Want to hear something interesting?
Over the past few weeks I have been reading about the history of education (that’s not the interesting part), and I began to notice a strange trend. For a significant bulk of Western history, philosophers have agreed that an essential goal of education is the formation of ethical people. Until somewhat recently, everyone from Plato to Rousseau emphasized morality and character as a central purpose in education.
I think this is fascinating because it is so different from today. Not only has ethics been jettisoned from school curriculum, but much of education today is about job preparation, not moral transformation. Whereas the old model changed the self, the new model is more oriented toward serving the self.
Of course, old models of education should not be overly romanticized, nor should all schools or educators be characterized with such broad strokes. Nevertheless, I do think a shift has occurred, and I also believe it says a lot about the larger historical moment. Hard work, disappointment, and failure are not exactly part of the American dream. As our Declaration of Independence reminds us, the American prerogative is the “pursuit of happiness,” not moral fortitude. The kind of character transformation described by earlier thinkers can only be had by labor, discipline, and sometimes a little pain. I’m not sure our culture’s emphasis on happiness and self-esteem coheres well with those older notions of the good.
Now my intent here is not to deliver a treatise on the modern ills of our culture or the failings of our educational system. If anything, I offer the above description of American culture as a reflection on my own heart, as a product of this culture. As I have thought about my future, I have noticed an idolatrous attachment to happiness, one that always prefers comfort over growth. And in no area of my life has this become more apparent than in my thinking about having children.
This year I have come across numerous studies and articles that pit family against happiness. According to one professor of sociology, “marital satisfaction decreases after the birth of the first child and continually decreases over time.” Meanwhile, a study in the Journal of the British Psychological Association found that parents report significantly lower levels of happiness. In fact, one scientist wondered if couples make the decision to have children by deluding themselves and focusing on the positive, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary.
Studies of this nature are certainly dubious. Aside from the fact that I have many friends who love (LOVE!) being parents, happiness itself is a relative term. It is relative to both the person and the moment. Even the most adoring parent has had an unhappy day. Even so, studies like these are discouraging to non-parents like me. They don’t exactly motivate me to jump on board the baby train.
Add to these studies the mountains of Mommy Blogs that seem devoted to commiserating over the woes of motherhood. The more I hear about how tiring and how difficult the job is, the more my inner happiness-worshiper wants to run away from it all.
In all honesty, the prospect of having children is scary to me. And on those freak-out days, the above statistics certainly don’t help. However, as I have thought about the future and searched my own heart, I’ve had to remind myself that happiness is not really the end game. In the same way that educators have long recognized character formation as a superior good, God Himself is not content to leave us the way we are. There is richness and depth and beauty to be had by growing into His likeness. As the saying goes, God loves us too much to leave us they way we are.
Happiness is a funny thing. An undue emphasis on it thwarts our attainment of it. So while I have no doubt I will fall utterly in love with my kids, their purpose is not to serve my happiness. God created the family, not simply because it is good and wonderful, but because it makes us better. It makes us more like Him.
And in case you’re wondering, I am NOT pregnant. These are just the honest reflections of someone committed to God and committed to human life, but still imperfect and in need of God’s grace. Just another reason why on-going transformation is such an essential part of the Christian life!
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
– Romans 12:1-2