Has anyone ever told you "We are trusting God with the size of our family"? Did you agree? Did you feel a little shamed or confused?
I love being a mother of eight kids. I always wanted a large family. My husband loves having a big brood. But we're not "trusting God" with our family size. Here's why.
We are Pro-Large Family
Don't get the wrong impression. We're big supporters of those who choose to have a large family. If you tell me ...
We're open to having more kids.
We're not using birth control.
We prefer natural family planning.
You'll find that I am a big supporter. And you won't be hearing any judgement from me, even if your choices lead to struggles and hardships.
I firmly believe that some of the most worthwhile things we can do in this life come with their share of trials, and those trials might even be part of what makes them worthwhile.
Hey, I get it. Birth control is a touchy subject. And it's weird to discuss your sex life with random people at church and the grocery store. (Why do folks feel free to make that a topic of conversation, anyway?)
So maybe you're just looking for a family-friendly (hehe) way to say "We have sex whenever we feel like it and we aren't currently using anything to prevent the sperm from getting to the egg." If you want to share that with folks, but you want a different way to say it, that's cool.
And maybe it goes a little farther than that. Maybe your reason for desiring a large family isn't just your personal preferences or because it's your hobby.
Maybe the reason you want to have more children is that you see it as a kingdom-building activity. You want to have more children as an act of serving the Lord. And so this really is about wanting to do what God calls you to do.
Amen. I'm totally with you on that. But please don't describe what you're doing as "trusting God" with the size of your family.
Even if you don't intend it, your word choice is damaging. You are suggesting that anyone who takes a different approach to family size is not trusting God.
Are You a Control Freak?
I've heard this same idea phrased in another, equally troubling way. One mom said,
We've decided to give God control over my womb.
That sounds so lovely and good. God should be in charge, right?
But here's the rub: it's actually not a rational statement to make.
Communicating that you've decided to give God control over something is like saying that you're allowing the sun to shine or giving the wind permission to blow.
Whether or not you use birth control of any sort, control (over your fertility or any other area of your life) wasn't yours to begin with. So you can't take credit for giving to God what wasn't in your possession in the first place.
And it creates that same troubling dichotomy as the "trusting God" expression. It suggests, somehow, that those who are making decisions to delay or avoid pregnancy are "taking away control" from God.
If your conscience is troubled with worry that you're hijacking control from God, let me reassure you - you aren't. You didn't. You can't.
You can try to be in control. You can think that you are in control. You can realize and admit that you're not in control. But you can't decide to be in control, or decide to let God be in control.
Equating Trust with Inaction
This isn't just an issue of hurt feelings. It's actually a question of sound Biblical theology.
God clearly calls us to trust him. But nowhere in his word does he equate trust - inextricably - with inaction or abstinence from intentional decision making.
Sometimes trusting the Lord means waiting. Sometimes trusting the Lord means moving forward. Sometimes trusting the Lord means changing courses.
I cannot think of another single area of life in which we speak this way about what it means to "trust the Lord." What if someone said to you ...
Oh, I don't use an alarm clock. I'm trusting God with my sleep.
It's true, sleep is a good thing. It's a gift from God, in fact. God even says in one place in Scripture that it's vain to rise up early. (Psalm 127:2)
So yes, enjoying the God-given gift of sleep is a wonderful thing. Sleeping until your body naturally awakes is a wonderful blessing. And it's a good thing to do. Sometimes.
But God gives us other principles as well. You'd have to rise up early in the morning to search and read all the passages about people who, for one reason or another, rose up early in the morning.
Jesus woke up early in the morning, while it was still dark. Jesus woke his disciples from sleep because, even though they were very tired, he wanted them to be praying instead.
But this isn't an article about sleep. My point is simply that just because something is indeed a good thing, is given to us by God, and often ends naturally of its own accord, does not mean, therefore, that to make a positive choice to influence the outcome is a mark of "not trusting God".
Selective Trust Tests
As I mentioned above, I have no objections to practices like natural family planning, or ecological breastfeeding as a means of spacing or avoiding pregnancies. I warmly support those who choose to use these methods.
I do think it is odd, however, that these intentional practices are still considered to be under the umbrella of "trusting God" while other intentional practices of influencing the chances of pregnancy are not.
Certainly, at the very simplest level, couples choose when to have or not have sex.
I certainly wouldn't accuse a couple of "not trusting God" because they abstain from sex during a woman's fertile period. But I would question why that intentional choice is considered "trusting" while others are not.
A Helpful Perspective Shift
After our second child was born, my husband and I read several books about childbearing, the "Quiverfull" movement, birth control, and other such topics. Truthfully, they were helpful in some ways.
I recognized that I had unconsciously considered having children as something we were doing for ourselves. A boy, a girl, brick rancher, nice family photos. I had dreamed of being a mother since I was a little girl.
But having children - like marriage, church membership, and so many other areas of life - isn't primary about my personal satisfaction. It was healthy and helpful to refocus the purpose of child-rearing to that of serving and glorifying God.
We realized that having children wasn't something we should do for our own comfort. In fact, there might be times when it would appropriate to sacrifice and be uncomfortable for the sake of having and raising children for the Lord.
We agreed at the time that we were not convinced that birth control was a sin, or that there was never an appropriate use for it. We simply felt that, for that season, we didn't need it.
What if I had health problems? What if I suffered postpartum depression? What if we couldn't handle or afford more kids? We decided it was best to cross those bridges if/when we came to them.
When the Bridges Came
I had my first bout of postpartum depression after the birth of my fifth child. My seventh pregnancy was riddled with depression from conception until well after weaning.
After our seventh baby was born, we began to wonder if seven was enough for us. Should we stop?
I spent months in tears and prayer. One thing I prayed over and over "Give me clarity, Lord. Please. Give me clarity. What would you have me to do?"
After seeing some improvement in my health after I began taking a Vitamin D supplement, we decided to try one more time. My eight pregnancy immediately plunged me back into a deep depression which only deepened after delivery.
One night after my husband had drifted off to sleep, I tossed, restlessly in the bed. I cried into my pillow. Worn out, exhausted from years of physical and emotional strain, I was desperate for relief.
I wanted to turn my attention to enjoying and investing in the eight children we had. And yet, my conscience was trouble about the idea of being "done".
It's one thing to believe you have freedom in Christ to do something when you aren't imminently faced with that decision. But when the day comes that you look that decision full in the face, sometimes you find that your conscience was burdened in ways you didn't realize.
My husband rolled over and saw that I was crying. He held me as I poured out my heart to him. This wasn't new territory. We'd had this conversation many times before. But then he said something that stopped me in my tracks.
Honey, I don't think you're trusting God with this.
My heart leaped into my throat. Certainly he could not be on the verge of saying what I thought he was going to say??
He said, "You're not trusting that God loves you. You're not trusting that he's good and tender. You're acting as though he's out to get you. But, honey, he'll be pleased if you have another baby. And he'll be pleased if you stop and raise the ones you've got."
We are Trusting God
And so, we are trusting God as concerns the size of our family. But that's not code for "no birth control". Instead, this is what it looks like to trust God in this matter.
Trust His Blood
We trust that we are righteous in Christ, saved by grace alone, received by faith alone, apart from any works on our part. God loved us before we loved him and definitely before we had any children.
Trust His Sovereignty
God is perfectly in control. Though we believe our family is complete with eight children, we know that he is no less in control of my womb. Should he choose to send us another, we will trust his decision. And we trust that he will give us grace and resources for the challenge.
Trust the Sufficiency of His Word
We trust that God is capable of conveying all that we need to know in order to love him and love our neighbor. We believe that his Word, completed nearly two thousand years ago, is sufficient. He included all that he intended, didn't forget to add anything, and leaves much open to choice and wisdom.
Trust the Goodness of His Creation
God made man and woman unlike any other creature in his creation. He made them after his own image. He gave us souls. He gave us reason. And he urges us to call on Him for wisdom which he promises he will give generously and without reproach (James 1:5).
Making use of our faculties of reason and decision making to apply Biblical principles to the specific situations in our lives isn't a failure to trust God. It is living in accordance with his design for us as unique creatures.
Trust that Children are a Blessing
As my mother wisely reminded me, if children truly are a blessing and a gift from the Lord, then they are worth investing in and raising well to adulthood. Belief in the goodness and blessing of children extends far beyond birthing and, therefore, must the factors that influence how many we have.
Trust His Tenderness
Man looks on the outside, but the Lord looks on the heart. He knows our weakness. He knows that we are but dust. And he loves us with the tender love of a father.
Multiply and Be Fruitful
A faithful and wise pastor once spoke about the phrase "be fruitful and multiply". Before the fall, he said, these tasks would have been one in the same. Simply the act of bringing children into the world would have resulted in perfect, holy, God-worshipers.
In our fallen world, however, these are two related but separate tasks. Both are important. It is good to multiply. But raising those children to be fruitful is an even greater task. There is no shame in wisely apportioning resources to both tasks.
Need More Gentle, Gospel Encouragement?
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