Saturday, January 12, 2013

Love lasts

I love the laziness of Saturdays.

I don't set the alarm. The girls want me to be in bed when they wake. On school days there is no time for snuggles, so Saturday they come running to my room. The spots on either side of me are the enviable ones, so they are claimed first. The youngest and the lightest are allowed to lie on top of me with their heads on my shoulder if they want. Whoever is last tucks herself into the crook of my knees. This is how we spend the first half hour of our weekend.

My husband makes coffee for me and cocoa for the girls. Sometimes they turn on a video right away. Today they didn't. They played in their room, all four together, some elaborate pretend-game with all their favorite stuffed animals. I made bacon, eggs and toast, and they came running when they caught the smell.

We are full of breakfast, warm and content. The girls are still playing, and their games weave in and out of each other's, sometimes together, sometimes alone. At this moment, my five-year-old has borrowed her sister's cape and is racing around the house to make it billow behind her. The nine-year-old and seven-year-old are playing senet. The four-year-old, who will not dress unless I tell her to, is cutting paper into snowflakes. In another moment, they will all be somewhere else, doing some other thing with a different sister.

I love the laughter in my home. There are screams too, and whines and shouts and sobs. But right now my home is full up to the rafters with laughter. If you wonder why people have kids, or why people have more than one, or why all the work and grief of parenthood seems worth it to someone, why that beautiful friend of yours whose clothes used to match now wears spit-up stains - the answer is here, in my house, on Saturday morning.

Or maybe it isn't. Not every home gets these moments. Some children never get old enough to laugh, or never have the awareness. If the gamble of parenting is that days like this make it worth the pain, then some people lose that bet.

Almost twenty years ago I sat at a bagel place with some friends for breakfast. They were both new wives; I was newly engaged. They both said they never wanted children; I was open to the idea. When we talked about whether we wanted children and why, I said that I wanted children for the same reason I was getting married: because I had become convinced that loving and living with someone was how most of us become good people. Faithfully loving someone over years rasps off our sharp edges, makes us kinder and more patient. Loving children, I supposed, must change us even more.

One friend's response was immediate. "That's selfish, " she said. "That's just having children for yourself."

I blinked, and gave it up as one of those conversations where we couldn't understand each other. Once you are told that committing to relationships that make you less selfish is selfish, there aren't many places for a conversation to go. (Years later, she did have children, so maybe we'd have a more lively discussion today.)

I've thought of that conversation over the years, and the reasons I gave. I still think that having children because it changes you for the better is a decent reason. But it's not the reason I think of most. Instead, I think more and more of the world to come.

Here's where faith comes in: love lasts. Rejection and death and loss happen, but love lasts. The idea of the Kingdom of God - or at least, one of the many complex ideas in the Kingdom of God - is that God has established his kingdom through Jesus, is building it through us, and will complete it when Jesus returns. My every act of love and service is a brick used to build that kingdom. What I do for my daughters, through the mystery of God, becomes an eternal part of that kingdom. My acts of faithfulness to friends, or kindness to strangers, or forgiveness for someone who hurt me - these are not dead-end acts. They are making something that lasts, even if I don't understand exactly how.

The Jesus who brings wholeness to the world also unites present and future, making our present acts have eternal significance.  Wonderful days like today are not the reason I had children. I am profoundly grateful for this day, but if it never happened, my decision to be a parent would not be less wise. Serving someone else builds a world I haven't seen, but long to.

At the end of the day, the end of this day, the end of the final day - love lasts.


  1. Holy Cow. That was beautiful. I might actually PIN it. There is so much wisdom here.

    Love it. So glad you are blogging more.

  2. "My every act of love and service is a brick used to build that kingdom."

    This is just beautiful, this idea, this truth that we are slowly building the kingdom of God through daily acts of love.

    Makes "Thy kingdom come" take on a wonderful ring.

  3. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for a beautiful post.

  4. I think it can be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the selfish vs. unselfish dichotomy as a measure of morality. Some behaviour is selfish and wrong, but other behaviour is selfish but morally justifiable, and occasionally something might be selfish but morally good. I was thinking about this as I read The Hunger Games trilogy: Katniss equates goodness with unselfishness - she feels conflicted about some of her obviously good actions (such as saving Peeta in the arena) because they might have been done for selfish motives (even if that motive is selfish only because of her own attachment to the person she is helping/saving), and she claims that the only admirable motive would be political in nature - but clearly people can do terrible things in the name of a political cause that they misguidedly believe in. While unselfish, those deeds could be destructive and wrong.

    So all of that is to say that if your motive for marrying and having children is, in part, to improve your own moral character, who cares if that's selfish? Selfish is also rapidly becoming, as I write this comment, one of those words that starts sounding like not a real word as you repeat it over and over again - and that's not unlike the feeling I get from conversations that examine whether or not an action is selfish. It often comes down to a matter of semantics: depending on how you phrase things, almost any action can be described as if it were selfish. After awhile, I get sick of it and want to return to the language of duty and obligation, concepts that are a bit more resistant to this kind of collapse.

    All that said, your post did remind me of a book I read years ago arguing that we should selflessly love our spouses, not for their benefit but for our own moral development. The concept has merit, but the author of the book came across as someone who deeply resented his wife, and so for him, love in marriage was a matter of gritting his teeth and saying, "I'm going to behave lovingly toward you, but only because I know that this is ultimately about my own moral perfection, and any benefit you get from it is a somewhat regrettable side-effect." It was an interesting case study in how a good idea can go wrong.

    1. Bea, that last paragraph made me laugh. And I think you're right about "selfish." I think CS Lewis said something about sacrificial love, and how the mere fact that it was sacrificial wasn't enough to make it good. I am trying to get to deeper issues of duty and obligation when I talk about seeking to be kind and forgiving. Which the guy in that last paragraph clearly wasn't, really.

  5. This was so encouraging to me. Thank you!!!

  6. I truly love this. Thanks to JoAnn for directing me here.

  7. This is lovely, and it resonates with me for many reasons.

    The chaotic nature of our household and my own personality often seem at odds; it's not a medium in which I "naturally thrive" --or so I feel from time to time, as the introvert in me longs for some space and quiet! I acknowledge the irony that my idea of thriving, and God's idea of me thriving are often different (the whole CS Lewis building a cottage vs a castle idea). And that one of the reasons I had children is as you say "My every act of love and service is a brick used to build that kingdom. What I do for my daughters, through the mystery of God, becomes an eternal part of that kingdom." Especially when those acts of love and service really require effort on my part to be come different and to become better beyond who I naturally am at this moment.

    I think the purposes of God are carried out quite efficiently in this setting, where parents teach their children, and vice-versa, frankly. It's an interesting, humbling, reciprocal experience. And one where not only are we building, but are also given the opportunity of becoming fit for the Kingdom of God. Hopefully.

    And hopefully this makes even a modicum of sense, as I've written it while my 2.5 yr old is climbing all over me :)

  8. Are men allowed to comment?

    Ran into you by accident a little while back. You were Veronica back then.

    What a delight you are.

    Your husband equally seems a man a of exceptional conduct.

    Regards all the way from England

    1. Men can always comment here, though I'm a little surprised when they do. Writing about mommyhood does not draw a large male readership. Welcome. And thank you.

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  10. I love the way you write. Write more.

    1. From you, Jen, I take that as high praise.