Several years ago, a Wall Street Journal article (I have searched in vain for the citation) explained how it’s impossible to make a rational decision about whether to have a child. The author, a mother herself, contrasted the decision to have a child with the decision to eat a peach. With the latter, I remain the same person before and after eating the peach. I can describe the experience to someone else in a way he or she would probably understand. Or, the listener can eat a peach and have that experience.
But when I become a parent, I can’t just try it out and return the child if I don’t like it. If I do decide to have a child, I become a different person. My heart and my mind change in ways that I could not have anticipated. Before she became a mom, the author had found statements like, “I never knew how much I could love until I became a parent”, or “If it came to a decision between my life and my child’s, my child would win, hands down” trite or overstated. But now she entirely gets that. In my experience, most parents do.
When we had Michael, I was completely unprepared for the transformation. Whole new rooms and corridors opened up in my heart. I had fallen in love. The love was almost fierce – like a hunger. I couldn’t get enough of him. I had to protect him. Before, I hadn’t grasped the verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (Jn 3:16). I’d thought, “If he loved us so much, why didn’t he give himself?” After Michael, I grasped how great the Father’s sacrifice was.
(As many dads can relate to, becoming a father also got me in touch with my Inner Goof. Michael brought out my playful side. How delightful – for me, not him – to be able to say to teenaged Michael, as we waited to cross a street, “Do you realize that, right now, I could start flapping my arms and clucking like a chicken and not feel the slightest embarrassment? Yet you would be humiliated.” “Dad, don’t.” I wouldn’t – the squirm was my payoff.)
People who are not parents simply cannot grasp the change. It’s not because they’re emotionally barren or unintelligent. They just haven’t had the experience. As a recent NPR article (The link is here: Is Having A Child A Rational Decision?) points out, it gets even more complicated. As one child differs from another, so does parenting that child. And parenting many children differs from parenting one child. And parenting a disabled child is yet another experience.
For example, Mary and I miscarried many children after having Michael. So we don’t know what it’s like to raise a daughter or to raise siblings. Parents who have raised many children have told me, “When you have your first, you think that your heart couldn’t possibly be big enough to love another child just as much. But it is!” I believe it, but I don’t know it in my insides.
Our son and daughter-in-law’s first child, a son, is due next month. Every grandparent tells us, “You’ll love it! There’s nothing like being a grandparent!” They describe it as yet another level of loving. I believe them. My wife and I can’t wait to experience that transformation.
As noted in my previous post, From Neurotic to Transformative Suffering: Getting Off of the Rollercoaster, deeply negative experiences can be transformative as well. But falling in love is often our first positive transformative experience. No need to go into detail: I’m 99.99% sure that you’ve experienced it yourself.
But it is worth noting that every positive transformational experience shares the qualities of falling in love: 1) The only way to know what it’s like is to experience it; 2) It calls forth and reveals qualities in you that you had no idea were there; 3) Your experiences and your perceptions of your relationships and of life in general dramatically change; 4) It requires a “falling” – a leap; and most important, 5) Every positive transformative experience involves a kind of falling in love.
Unless I’m leaping to grab it from a tree, to eat a peach involves no leap. But when I fall in love, there’s a point where I have to let go and let it happen. To have a child involves another kind of leap, as does to have each baby after that. One could say that to have a grandbaby is included in those previous leaps.
The leap of faith involved in surrendering to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has all of the qualities of falling in love. It’s not like buying a house, where you can roam the rooms and check out the closets before deciding. You have to leap. You buy the house sight unseen, because others have told you it’s a GREAT house. It’s the treasure in the field – you joyfully sell all that you have to buy that field (Mt 13:44).
As with deciding to have a child, you take the leap, and then you fall in love. But in this case, you fall in love with Jesus, the one you’ve surrendered to. You become transformed. You experience a supernatural, psychologically inexplicable change of heart, effected by the Holy Spirit, like putting on new glasses or getting a conscience transplant. “I was blind before; now I can see (Jn 9:25).”
It’s no accident that it’s called being “born again”. Your heart opens to others in a new depth. Life becomes filled with meaning. You can describe the experience to others, but until they take the leap themselves, your experience will remain foreign to them.
Parents can relate in a unique way to other parents, even those in very different circumstances. Similarly, we who’ve leapt into Jesus’ arms share a uniquely life-changing experience. We’ve all leapt into the same arms. We’ve all fallen in love with the same Lord. We experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God. As with the decision to have a child, we did not arrive at this place rationally. But it is the best decision we have ever made or ever will make.