Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Family Idol

There is a trend these days among evangelicals. It's a reaction against the undermining ideas in our culture but it has gone too far. (Just like a bunch of other ideas we could mention.) It's this idea of the close-knit family. This idea is very good in and of itself, but when lifted up too high, and focused on too much, it becomes disastrous.
One might think we, of all people, would be advocates of this great focus on the close, tightly bound family. However, that's actually the opposite. Because, if having a tight family unit is your highest priority than you won't have 9 kids. No matter how hard you try you can never keep the family together very long. Before the little ones are very old the older ones are going off to college and before the youngest one is in college the older kids are all over the country, maybe even the world. Pretty scary huh?
So why did we have nine kids? Because we believe that the kingdom of heaven is the most important thing on this earth. What's the first thing God said for His people to do to build the kingdom? "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth!"
Having a big family is stressful financially, emotionally,  and physically. With so many mouths to feed you have to trust God a lot that He'll provide all the food and everything else that is required to support a large family. A big family is emotionally stressful because there are kids of all ages trying to get along more or less successfully. Also the more people there are around the more people you can potentially fight with. Big families are also physically challenging because of all the logistics of fitting everyone in the house, or the car, or whatever. More people by definition means more stress.
So why in the world would anyone ever want to have a big family?
Well, the primary reason is because God wants big families. God wants His earth full of people worshiping Him. So if for no other reason than it pleases God—we think that's a good enough reason all by itself, don't you? There are of course tons of blessings that come with big families, but we'll talk about that some other time.
The Bible says that "Children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior, blessed is he whose quiver is full." This sounds like a big family is a blessing, but wait a minute. What is the point of an arrow? Does one shoot it and run back and pick it up? Perhaps sometimes, but usually arrows are shot and never seen again. Does that mean all children must leave home and never connect back with their parents? Certainly not. But it does mean that we should be prepared for our families to split up. Kids are not meant to stay at home and be close to home all their life. God may have that in store for them, but then again, He may have far more.
We don't fill up our quivers with arrows and then lay them on the mantle piece.
The kingdom of heaven is at stake, Jesus' return is what we are seeking, when the kingdom will be consummated! Until then God has called us to advance that kingdom, by having lots of kids (physically and spiritually). That means that having a large family isn't limited to those who are married and able to bear children. It means making friends and bringing them closer to Christ!
If we idolize the physical family we will make it small so that we can all stay close together and be doing the same thing all the time. So if we idolize our spiritual families we will have only a few close friends that we can hang out with and we won't reach out in love to new people.

Having big families is hard, the more kids you have the more heartache you will feel as each one leaves home and starts his or her own life…but…the greater reward will be celebrated in heaven when all are gathered in once and for all to enjoy eternal fellowship forever! Edward Taylor very profoundly and sweetly compared our children to flowers and said this about them:
That as I said, I say, take, Lord, they're thine.
I piecemeal pass to Glory bright in them.
I joy, may I sweet Flowers for Glory breed,
Whether thou getst them green, or lets them seed.


  1. This is beautifully written, and very insightful! Thank you for writing... I've been meaning to add another post, but haven't been able to think of a good topic. This was very good!

  2. This is beautiful - the post and the blog. Good idea!

  3. Another excellent post! Whenever I hear or read teaching on children as arrows, I can't help but think of the modern-day analogy that someone once gave, comparing arrows to ballistic missiles. :) Thanks for taking the time to post this!

  4. You know, most of this post comes across to me as a one-sided opinion. When I think of idolizing family life, or what my dream, close-knit, amazing family will be, I always think big is the quintessential best. The bigger the family, the more friends brought in, the more fun, the more encouragement, the more sanctification...

    I love having many spiritual counselors (like Proverbs says), too.

    Not everyone thinks better is smaller. Also, it is not a wise idea to blanket statement what familial size God prefers. Just as he gives lots of money to those capable of handling it and it is a blessing that he doesn't make all of us deal with the burden of riches, God can bless people with lots of children, but it is equally a blessing when he gives a few or none at all to those who he has called to other burdens.

    I have never heard the arrows/quiver analogy so negatively stated before--One person or a few people can certainly affect lots of enemies on a battlefield, but a handfull of archers, well stocked, can reach tons and tons of far away sinners with their arrows in ways that they might not even see. Kids given to God and trained faithfully will be perfectly aimed arrows in God's hands, not humanly shot arrows destined to be lost in the bushes.

  5. Thanks for your insights, Sarah. Although I didn't write this post, I understand where Isaiah's coming from, and (I think) I understand where you're coming from. :)
    I think the trend we need to be careful to not focus on too much is the trend that many ultra-conservative christians (mostly in the homeschool community, I think) tend to focus on. (I realize ultra-conservative is a rather broad term; I'm not sure what else to put them under.)

    Families that are against college, and just keep their kids at home all the time, I think that's where it gets dangerous, because what are we doing to further God's Kingdom if we're just focusing on being a great family?

    Of course we need to be close as a family- I think it's great when siblings are best friends. A great, God-honoring family is probably the best foundation one can have in order to go out into the world and become God's arrows. We just need to make sure we aren't families who are afraid of letting the kids go.

    I hope what I'm saying makes sense. :) I love getting comments, and long ones that make me think are especially nice. :)

  6. Sarah,
    I won't deny the one-sidedness of this post. I was very aware of that when I wrote it, but I deemed it appropriate for this blog. I was writing something tailored to this family and this situation, not as a balanced fair look at things overall.
    I certainly love big families and I know there are many who do to. Of course it is natural for you to love them since you are a part of one. It is a rare child I've met who comes from a large family and despises them (though not unheard of by myself). However, I also know that there are many who prize the mobility and (supposed) economic advantages of a small family.

    By saying that God loves big families I'm actually not necessarily ruling out the possibility that He has reasons for small ones. However, a small family is never a sign of blessing in the Bible. Abraham was not looked on as blessed because he only had one son. God does sometimes not give children for His own purposes and I did seek to be sensitive to that in my references to spiritual children as well.

    I'm not sure what you mean about the arrows/quiver analogy being negative. What did you think "arrows in the hand of a warrior" referred to? I'm not sure how you can seriously consider this analogy without realizing that arrows are meant to be shot and often they travel far from the archer. I was not implying that the arrows are lost in the bushes. I was making a reference to the fact that children may be called to the mission field and may die out there. My very point was that God is the one shooting and so we may not be allowed to keep our arrows close to us. I'm trying to face such possibilities with gritty realism while also rejoicing that the cost is worth it!

    Thanks for your comment Sarah. I hope I don't sound completely antagonistic towards you. Hopefully this simply gives you a better picture of where I'm coming from. Your comments (as Londa said) are appreciated.

    ~ Isaiah

  7. Londa's and your subsequent comments clarify your angles more. I can see where you are coming from now, and I concur, but:

    I don't know how to convey my feelings.

    It seems like overall, there are other ways, more persuasive and appealing, to advocate big families who spread out as they grow up, or to gently warn against slipping into sm. exclusive bubbles. {Would you say monks and monasteries need to hear your blog too?} (If that is your main point?)

    There are so many ways to draw a discussion beyond this earth--beyond separation, beyond the realistic fallenness of big families, beyond keeping people together or sending them out--that eclipse whatever arguments you are challenging.

    Why come from your angle if you can instead have a whole post of positiveness for what you want to say?

    It seems like what you are saying is legit, but not winsome to close-minded people. (That could be me! I'm sorry.) Your post seems like alot of words that are headed towards condemning v. building up.

    I'm so glad the Englishes and the Barrs are not ultra-conservative, btw!

  8. I think I see your view a little better now. Basically you are objecting to my focusing on the negative aspects of big families when I could have written an entire post proposing the positive aspects, right?

    I purposefully put it in a negative light because I wanted the point to be that regardless of the difficulties (which are real) it is important to seek to follow God rather than focus on ourselves. It is true that there are a great many side benefits, but I wanted to make the point about being first about God's Kingdom; and THEN all these things will added unto you. Just as when presenting Christianity we can present it by focusing only on all the great things it will do to make your life better. However, eventually the truth must be faced that Christianity doesn't necessarily make your life better, in fact it can make it worse (at least in this life). So, although we could present all the benefits of Christianity, we also need to realistically "count the cost." This is a post about counting the cost of discipleship. That's why I wrote a post from this angle rather than from the positive side.

    In fact when I wrote this post tons of positive reasons for a big family came out in my writing, but in order to keep my point I went back and deleted those. This is not about condemning, but about taking seriously the cost of discipleship. Something I think we often fail to do—which is why I wrote about it in this manner. In my circle I hear so much about the benefits of a big family that I thought I'd write a post reminding us big families of the cost that is involved, but encouraging us to remember the ultimate reason why we are doing it anyway.

    I still love you Sarah, remember that! ; )
    Thanks for discussing this and thinking through this. Hopefully these thoughts are benefitting both of us.