For background see Emily Timbol’s well-written and thoughtful piece on the Christianity Today blog, her.meneutics.
As a pastor, and a mother of two, I’ve witnessed Emily Timbol’s story over and over again. The second-class citizenship handed to women without children on Mother’s Day. The thick silence that settles over infertility and pregnancy loss. The priority of family church activities that often leaves adults without children out in the cold. As I read her recent post in her.meneutics I recognized my own culpability.
But I also noticed repetition of the phrase “desire to reproduce,” used three times in her short essay. I found the frequency of this phrase interesting because I wouldn’t characterize my decision to have children as a “desire to reproduce.” That phrase calls up images of anxious populating, a desperate attempt to control history through the production of little Christians.
That may be the narrative Timbol hears most often, but it is not my story. In Anabaptism children are considered beloved and central, but at baptism they declare their own decision to be a follower of Christ. They aren’t a possession that we control.
For Mennonites, like all Christians, children belong to God and to the community. And this is where I’d like to offer a different perspective to Timbol’s. I recognize her giftedness and wholeness without children. But I disagree with her that children “are a blessing God gives to some people, not all.”
I’m guessing children have been a blessing to Timbol just as friends without children have found a blessing in my little ones. I have seen this happen in remarkable ways throughout the life of my children. Isak and Arianna, content for now to be without children, faithfully organized meals for our family after our son was born. Nate, 23-years old and recently married, takes his turn caring for our children during nursery time. And Meghan, content in her singleness, is entering her second year as my daughter’s Sunday school teacher. Each of them, in their own way, has made our children their blessing.
But the biblical injunction to welcome children, so central to Jesus’ ministry, doesn’t end with those without biological or adopted children. Welcome is a challenge for people like me, as well. As we approach the question of our children’s education I am reminded that truly welcoming other people’s children may mean the decision to send ours to an under-achieving public school. Welcoming children means the phrase “I’ve already done my tour” should never escape my lips when I am asked to teach Sunday school as an older adult.
Most importantly, welcoming children means reminding mine that their identity isn’t found in whether or not they have children or not, but in the ways that they answers Jesus’ call to excel in justice and mercy towards the poorest in our world, including children. It also means that those of us who parent children through birth or adoption find ways to open our lives and our families to those who do not parent full-time.
What I hear throughout Timbol’s post are the ways the church has sectioned off parenting into those with and those without. This has clearly caused a lot of hurt and pain for Timbol and those who are told they are incomplete without engaging in a particular kind of parenting. But I hope that we can all see Jesus as challenging us in new ways to “welcome little children,” and that the call on each of our lives to welcome the vulnerable would be a central part of Christian identity.