This article by Kevin DeYoung originally appeared in the July issue of Tabletalk magazine.
I want to talk about the size of our families. More importantly, I want to talk about loving as we want to be loved and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Scripture says the human race should be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28; Mal. 2:15). Children are always seen as a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5; 128:3-4). Church growth happens evangelistically and
covenantally. So I like big families. My wife and I are on our way to a big family with four little ones already. In pre-marital counseling I challenge newlyweds to think through the reasons for birth control (which I am not against) instead of just assuming it. I warn against the abortifacient possibilities of taking the Pill. I try to dissuade most young couples from the notion that they have to be married for several years before they start a family. I am pro-children big time.
But this does not mean I am anti-small family. All else being equal, I’d encourage Christians to have more than two kids (keeping above the replacement rate). But all else is not equal. There are simply too many things I don’t know about other couples to even dare to judge. I don’t know how difficult it can be too get pregnant or how difficult the pregnancies are. I don’t know the financial situation, the medical history, the family pressures, the cultural expectations. I don’t know what their kids are like, their marriage, or their attitude before the Lord. I don’t know what other God-glorifying, self-sacrificing, world-serving opportunities they are praying through. So when we see faithful Christians with two kids or ten kids, we should praise God and assume the best.
And yet, any pastor paying attention to the hearts and hurts of his church, will tell you that there is a lot of tension around the size of our families. Here is an opportunity for the devil to work discord among us. But here also is a wonderful opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves and open wide hearts and affections to families that look different than ours (Matt. 22:39; 2 Cor. 6:11-13).
Think of all the trouble we get into in the church, and on this issue in particular, because we assume the worst. Big families assume smaller families are being selfish. Smaller families assume big families are out to prove something. Parents assume their children are rejecting their choices when they make different ones. Children assume their parents would have acted like them if they were more spiritual. And everybody assumes everybody else is assuming something about them!
This is not the way of 1 Corinthians 13 love and it has to stop. Let’s assume the best of each other on this issue and not assume we’re being judged because someone else feels strongly about the way they do things.
And let’s be sensitive to the feelings of others rather than sensitive to perceived sleights and offenses. In some churches women may feel a pressure to be pregnant. Maybe the pressure is stated, maybe unstated, maybe it’s inaccurately perceived. But it is felt, so let’s be careful not to add to the pressure. In a church where literally dozens of women are bursting at the womb almost constantly and all the talk is about latching, stripping membranes, and other pleasantries we must be careful that young women who aren’t pregnant don’t feel inferior or out of place. I can just about guarantee they feel that way already, so you’ll have to go out of your way to welcome, affirm, and include.
On the flip side, there’s no good reason—certainly no biblical ones—why families with five, six, seven, ten, or fifteen kids should be made to feel strange. There’s no need for comments like, “Really, another one?” Or, “Wow, he can’t keep his hands off you!” Those comments are hurtful, and so are the eye rolls and exasperated sighs and suspicions. Let those who have eight kids not judge those who have two, and those with one child not judge those with six.
And let me throw out one other verse while I’m at it: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). For most Christians there is almost nothing as joyful as having a baby, and almost nothing as painful as being unable to do so. This leads to lots of awkward church lobby deliberations: “Should I tell her I’m pregnant? She’s been trying for so long, my news will just make her sad. But if I don’t tell her she’ll find out eventually and be hurt that I didn’t mention anything. Maybe I’ll tell her privately. But then that will make her feel singled out. What to do?” There is no solution to this problem. Infertility hurts and babies can make it hurt more. But a step in the right direction is God’s command in Romans 12. Let every young lady rejoice with her friend’s pregnancy and let that same friend weep when her sister in Christ hasn’t or won’t experience the same joy.
I don’t pretend to get all this baby stuff right. I’m sure I’ve been woefully insensitive at times. I’ve probably made silly “you get pregnant around here just by drinking the water” jokes that have been quietly unhelpful. I need God’s help too. But as a pastor I try to set the right tone, dial down the tensions, and encourage every man and wife to assume the best (and assume everyone else is doing the same). It doesn’t make all the tensions go away. But I’m hoping it will help us love each other’s families, the small and the big, in big ways and small.