A while back Shane Morris kicked up a bit of a hornet’s nest with this tweet:
The numerous replies were revealing, instances of doubling down on the “childless, free, and lovin’ it!” ethic.
Eat wonderful food (one--and I’m not making this up--extolled the wondrousness of the donut he was able to have that morning because he was child free and unencumbered). Go to wonderful places. Have wonderful experiences. Live life. No limits. Choices, choices, choices! “I get to do all this…stuff. I can spend money on what I want. I’m not tied down. I’m living the liberated life.”
If you peruse the replies, you’ll see that sort of thing shouted from the rooftops loud and clear. It is a representation of what Mike Young calls the “flattening of meaning.” All life choices are equal and just as good as the others, so don’t knock someone else’s choice--unless its the choice to have lots of kids and have them early. If they choose traveling to Paris and eating gourmet donuts, or sleeping around in their 50s and 60s and having a ton of “old people sex” (as one reply crassly put it), that’s just as good--and is actually better--than having kids. There is no “best life,” but the best life is a life maximizing choice, pursuing pleasure, minimizing things that tie you down.
The flattening of meaning is applied asymmetrically, of course. They are happy to flatten the meaning of family and kids or anything smacking of a transcendent authority, all the while loudly proclaiming the superiority of a life spent pursuing individual prestige and pleasure.
To all this, my reply is: “hogwash.” The replies reminded me of C.S Lewis’s line in The Weight of Glory: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Yes, the childless, unencumbered, full-of-liberated-experiences life is fun, if you define “fun” in a very narrow, parochial sense. But it is limited in its grandness of vision. In the end, it is a small life, whittled away on flotsam and jetsam that don’t outlive you. It is sensate, yet hollow. Weightless, not glory filled. Full of brief excitement, but devoid of deep meaning. Yes, yes, yes, I know: family *can* be an idol. Don’t start with me: that is obviously not an idol the people in the replies have to worry about, nor is it an idol at large in our American society and even in our churches. To squawk about the idol of the family when people are having fewer kids than ever (more here, here, here, here, and here, and here, here, ) and so many people are extolling the virtues of the liberated life is just plain silly, another example of bringing a fire extinguisher to a flood.
And I’m obviously not talking about someone who, out of true devotion to Christ, sacrifices the want of a family to devote himself single-mindedly to genuinely serving the Lord. Currently in the mornings I am reading a biography of Elizabeth Elliott, who wrote The Shadow of the Almighty, to my kids. For a long period of time, she and her future husband--Jim Elliott--lived lives 100% devoted to the Lord as singles on the mission field. They eventually married, but it was delayed by service in very difficult places. Theirs was a beautiful devotion. Nor am I talking about a person who wants a family and pursues that end, but for some reason it doesn’t work out for them. Plenty are in that situation. Despite all the technological help these days, finding a spouse can be difficult. Seems more fraught with obstacles than it was in past generations. If that’s you, you are not my audience, here. Keep on keepin’ on.
For most, though, that’s not the case. In my classes, especially with female students, for every student that *might* be ever so slightly at risk of making an idol out of family, there are 50, 60, 100 students who are running fast the other way. And yes, that includes Christian kids too. I exaggerate in my numbers, but only slightly. Shane strikes Lewis-like themes in his follow up tweet: there’s more to life than maximizing happiness, as defined by modern mores. If you want to save your life, lose it for a cause bigger than yourself. Building a legacy through devotion to family fits that bill perfectly. As he says, “Of course, this is completely intuitive. Life is not about maximizing pleasure & fun. People who live like that wind up miserable. The old adage is true that nobody says on their deathbed, ‘I wish I'd spent more time on my career,’ or ‘I wish I'd slept with a few more people.’ Meaning is a product of hard undertakings, sacrifice, discipline, and most of all investment in human beings. And there is literally no deeper investment in human beings than the one you undertake by being in a family and parenting. Yes, it will cost you happiness in the short-term. But you'll get something better in the end. That's how it always works. The one who would save his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life in love will save it.”
In today’s modern world, we must make the case boldly that it is ok to want marriage and kids, and in fact, its not just ok, it is a good and beautiful path that, if wisely sought, yields more happiness, joy, and meaning in the long term than all the trips to Paris or trips to five star restaurants with the besties could ever muster. Deep meaning over cheap thrills. Every time. Giving up pursuing the former in order to obtain the latter is a real and profound loss that we should not minimize or dismiss. Exactly how to make that case to young people is another post for another time, but I’ll leave you with one picture that I think goes a long way in accomplishing that: Every evening, after I get home from a long day at work--and many times those days at work are quite stressful. High school kids are wonderful in many ways, but often their antics, drama, and disrespect can weigh on the nerves--I open the door, and my two absolutely lovely daughters drop what they are doing and enthusiastically run and give me a big squeeze, while my wife gives me a gentle hug and kiss to welcome me home. All smiles.
The woman I have committed my life to, and my progeny, is what greets me at the door each evening. That is what I come home to.
I love that. The stress of the day melts away.
Which is better--the swingin’ single life, partying it up in exotic places and doing whatever I want whenever I want it, or the life that includes the above, where I’m joyfully greeted each evening by a deep and rooted love that words cannot express, where I’m building a legacy that will outlive me?
The latter. Of course. The former *might* yield more short term leisure sometimes, but the latter is deeper, and therefore better. Protest and nuance and qualify all you want, but you as well know this is true. In the quiet moments, denying that is almost impossible.