Sometime in your late 20s, you start to notice a change with the invites sitting in your mailbox. The creamy white paper requesting your presence at a wedding transforms into a dainty baby-shower pink or blue. That same friend who just walked down that aisle is now having a baby. I have fun celebrating with my expecting friends, until the inevitable question comes my way.
"So when are you going to have a baby?"
Long before my husband and I married, we talked about having kids and agreed we were in no rush. We both assumed that when the time was right, we'd know. Lately though, we've begun doubt that the right time will ever come. We're considering not having kids.
Neither of us feels any desire to reproduce, certainly not right now, and we aren't scared of a potential future of "just us two." We actually welcome the idea. And while we love our friends' kids, we just don't love all of the things that would come with having our own.
Let me reiterate that: We are not kid-haters. Being around friends with a houseful of kids doesn't cause us misery. It fills us with the same type of awe we get from watching ultra-marathon runners or astrophysicists. It's a glimpse into a foreign world we enjoy visiting.
Truthfully, the entire time we've been discussing this "radical" option, it never occurred to either of us that what we were talking about doing could be seen as sinful. It wasn't until I started researching the church's traditional stance on sexuality that I saw the huge weight placed on procreation.
God's words to "be fruitful and multiply" were not taken by most believers as a blessing for just Adam and Eve, but a commandment for all Christians for the rest of existence. Church tradition holds that the overall purpose for marriage is the creation of children.
But is this true?
Does a married couple need to have children to bring God glory?
Not according to all Christian theologians. James Brownson, professor at Western Theological Seminary says in his book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality:
The command to "be fruitful and multiply" is not given merely to the man and the woman. It is also given to the animals (Gen 1:22) and is thus not a directive given uniquely to human marriage. This in itself calls into question whether the essence of marriage is in view here...
He goes onto say:
Genesis 2, which explores the one-flesh marital bond in detail, does not mention procreation at all. Here, if anywhere in Scripture, the essence of marriage is clearly in view -- and procreation is never mentioned... similarly, the most extended meditation on sexual love in the entire Old Testament, the Song of Songs, makes no mention of issues related to procreation at all..."
If the essence of marriage isn't procreation, then maybe we should re-examine the way we treat married Christians who choose not to be fruitful and multiply.
Skipping over a procreative opportunity isn't a rejection of God's purpose for me. When I think of what I was created for, what my purpose on this earth is, I don't think of babies. While it's entirely possible that my husband and I might change our minds in the future and have a child, or accidentally get pregnant and have that choice negated, becoming a mom won't change my purpose.
My purpose is not determined by my ability or desire to reproduce.
It is determined the same way as everyone else's: by gifts, passions, talents, and skills that God has given to use for his glory. Some men and women feel a strong passion and desire to become a parent. They can glorify God by accepting the blessing of children, and raising them with love and truth. This can become their purpose. Other couples might have passions for other things, while still harboring a desire to reproduce. They will find a way to balance a passion for career, or ministry, with the responsibilities of family. Their purpose can be twofold.
When my husband and I think of our passions, we also see multiple things–-but kids don't happen to be one of them. I find purpose through writing, bringing God glory through the stories and ideas that he inspired. Likewise, my husband finds purpose through the many creative outlets that God has gifted him in. When he plays worship music for our church, and God uses the notes and chords to connect with people in the congregation, he's sharing that gift.
We both want to follow God's command to not be selfish with our lives, but to use our passions for others.
We wouldn't be the only married couples to choose a life without kids. C.S. Lewis was married (albeit briefly) and never had children. Neither has Dolly Parton or her husband of the past 45 years. Or Amelia Earhart, the actress Helen Mirren, or numerous other people throughout history who devoted themselves to a life of the arts or science, forgoing children. They didn't have children to share their gifts with, but they had us, who were positively blessed by their talents.
But are these types of blessings enough?
Some would definitely say no. That it is our duty to "raise up the next Christian generation" and to "not reject God's blessing of children." Others wouldn't be so forceful about it, but might struggle to understand why we would reject a potential blessing from God.
My husband and I don't see it that way, though. While we do see children as a blessing, we see them as a blessing that God gives to some people, not all. Some people don't have kids because they never marry. Some have to face heartbreaking infertility and can't have children. And others might not have kids because God blessed them with passions and gifts that give them the same sense of fulfillment and joy that their friends get from their children. There is nothing wrong with finding your main purpose in being a parent and raising children. But there also is nothing wrong with finding your purpose in something else.
The decisions we make related to our own wellbeing can be considered "selfish," but choosing not to have kids doesn't have to be. This choice can also be God-glorifying, particularly if made to devote more time and energy to the gifts that God gave you, for the sake of his kingdom. Not many people accuse priests of being selfish for not marrying and having kids. Maybe it's time we stop accusing other people, with not so high of a calling, of the same. God created us all for his glory. As long as our concern is honoring him, shouldn't there be freedom in how we choose to do that?
Emily Timbol is a blogger and author who writes faith, life and humor related essays. Her work can be found on the Huffington Post, The Burnside Writers Collective, Red Letter Christians, and RELEVANT magazine online. She is currently seeking representation for her first book, Leaving the Religious Lifestyle. Find her on her blog and on Twitter at @EmilyTimbol.