Personal Reflection: Tell Your Children The Truth
My wife and I didn’t want children. We weren’t convinced that the God commands married Christian couples to “multiply,” at least not in that way (Genesis 1:28). As people realised our position was more than the naivety of newly weds, I encountered significant pushback—some even labelled our decision sinful. So, over the years, I’ve heard some remarkably unconvincing arguments for why married couples must at least attempt to procreate. Then, in July 2016, we learnt that my wife was pregnant.
Easily shrugging off immature claims that God created a new human life in my wife’s womb out of spite, we had to wrestle with a gift that we didn’t choose or desire. What made that season particularly difficult were claims that my theological position, aligned with our personal choice, would later hurt our unborn child. More than one member of our church said something like: “Aren’t you worried that your son will one day read your posts and realise that you didn’t want to have children?” People feared that my child would eventually discover that he was unplanned; that we’d actually decided against having children.
What were we to do? Would the most loving approach be burying that truth from our son? Should I have taken down the posts, so that my wife and I could pretend we always wanted children? Would he be better off believing that he was the result of deliberation? Maybe.
I understand the temptation to cover up the whole truth, trading rather in white lies and half truths. These are, as I’ve written about before, the the means with which “we seek to steer reality rather than confront the truth,” “[having] decided our own contrivances will reap better results than the truth.”
Thus, my wife and I decided to tell the truth—seeing as though that’s something Christians are supposed to value and practice (Ephesians 4:25). This decision has and continues to be a source of serendipitous blessings, for both my wife and I as well as our son. It has presented all three of us with numerous moments for learning.
Beyond the often platitudinal language around children being gifts from God, the emphasis our story places on God’s giving is a continual reminder that children are at most, “borrowed from God” (Samuel Rutherford), they are not our heritage but God’s gracious loan. And because we didn’t pursue this blessing, the radical interruption to our lives embodied by our son is an exhortation to rest in God’s providence rather than our plans (James 4:13-16). Upon reflection, my wife and I cannot deny that God’s sovereign giving of a child has been far better than what we might have chosen.
We know that now, and delight in God’s purposes. Only the process was slow, as God gradually worked in our hearts. This transformation from deep sadness to elated gladness has been a joy for those walking the road with us. For they’ve been witnesses to everything from the initial devastation and mourning to the eventual delight. Our progress throughout finds its constant source in God’s grace. So being honest from the beginning has meant he has been glorified in the intervening years.
Confronting the truth has therefore taught us much, encouraged those who love us, and glorified the Lord. On top of that—as I alluded to above—it has lead to precious teaching moments with our son. To sum those up, he knows that we chose to love him. We don’t love him because we chose him, but rather because God placed him in our lives. Throughout the struggles, weariness, frustration, annoyance, and pain, in our imperfect love towards him our son sees something of faith. He sees us trusting our God in a situation we wouldn’t have chosen, but confidently believe that he has.
And he knows this, recently saying to my wife, “Even though you and dad didn’t want a baby, God gave me to you.” This is a profoundly theological statement, cognisant that our very life is granted by God, that he alone possesses authority and ownership. It is to him that all of us, both parents and children, will give account. I believe that the honesty with which my wife and I have spoken about our position on children—both before and after our son was born—has gone some way in buttressing those truths in our son’s heart and mind.
But should we always tell the truth? In her truly outstanding novel, Home, Marilynne Robinson says, “Truth has sharp edges and hard corners, and could seriously be at odds with kindness. They had learned that excessive devotion to even the highest things seemed and probably was sanctimonious.”
Is she correct that an “excessive devotion” to truth telling is sanctimonious and possibly “at odds with kindness”? I’m not sure. The problem raised by this quotation is that Robinson doesn’t recognise that an overzealous commitment to kindness might leave you at odds with the truth. Furthermore, Paul doesn’t view truth and love as mutually exclusive but complementary (Ephesians 4:15).
So let me bring this personal reflection to a close with some verse, from Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.