The other paragraph in Letter to Families, no. 9, that has blessed me with new insight is this one, where JPII talks about what the proper response of parents is based on the fact that every child is willed by God for his/her own sake:
“It is for themselves that married couples want children; in children they see the crowning of their own love for each other. They want children for the family, as a priceless gift. This is quite understandable. Nonetheless, in conjugal love and in paternal and maternal love we should find inscribed the same truth about man which the Council expressed in a clear and concise way in its statement that God 'willed man for his own sake.' It is thus necessary that the will of the parents should be in harmony with the will of God. They must want the new human creature in the same way as the Creator wants him: 'for himself.'” (LF 9, my bolding)
Wow, wow, WOW! I felt like the Holy Father was talking directly to me. I think about this passage a LOT because it is so profound. It is like the essence of a tender Father: he sees how much I long for a child, as a “precious gift” for our family, and he affirms that longing: “This is quite understandable.” But then he challenges me and calls me to greater holiness. He tells me that while it's fine and good that I desire a child for myself and for our family, there is something still more perfect...desiring a child in the same way that God does: for his own sake.
I guess what gets me about this passage is that it puts into relief what the Christian understanding of childbearing and parenting is. Without God, parents might be tempted to think that they're the creators of their children, that their children “owe” them their life, and so forth. I can think of a bazillion anecdotes: a mother wanting to live vicariously through her daughter and do the things she never did; parents “showing off” their kids as an accomplishment; parents making kids feel guilty for not visiting enough, not calling enough, not doing “x” enough; and so on. It seems like it all comes down to the same root: forgetting thatchildren are not brought into the world solely for the parents' sake, but for their own sake. Wow. (Someone who is actually a parent would have to confirm whether any of my reflections make sense.)
For me now, as a non-mother hoping very much to be a mother, this passage calls me to a radical purification of my desires. It's almost like a mini examination of conscience:“Do I desire a child?” Yes. “Do I desire a child for my own sake, to make me happy?” O Yes. “Do I desire a child as a blessing to our family?” Yes yes yes! “Do I desire a child for his/her own sake, as a creature willed directly by God?” Umm...next question, please? That last one is HARD! Because I think so, so, SO much about my lack, about what I'm missing out on in not having a child: no play dates, no cuddling, no sweet kisses and noises, and so forth. And these are all legitimate things to mourn or lack! But there's so much that needs purified in my desires too...
This helps me put it in relief: When/if I'm blessed with a child, what will my response be? Will it be “It's about time, God!” as if He owed me a child? Or will it be, “Finally, my dreams are fulfilled. You – child – have come to make me happy”? In honesty, I'm sure both of those reactions will be there – and they're not 100% wrong or bad.
But I want this reaction too: “My dear child, you were given to us by God, your Father. He loves you; He willed you into existence through the love of me and your daddy. We are privileged to welcome you into our family. You are such a blessing to us; you are a sign of our union. But you are not 'ours.' You come from God and are now on a journey back to Him. We want to help you get there. You are given to yourself and we rejoice at your presence in this world, at your miraculous presence in our family. We love you and we are thankful for you just being you.”
...Or something like that.
I want my will to be in conformity with God's. I want to want a child “for his own sake.” I think that is such a beautiful calling! There's so much more I want to think about, related to this. These are just my semi-formed thoughts for now.