Question: Do you think God wants people to stay in miserable marriages?

Staying married is part of God’s best plan for us. I think staying miserable is a bit of a choice. =P

I partly come back to this thought, “If an arranged-marriage can develop into a lifelong relationship with deep respect and love for each other….then ANYONE who has chosen to marry the person they did should be able to do the same thing.”

I think we’ve become more a culture of throwing away things that don’t work the way we want, instead of trying to fix it. (Yes it’s a two-way street…and I’m not talking about unrepentant unfaithfulness or abuse here.) A marriage doesn’t suddenly become miserable. Something triggers a slow slide towards “miserable”. Maybe it’s that time you felt under appreciated. Maybe it’s a word or action that makes you not feel loved or respected by your spouse. That little seed takes root. And every time your spouse “did it again” or “failed to do it again”, it adds to the tally, which waters that little seed. Then that seed starts to grow deep roots of apathy, resentment and bitterness….before finally producing the fruit of a miserable marriage.

Each step towards misery is a choice to NOT communicate honestly. It’s a choice to NOT forgive or extend grace. It’s a choice to not admit wrong. It’s a choice to hang onto your pride. It’s a choice to keep records of wrongs. It’s a choice to believe the worst in your spouse instead of the best. It’s a choice to not find out what makes your spouse feel appreciated/loved/respected. It’s a choice to insist your way is the right way. And it’s a choice to keep your own interests/comforts/priorities #1. These choices build walls. So it’s hard to see how a couple who actively seeks to do the opposite to the above list won’t have a great marriage. I’m not saying it’ll be easy…but I’m pretty sure it won’t be miserable.

Granted sometimes you might not know HOW to do the opposite or even realize that it was a choice…but does it ever get to a point where it’s impossible to undo? That I don’t know. Could a clean break and fresh start be the only solution in certain situations? I don’t know. We live in a broken world….as broken people. What I DO know is that God can take a broken marriage and make it whole again. He can take a broken person and make him or her whole again. I think that’s ultimately where God’s heart is and as we submit to that, “miserable” will be a temperary state.

Question: Is intentional childlessness biblical?

We’ve been coming across a few articles on the hot topic of “intentional childlessness” (for married couples)…and whether that is biblical or not.

http://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/jim-daly/archive/2013/08/19/is-intentional-childlessness-biblical.aspx
http://www.boundless.org/adulthood/2004/motherhood-on-trial
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/why-i-decided-not-have-kids

Skywalker and I do want children, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. Part of my reasoning is to live in obedience to God’s design for marriage. I believe that marriage is for intimacy AND procreation; and we can’t choose only the parts we want. A lot of the comments we read in response to the articles seem to agree that not all have the gift of parenthood, nor have the desire to be parents, so they should be able to opt out of parenthood. Or that every child should be “wanted”. One commenter replied that “Mary probably didn’t want to be pregnant with Jesus as an unwed, impoverished teen, but she submitted in obedience.”

Certainly God does not promise marriage and children to all. Nor should anyone expect it. But I do believe that if God has blessed you with a marriage partner, then you should be open to receiving children from God out of that marriage. If God does not provide children within the marriage, then perhaps that too is His “gift”…for the couple to build into spiritual children or to adopt or be foster parents etc. I believe it kind of boils down to submitting to what God would give or withhold (and I’m not saying it’s easy either way) as opposed to intentionally choosing not to. I should add that people should also be intentional about why they want to have children too.

We posed this question to @RevTedNg and this was his reply (published with permission):

In a word, the answer is: no.

The Bible at no point provides license to take up this position for theological, cultural and historical/technological (they had no reliable contraceptive options) reasons.  Even in principle no support can be found in the text.  In fact it would suggest the opposite.

I read the articles you sent  along and the first two are rather reflective while the third one was  well, fluff.  One must indeed take into account the age, life-stage, experience and expertise of the authors.

There are two ways to see having children – blessing and  curse.  There really is not legitimate in-between.  As a blessing, children are a natural form of spiritual and life challenge – contributors to character formation as well as joy.  They are also a huge  responsibility.  Responsibility, however, in certain cultures (our own in particular which is still shifting but in this direction) can be seen as negative, even detrimental.   In this perspective, children are a burden, they are inefficient and inconvenient.  Having a child is likened to having a 20 year prison sentence.  And frankly, this is a first-world problem (to use that  hipster phrase).  Our culture also tries to impose that value and our solutions on the rest of the world, whether it be in the form of contraception or abortion.

It is also the choice of an urban developed world issue because of expense. Having children can mean a reduction of living standard and an increase in cost of living.  The argument of “no unwanted child” can be an excuse for a cold pragmatism or even personal comfort. It verges on the reprehensible when we pretend that it is actually for the  sake of the unborn that we do this “good.”  I am also aware that in other cultures, children may have some economic value a workers (especially in agrarian settings) but this is also not ideal as they are reduced to commodities which is incompatible with Biblical values of people.

A case in point is China’s one child law.  So what do we get in this society?  Abortion, infanticide and abandonment not only of girl babies but also those who have disabilities an challenges.  They are treated as burdens, as flesh and not as people.  In the Christian faith, life is supposed to be a miracle and sacred.  Every person bears the image of God.  This is a Biblical value applying to human life whether young or old.

Of note, the Catholic church upholds its ban on contraception based on the theology of sovereignty of God and the sacred mystery of life and therefore speaks against intervening in God’s natural order.  Non-Catholics (and unofficially, a number of Catholics) allow for contraception based on arguing stewardship effectively enough to challenge the Catholic position while maintaining the sacredness of life argument.  It is something still worthy of exploration and openness if not dialogue.

What one might ask of intentionally childless couples, however, is self-reflection regarding why they chose to be so.   Short of medical issues (which include a host of things including the risks of age) more comes to light about one’s thoughts and condition.   This may ultimately be a matter of discipleship.  We treat those who have this perspective with kindness and understanding, inviting them to share their perspective so that we can come alongside to understand and explore the issue with sensitivity.  Of course, time, in itself will make the issue moot.

So while it is impossible to argue for intentional childlessness from the Bible, it does not necessarily fall into the category of intentional sin.

I have known people who have been traumatized by their upbringing to the degree that they are adverse to having children.  Perhaps, in time, God  will be able to heal their emotional wounds where they can move beyond  that perspective.  At the same time, I have listened to friends  who took this position but after some time (with much listening to God) they changed their minds.

One book that I think is very significant to anyone considering (or not considering) parenthood is Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas.  A friend who said they would never have kids reversed their position after reading this book.  Now he is the happy father of two.  I do not assume that this is the norm but I do wonder.

Anyways, I hope this provides some framework for considering how we respond to this issue with truth and grace in hand.

Still Surrender

I was chatting with Beta about thoughts on starting a family. We’re of similar age, similar life stage, married just over a year apart from each other…and both not sure we want to start a family yet. There were thoughts of feeling inadequate, not feeling grown up enough, or how being a parent seems so foreign and that we’d like more time spent with just our respective spouses first.

I confess, my thoughts were more about how I didn’t want to give up my body, my schedule, my income, my travel plans and my goals. Me me me me. Yes, they’re pretty selfish reasons. Reasons that are not in line with God’s purpose and design for marriage. And I strongly believe this…marriage is supposed to be an earthly reflection of Christ’s union with His Bride, the Church…and wasn’t designed solely for pleasure. Out of God’s perfect love and desire for relationship, He created us. Being created in His image, the love and desire for relationship in a marriage also opens the opportunity to participate in “creating new life”. Marriage is a vehicle for God to work in and through me to being more like Christ. Joining my life with my spouse’s has already revealed areas of selfishness in me. Having children will definitely, and flagrantly, point out areas of selfishness in us. Oy.

Honestly, I’d be ok not giving that selfishness up right now.

Knowing this about myself is what tells me that this is yet another area of my life needing surrender to God. As weird as it sounds, and maybe even a little offputting to some, I feel a nudge in my heart that I need to surrender my selfishness to God by having children in obedience to His purpose for marriage. (How different that thought is from those who can’t wait to have children!) It’s not that I don’t want children….just not now. I’d love to have at least five years shared with just Skywalker, living as DINKS. At the same time, I want to be done having children by the time I’m 35…which is literally only a couple years away. Truth is, I can’t have both…that’s just not how God wrote this Story for us.

If the scenario was different and I did want children right away, I still might not be able to conceive. In which case I must still surrender my plans to God. The control isn’t in my hands. Sometimes it might seem like it is, but it’s really in God’s timing and purposes…and I need to surrender. I need to live in obedience.

And perhaps I’m actually a little terrified at the responsibility of raising a human…but I still have to wait until my thyroid is normal and stable anyways…so we’re DINKS for a little longer yet. phew.

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Check out this response from a friend.

You can KNOW

You know that question “What is God’s will for my life?” It causes people to be immobilized and sit waiting for God to unveil a flashing neon sign with an arrow pointing towards what His will would have you do or where He would have you go. And as a result, not much gets done for God’s kingdom. I think that is the wrong question to ask actually…it’s a self-centered question.

A better question would be “What is God’s will?” Then go line your life up with the direction God’s already moving in. You could have a big role or small role, or just be a road marker to others that they’re on the right track. God’s will isn’t about “you” and the things you’ll do….it’s about HIM. What He’s done, what He’s doing, what He’ll do.

He’s also told us plainly how we can know His will.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

The hard thing about being a living sacrifice…because most sacrifices you hear about are dead ones…is that the live ones tend to want to climb off the sacrificial altar. It’s only in continually reminding ourselves that we have died to our old way of life, that we have a new life in Christ, a new victorious life, that we can choose to stay as living sacrifices to God.

And we’re not to conform to the patterns of this world…but if we honestly took stock of our lives…can anyone tell whether we value what God values or do we value comfort, convenience and compromise like the world does?

How about being transformed by the renewing of our minds? Sometimes transformation is overnight once a person is filled with the Spirit of Christ. More often than not, the process of sanctification, or being made holy, is a life-long one. A quick check for me is to reflect on whether I’m a better person compared to the previous year. Am I a better employee compared to last year? Better daughter? Better sister? Better wife? Better friend? Am I more like Christ…little by little?

When our daily way of life reflects these elements, we can recognize and test whether something is part of God’s will or not. For anyone who’s read some portion of the Bible…we already know what He wills for us to do: Feed widows and orphans. Lift up the oppressed. Defend the powerless. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Give to all who are in need. Think of others’ needs before your own. Be generous. Gracious. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be slow to anger, slow to speak. Quick to forgive. Love mercy, live justly, walk humbly with our God.

Can we even say we’re living out His will on a daily basis? I honestly can’t.

But I KNOW what His will is. And now, you do too.
And we can work on living out His will every day….then the direction for our lives, the purpose for our lives, will take shape from there. And we’ll recognize the path apart from all the glittery signs the world surrounds us with.