Children Bring Us Love – and Pain
by Pastor George Van Alstine
I’ve been jotting down notes for a Messenger article on the Connecticut school shooting, but I just threw them all away. Everybody’s got a strong opinion about this tragedy, and there are enough theories, explanations and blame scenarios going around without me adding to the cacophony. What we all share are DEEP FEELINGS — this is sad, SAD, SAD!
As I step back a little, what I find myself reflecting on is the place of children and parenting in our lives. It seems so simple: “First comes loves, then comes marriage, Then comes Janie with a baby carriage.”
But what a life of confusion, anxiety, frustration, compromised dreams, financial challenges and complex feelings lies ahead for Janie. This baby will control her for years to come. There’s a chance that the story will end in triumph, as her daughter or son emerges into a healthy, achieving individual who makes her proud. But there’s also a chance that this child will break her heart and ruin her life. Nancy Lanza, as well as the parents of the Newtown children killed by her son, are vivid examples of this.
So why do we risk it? The obvious first answer is that we don’t know any better. The starry idealism of youthful love blinds us to the caution signs all around us, and before we know what hit us, we’re changing diapers.
But there are other, more profound reasons why we become parents. For one thing, it’s built into our God given nature to want to produce new little beings, with all the promises of life unsullied by harsh reality. We have a powerful urge to see what can emerge from the best of us, combined with the best of another person whom we love. We’re willing to take the chance of miscarriage, birth defect, personality disorder or other negative developments for the possibility that we will be fulfilled as persons in a way that would be impossible otherwise:
“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” (Psalm 128)
We fantasize that children will give positive meaning to our lives, as well as security in our later years:
“Children are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
We also see children as our legacy, guaranteeing that we will be remembered after our death.
But it doesn’t always work according to script, and the experience of raising children often involves disappointment, sleepless nights and tears. In the extreme you may have to see your child die before you, as the parents of the Newtown children have.
In this Christmas season, we may listen in a new way to the words of Simeon, an old man of great faith, as he held the baby Jesus in his arms for a Temple blessing. He prayed, then said to his mother Mary:
“This child is destined for the falling and rising of many, for the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)
Sometimes parental suffering is redemptive, even though we may never see its positive results.