Children are often seen as inconvenient, a hassle, costly.
Childbearing years are often viewed as something to be endured, a necessary evil between living for ourselves pre-parenthood and living for ourselves in retirement and grandparenting years. I hear so many negative attitudes about raising kids and about kids in general. It breaks my heart, especially when I realize that some of that selfish, negative thinking has crept into my own heart. Thankfully, when this happens, God is quick to remind me that my children are so much more than what they cost.
My children, and children in general, have enriched my life in so many ways. One of the most important ways is by being a means of sanctification for me.
We know that to grow in Christ, to mature as believers, we must be branches attached to the vine. John 15:1-2 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Well, I believe that if Jesus is the vine, I am the branch, and the Father is the vinedresser pruning me so that I will bear more fruit, then my children have been the biggest set of pruning shears He has used in my life.
My children have been so instrumental in my spiritual growth, it’s scary for me to imagine where I would be now without their pruning influence on my life. And whether you have children of your own or not, if you invest in the children around you—nieces, nephews, neighbors, kids at church, foster kids, orphans—then God can and will use them to prune away the parts of you that need to die and grow fruit in you in a unique way.
What is the fruit of the Spirit that we long to see cultivated in our lives? Galatians 5:22-23 tell us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Can children really help grow all of that? They definitely have in my life. Let’s look at each fruit individually over the next several weeks to see how loving children helps to ripen that fruit.
Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
I’m sure you’ve heard of the fierce, immediate love a mother has for her newborn baby when that baby is laid on her belly right after birth. I’ll be very honest, I didn’t always feel that instant surge of affection. There were a few times that the labor and delivery were so intense, I couldn’t even focus on anything except breathing and coming out of near-shock for the first several minutes after delivery. It took me awhile to recover mentally enough to realize that my baby was on my chest. My baby. My son. My daughter. Then the love coursed through every cell of my body and flowed right into that baby as she nursed. But a few weeks later, when I was averaging 83 minutes of sleep at night and caring for a newborn round the clock along with one, two, three, four, or five other children, that all-encompassing affection just wasn’t always there. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to wake up for another nursing session. I didn’t want to fix peanut butter sandwiches. I didn’t want to listen to both sides of the story and decide who has the right to pick the movie that day. I really wanted someone else to hold that baby and watch the other kids and let me go take a sixteen-hour nap.
That’s when the real love-fruit started to flourish.
You see, biblical love is so much more than feeling a rush of emotion. Biblical love is sacrifice. Laying down your own desires for the good of the one you love. Meeting their needs when your own needs are going unmet. The article entitled “Love” in the Reformation Study Bible says that “the measure and test of love to our neighbors is laying down our lives for them. This sacrificial love involves giving, spending, and impoverishing ourselves for their well-being.” (Article located at 1 Corinthians 13) I had begun this Intro to Intensive Biblical Love course when I got married and started learning how to lay down my life for my husband. But that didn’t fully prepare me for this level of intense dying to self. My husband at least reciprocates my love, even if he doesn’t always act perfectly loving. And there are plenty of times that I am not acting particularly loving toward him, and he shows love to me anyway. But with children, this is often not the case. Yes, there are those sweet moments when they cuddle up to you and there are lots of times when they give you a spontaneous hug or kiss or drawing that says, “I luv Moma.” But there will be many, many moments when you are giving and serving and loving with not much response on their part. They just don’t notice all that you are doing for them. There have even been moments when I’ve heard one of my children cry, “It feels like you don’t even love me! I think you hate me!” To pour myself out for my children, to live my life in fierce, self-denying love for them, and have it thrown back in my face as hate has been the most hurtful moment of my motherhood thus far. But even in those moments, when love for my children seems completely unrequited and I get absolutely nothing back, I am called to love. The article quoted above also reminds us that the Father gave the Son “out of love for those who did not love.”
Over and over in the Scriptures, Christ’s love is evidenced by the fact that He gave Himself up for us, even though we offered Him nothing in return.
Ephesians 5:2–“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5:25—“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . “
John 10:11–”I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 15:13—“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Romans 5:8—“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 3:16-18—“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Let’s look more closely at this passage in 1 John. Because He laid down his life for us, we are called to do the same for our brothers. This includes children. Then there is this challenge: how can we say God’s love abides in us if we close our heart—do not show love—to those in need? And who among our population is more in need than children? Finally, we are admonished that it is not enough to say that we love kids, or even that we love our own kids. We must live out that love in deed and in truth. In sacrifice and laying down our own life for them.
Most of us would gladly step in front of a bullet for our kids. And many of us would step in front of a bullet for any kid. This is admirable, heroic. But too many of us fail to lay down our lives everyday, in the small moments, for the children around us.
We might be willing to lay down our lives, but not our smartphones.
We might give ourselves up in a life or death moment, but not when we’re exhausted and just want coffee and quiet. We might put our bodies in danger to carry them and birth them, but we refuse to put our bodies in discomfort to play with them.
God has used my babies again and again to prune away the love of self, the thoughts that I had a right to comfort and sleep and hot meals and shirts with no spit-up on them, the desire to meet my own needs first before checking on anyone else, even the natural desire to always have my love returned. He has used my babies to grow love in me in a way that nothing else in my life has grown it.
You don’t have to be a child’s parent for God to use that child to cultivate this love in you. It’s the rare person who doesn’t encounter children at all. Some will be around them more, some less, but everyone will at least be in line behind a mom and her crying three-year old in Walmart one day. Look at your interactions with children. Do you consider how you can show biblical love to them? Do you go out of your way to meet their needs? If you have children in your church, do you greet them personally, or just greet their parents? Do you volunteer to care for them in the nursery or teach them in their classes? Almost every church has children that attend without their parents. Do you invite them to sit with you even if it means you may not be able to focus as much? What about children in your family? Do they know you love them, that you are interested in them as individuals instead of just a pack of cousins? Are there children in your neighborhood that will not know of God’s love at all if you, the Christian on the street, don’t show it to them?
Do you act out 1 Corinthians 13 toward the children in your life?
Are you patient with them? Kind to them? Do you refrain from being rude, irritable, or resentful? Do you lay down the right to have your own way? Do you bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things for the children God has placed around you? Sometimes we treat children in a very different way than we treat grown-ups, as if kids won’t notice when we are rude to them, ignore them, make fun of them, tell embarrassing stories about them, tell others what they have shared with us in confidence. Trust me, they notice these things. And these things do not communicate love.
When we lay down our desires for a quiet, uninterrupted life and invite children into it with an open heart, the fruit of love is very likely to grow. Those children will be used by God to clip away ugly parts of us that have placed self on the throne, and beautiful love-fruit will be free to grow. And when we are full of that kind of love, we show them the God who is Himself Love.