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Marriage and especially children don’t bring immediate, subjective happiness. Sure, when William breaks out into song: “Thank you Father!” at the sight of apricots, it makes me happy. When Penny suggests that we pray for our cat after he vomits, I feel pretty happy too. But most of the time, being a parent is hard work. William has taken to pushing Penny. Penny has taken to putting her foot in William’s face and bossing him around. Peter and I have taken to haggling over who is responsible for these little ones for thus and such hour of the day. Being a mom makes me tired, and cranky. Why did I sign up for this? And for another one?
A friend of mine pointed out this statement made by Martin Luther on the trials and joys of marriage and parenthood:
“When my natural reason takes a look at married life, I turn up my nose and say, ‘alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself?’
“What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks up all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels…I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother…O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Nothing will dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in God’s sight.”
Which reminds me that God’s concern is not for my immediate, subjective happiness. Rather, God is concerned with shaping my soul into one that bears the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Getting my own desires met at every step along the way makes me momentarily happy. But it doesn’t bear much fruit. And whether we are single or married, childless or with children, God wants to make us into people who care more about the needs of others than our own immediate desires.
Ultimately, marriage and children are not about me. They are about God’s work in this world, teaching me how to become someone who welcomes others into Jesus’ presence. I can only hope and pray that my kids will grow up to know God’s welcoming love.
They don’t make me happy every day. But they do bring me great joy.
For more on this topic, see “Being a Mom: Less Happy, More Joyful?”