Children are wonderful. With my daughter starting her senior year of high school, I’ve been even more aware of how valuable she is and our moments together are. The church is quick to praise the benefits of family as a hub of growth and character development, and they are right to do so. Families are a wonderful gift and can be powerfully productive. In their attempts to praise the goodness of families, many within the church have stretched a verse from the Bible beyond its original meaning, leaving many people feeling discouraged and confused. The verse is found in a collection of poems and songs from the Old Testament. It reads,
“Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.” Psalm 127:4-51
While these verses affirm that children are a wonderful thing, many have gone on from there to state that all families should have as many children as possible, or that the presence or number of children is a direct indication of how pleased God is with you. I’ve sat across from countless couples who have been exposed to this type of thinking. Their efforts to have children have failed, and broken and defeated they’ve asked, “what did we do to make God angry with us? What is it about us that keeps God from giving us children?”
The answer is nothing. God isn’t angry, and they haven’t done anything wrong. We live in a broken world, and everything bears the marks of that brokenness, including our bodies.
So, what do these verses mean?
The poem must be considered in its totality. It’s not a poem about whether you should have children, or why you may be unable to carry them. It’s a poem about work, specifically the kind of work that God calls us to. It opens with the statements that there are ways of building homes and guarding cities that are not effective. The writer also notes that it's pointless to wake up extra early and stay up extra late just to get a bit more done. Working your fingers to the bone may get you ahead in the short term, but it’s not how you were created to live.
For work to be all that it is supposed to be, it must be done with God. Work at its heart is to be a relational activity. Not only should work begin in relationship, but it’s real value is that it also produces relationship. The poet uses child birth as an example of the type of work that we are called to. Child birth (at its healthiest) comes out of relationship. It also creates new relationship, between child and mother, and child and father, it even adds to the existing relationship between the husband and wife.
So, the primary thrust of the passage is that the effort and hours of our life should begin with relationship with God and should result in relationship with other people. Those relationships (not just children, but all relationship) are like arrows in the quiver of a warrior. Our relationships make us strong. Lack of relationship can leave us empty. Unhealthy relationships can be incredibly painful. We don't have full control over our relationships, and some of them may not end well, but they are worth our effort. They are worth attempting.
So, does your work currently produce deeper and better relationships? Promotions are great. Raises are always welcome. Recognition of our efforts is rewarding. Relationship, however, is the true prize of life. They make life more enjoyable and make us more healthy. May you always have a quiver full!
Photo courtesy of Death To Stock Photo
1- Passage from the New Living Translation