God's blessing on Adam and Eve contained another important element as well. Not only were the man and the woman to rule over and subdue the earth; they were also to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." They were to have many children!
Before the Fall, in other words, one of man and woman's greatest prvileges and most important responsibilities was to bring other human being into this world from the purposeful partnership of their marriage. These offspring were also to know the design of God. In the context of the family, they would learn what it meant to be made in the righteous image of their Creator to subdue the earth for God's glory, and to populate the earth with their own children, thus producing a godly heritage. The Mission of Motherhood,
This quote is packed. From the very beginning of our marriage--the vocation to which God called us and the path He chose as our route to heaven--we have clearly heard His call to be open to His plan for children. As a young woman, I was blessed to hear and read the messages of godly men and women who helped me to understand the Church's beautiful teaching on openness to life. Through decades of pregnancies and breastfeeding and childbearing, I could clearly see God's providence. By the grace of God, I truly embraced the childbearing part.
So here we are, nine children later. "Be fruitful and multiply." Check. We did that. But this is a longterm proposition, people! He doesn't just call a woman to survive hyperemesis and months without more than two hours sleep at a time and the very real challenges of life with more toddlers than grownups. There's so much more. And I'm learning that those early years were bootcamp for these later years. Those early years were the training in self-discipline and endurace and patient acceptance of God's will that I so desperately need to live in His will during these years.
There is the "purposeful partnership of marriage." Over the course of a lifetime, we are called (asked? begged? pleaded with ?) to nurture our marriages. We are called to love that man God gave us with every fiber of our beings. And we have to do it while taking care of the children our love brought forth. No small task, my friends. It's a beautiful, wonderful, joy-filled, amazing, hard thing to do. I don't know about you, but just this piece could easily demand my full time and attention.
And then, in the context of family, those children are to know God. Whether she has two children or ten children, God entrusts a woman to make Him known to her children. And whether she has two children or ten children, that is a longterm, fulltime job. Fulltime. Here's where I will step out on a limb. And I beg you not to throw stones. If a woman has been blessed with many children, she will have to spend more time, effort, and energy in the raising of children than the neighbor with fewer. I didn't used to really think that. I heard about the candleight analogy: in big families, we share the light of our candles with each other and it multiplies.There's plenty to go around. Oh, it really does! Love multiplies like candlelight. And with all those children carrying flames, the likelihood that someone is going to catch her hair on fire is greatly increased. It's just the simple math of it all. With more children, comes more of the stuff of childrearing. More baptisms. More laundry. More meals. More visits to the pediatrician (and the orthodpedist). More late night conversations. More algebra homework. More high school dances.More high school drama (not the theater kind). More weddings.
So, the mission for a mother of many to bring an entire family before the throne of God is a big mission. When saying "yes" to the call to be open to life, we sign up for a very longterm, all-consuming proposition. We don't just have children, we have to raise children. For God. Children in a big family require and deserve just as much love, guidance, and attention as children in a smaller family. Because there are more of them, there is more to do. There is more work; there's no way around it. Love multiplies, but mothers don't. The mother's work in a large family must be done by the mother of that family. I don't care how well you train your children to do chores or to care about and for their siblings, the reality is that the big family mom is repsonsible for more.
And the season is longer.
When the mother of a large family considers mission, particularly as her children grow and become more independent, she is likely to look around and notice that mission looks very different for her than it does for her neighbor. Many women at midlife who chose to stay at home and raise a family find themselves pursuing new challenges in the "real world" as their children leave the nest. A mom who continued to bear children late into her thirties and forties will find her friends from early mothering days forging new paths. She, however, will be walking familiar paths with a new little ones. And there is such blessing in that. Really, there is! It's not a bad thing; it's a different thing.
As women with fewer children find pockets of time to answer God in the community, the mother of a large family must be very, very careful. She has to be careful not to be distracted, not to feel as if her mission is somehow less important than one that bears the public affirmation of "good works." And she has to be careful not to grow discontent with the "sameness" of the life born by extended childbearing. We learned as young women that a woman has seasons in her life: a season for new love, a season for childrebearing and being at home, a season for pursuing new interests out in the world. For some of us though, that season of intense childrearing is a very long one--much longer that that of woman who had two children in her late twenties. The women with two early-in-life children looks very different at 45 than the woman who had ten children between 20 and 40. It's just the way it is.
I remember a time when I'd just had my fifth child. A new parish was beginning and I eagerly filled out the form asking how I'd give of my "time and talent." I don't remember exactly what I said I'd do, but I know I checked several boxes. A few weeks later, in spiritual direction, I asked my pastor why nobody had yet called to follow up on all the things I'd said I'd do. He told me that he'd pulled my card. "You are to raise up a large family of faithful children. That's all you can do right now. And, God willing, there will be more children, so that's all you can do for a long, long time." That conversation came back to me one night in the NICU four years ago. I held my tiny, too-soon baby, the ninth precious baby who was my privilege to hold and to teach. I watched the busy, quiet, purposeful work being done around me--the neonatologist, the expert nurses, the miracles of nearly every moment. I remembered days in nursing school and dreams of midwifery. My head back against the rocker, I closed my eyes and planned on the day when I would return to school and become a NICU nurse. I thought to myself that this last little girl and I could go to college together. Then I remembered that I was 42. That would make me 60 when she left home. I couldn't really imagine a refresher course in organic chemistry and all those 12 hour clinicals at 60. Sequencing looks very different for the mother of many.
Lots of things look very different for the mother of many.
Mission looks very different for the mother of many.
I've got another quote highlighted here, but I've gone on much too long today. The painters have arrived and Sarah has resumed her familiar position for coping with strangers in the house. The irony of trying to see this screen around her is not lost on me.
I pray you are wide awake to the blessings God will shower on you this day!