basketball court is in my past, not my future.  Eventually my body will diminish even more.  Someday, my mind will probably start to do the same.  This is called reality.

In our current culture people don’t want to peak, so they come up with ways to extend the peak.  Now I’m not suggesting that we should quit working out at 40.  Not my point at all. But the goal isn’t to stay young, it’s to stay in the best shape possible because our bodies are from God (not to mention we will feel better and all the other benefits of that).

What I’m suggesting is that worshipping youth and denying reality is not healthy.  It is especially not healthy if it is used to justify not growing up, not being committed to growth as a person while denying consequences.  I think this mentality is one of the things that really hurts single people today.

We’re telling people, and in frankly in particular women, that you can have it all.  But you can’t.  None of us can. Our choices have consequences.  If we don’t talk about those consequences with young people we are setting them up to be severely disappointed as they get older.

Now I know that there are exceptions.  I also know that science and medicine have in many ways extended not only our age expectancies but also women’s fertility.  But there are costs even to that.  If a woman waits until her late 30s to start having kids she is more likely to have trouble getting pregnant and more likely to have complications affecting both her and the child. These are actual facts.

This doesn’t even include the fact that it is harder for a woman in her 30s to get married than a younger woman.  Again, we can cry that it’s not fair.  I get that.  But that won’t make it any less true.

Now here’s the thing, I’m not telling anyone what choices to make.  What I want to suggest is two things.

First, understand that you are probably not the exception.  In other words, count the cost of your decision making.  Do you want to get married? Do you want a big family?  Then go ahead and work for that.  If that’s not what you want, then don’t.  But don’t believe the lies that you can have all that you want whenever you want it without any cost.  Live in the real world.

Secondly, I want to encourage you regardless of what you want to see the eternal view not the secular one.  What I mean by that is that when you view your life as a believer from an eternal perspective, it changes the peak dynamic.  You will still have a physical and mental peak in the temporal life.  But that’s not the end.  Instead, when you die you will be with Jesus in the present heaven, which will be better than any peak you had here.  Then at the resurrection and renewal of all things – the final heaven – you will never peak.  You will continue to grow and grow and grow.

What this means is that I can go ahead and grow up.  You don’t have to fight to “stay young” so to speak.  We can have a long view and understand that God is growing us overall, calling us to grow more and more.  That even in my aging in the temporal life, God is growing me.  There is no need to delay adulthood.  There is no reason to delay responsibility.  In fact the opposite is true.  You want to grow as much as possible.

We Are All Called To Reproduce

In the very beginning when God created the first people, Adam and Eve, He created them with purpose.  I like to say that God created us to be in relationship with Him, reflect Him and to represent Him.  Instead he said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule . . .”  He created us male and female in His image.  We therefore reflect who he is in our very being.  But we were also to go, to multiply, to fill the earth.  Now this was based on our communal relationship with Him.  This of course takes exactly one page in the bible before we mess it all up.

However, once we are reconciled to Jesus, he essentially gives us the same command.  “Go and share the gospel and make disciples”  In other words, go represent me in the world and multiply.

Here’s the truth I want to get at today.  We are created, each of us, with the desire to multiply.  Yes there is a biological aspect to that.  Understand that God even created that desire.  But there is more to it than that.  There is something deeper.  Something that knows that we are to multiply.

This is part of the reason why we have some of the recent phenomena in our culture including:

  • More women having children out of wedlock
  • Even though women are waiting longer to get married, they still have children late.  Sometimes far into their 40’s.
  • There is a rising number of unmarried women in their 30’s and 40’s having children out of wedlock on purpose.   (I address this here)
  • Married couples are choosing artificial means to have children

What’s interesting is that this is true even in the face of a huge chunk of our culture saying (for a variety of reasons) that having more children is a bad idea and a declining birthrate overall in Western society.

The Church of course is all about this.  This is because many parts of the church, particularly evangelicalism (whatever that actually means at this point), see the nuclear family as the answer to every question.  In fact some go so far as to include in their statement of beliefs that the nuclear family is the foundation upon which God’s kingdom advances.

This is their attempt to both answer the desire to multiply and corral the misuse of that desire.

Now I’m not anti nuclear family.  But the problem is that the nuclear family is not the answer to the to the problem and frankly suggesting that the nuclear family is the foundation for kingdom advancement is at best misguided and borderline heresy.

I’m going to say more soon about the “family” and the Church as well as back up and talk more about why we need a robust theology of celibacy and marriage together.  But for today I’d like to tackle the desire to reproduce.

The truth is that we are all indeed called to reproduce.  The desire is good.  But the Kingdom of God is not grown by having babies.  It is grown by making disciples.  It is true that in the Old Testament, the Kingdom was in many ways advanced by physical offspring.  This starts with Abraham and continues all the way up to Jesus.  But even in the Old Testament there are words that point to a different future – a future we live in right now!

Hear these words from Isaiah 56

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

  For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.

Or from Isaiah 54

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”

How can Eunuchs and barren women have sons and daughters?

It starts with Jesus.  Listen again to Isaiah from chapter 53 after he describes what the Messiah will go through he says:

For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

The truth is that Jesus changed the whole thing.  The gospel puts things right.  It reorders the way things work, and re-establishes our call to reproduce and multiply.  As a believer you may or may not be called to marry and have children.  And because we live in a fallen world, even if you are called to that, it might not happen.  But all of us, regardless of if we are called to marriage or celibacy are called to multiply – to grow the Kingdom.  But not only are we called to it, we can participate it in it.  The celibate man can have offspring.  The barren woman can have children in the Kingdom.

At the end of Matthew 19, which is chalk full of thoughts on celibacy and marriage, Peter says to Jesus, “we have left all to follow you.”  Jesus replies,

“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

The Kingdom is both now and coming.  Marriage, family and celibacy are all a reflection of it, not the other way around.  In the Kingdom, regardless of context, we can and in fact are called to be fruitful and multiply.