When I buy an electronic toothbrush, I make an unwritten, unspoken commitment: I shall hereafter purchase Sonicare replacement toothbrush heads every four months, or whenever I get around to it, in order to maintain clean teeth and proper hygiene.
There is now in my mind this unwritten contract, this nagging reminder, this ball tossed up that I must now catch in four or so months. And if I entirely forget my commitment, I will soon have the frayed and splayed bristles of my old toothbrush head to remind me every morning and night of what I need to do. It is a tiny mental weight. Just a small one.
Then there is the reverse osmosis system under the sink with the filters that ought to be changed every six months or whenever I notice a peculiar taste in my water. Another juggling ball goes up in the air that I must catch. Another tiny weight on the mind. Another nagging reminder.
Two tiny weights are not so much, but I have added to them the correspondence on facebook that I must maintain so that I’m not rude, and the chlorine tablets that must be put into my chlorine dispenser so that green mold doesn’t grow in the children’s pool, and the regular washings of my compact brush so that I don’t get pink eye. And that is not even mentioning the cleaning of my fridge coils and the changing of my car’s oil and the spraying off of my A.C. window units’ filters, and the regular dentist check ups and the household cleaning and the children’s vaccines and haircuts and baths and meals and vitamins. Add all those weights together, all those balls tossed up in the air and the circus act is great indeed. What am I juggling now? 150 balls? And more of them lay dropped at my feet. The unwritten, unspoken signed contracts have turned into a huge whirlwind in my mind.
It is the weight of responsibility. But it is more than that.
Some of these responsibilities, like paying the rent or going to the dentist, have an immediate consequence if I don’t do them. I may lose my apartment or my teeth. So let’s call these tasks vital responsibilities. They are part of taking care of my own space and my own body so that life will go well with me.
But there is another category of responsibility that isn't vital to my survival. Arguably, they're not necessary to my happiness either, though many of them add comfort, convenience, and beauty to life. I shall call these recreational responsibilities. They include car or body waxing, hair dying, manicures, supersonic toothbrushes, reverse osmosis systems, and the responsibilities that accompany owning a boat, pool, horse, or home.
When we buy these extra things, we usually believe that our use or enjoyment of them will outweigh the responsibilities that accompany them. We say it was worth it. I deem our reverse osmosis system worth it because Phil and I derive pleasure in the clean taste of filtered water. I also think a yearly waxing of my car is worthwhile because I don’t like to see my car's paint peeling.
Naturally, all types of vanity and self-entitlement can creep in when we are determining what we ought to have. Quite often, we think we deserve to own a spa or a dog or a supersonic toothbrush. After all, we worked hard for our money. Why not get it? But if the recreational responsibility is beyond our capacity for management, then the boat or pool or house falls into disrepair, and the item becomes a burden or a rather absurd complaint (like a child complaining that his ice cream is too cold).
I’m afraid I fall into the complaining category more than I’d like to. I complain about the peeling paint on the side of my darling little bungalow or gripe about having to take our family’s secondary car in for an oil change or, quite frequently, I complain about the responsibility of carrying for my children. Which has prompted me to ask: what type of responsibility are children? Certainly, we can’t call them a recreational responsibility, and once they’re born, we must care for them as a vital responsibility. But they are neither required nor excess.
God seems to give children to both responsible and irresponsible, financially stable and bankrupt, nurturing and apathetic. He does not seem to have requirements in mind when he doles out children—hallelujah! because I’ve left the car unlocked and the gas on the stove running for more times than I can count.
It seems like children fall into the same category as the spring rains, which fall on both the righteous and the wicked. But does it follow that children, like the spring rain, are a blessing to all? Even the family stricken with poverty and the raped girl? What is this blessing, and does it really outweigh the responsibility? Are children worth the constant buzz in the brain?
Here are a few ways that children can be a blessing:
1) Children force us to neglect responsibilities that are not as important.
2) Children compel us to seek outside strength to be good inside and out.
3) Children invite us to give grace to our parents.
4) Children show us God in a way that no one else can.
Children can do this to both the poor and wealthy, the responsible and irresponsible, the apathetic and nurturing. And that is why they can be a blessing . . . to some. To others they are not because the children are had in vain. And by "in vain" I mean done to satisfy our cravings for love or respect or importance. Just like when we buy a home or pool or car or Supersonic toothbrush—unless the Lord is present in our transactions, the labor is all in vain and what ought to be a blessing will become a burden.
It is an excellent check to my complaints because I know that if the Lord is in it, I will rightly see that this too is a blessing from him. If I am looking at my children as the Lord would, they are a blessing. If I am disciplining with the Lord's strength, they are a blessing. If I am listening as God does, they are a blessing. If I am loving them as Christ loves us, they are a blessing. But when they become just an annoyance, a barrier or a burden, then I know I have tried to walk this day alone.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.