Just some thoughts that have crossed my mind recently...not sure how coherent this will be...
You know how people often describe children as a "gift"? Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes) says that children are "the supreme gift of marriage." (no. 50, I do believe)
Being brutally honest here...sometimes I get a little sick of hearing how much a "gift" children are...because we feel quite deprived of that gift! Hearing about the gift of everyone else's children is a big ol' temptation for me to feel sorry for us...and "children are such a gift" starts to sound very Hallmarky and saccharine, sometimes forced, like it's what people are supposed to say even if they're fed up with their kids...
Then I realized something. When I heard the phrase "children are a gift," I was thinking it meant that children are delightful, good, wonderful blessings that we receive to make us happy. Kind of like gifts in a first world Christmas: a gift is something under the Christmas tree, usually exactly what you wanted, that makes you happy.
The Christmas gift analogy was interesting to me, because it occurred to me that when I think of Christmas gifts, I tend to think of them in terms of entitlement. I give my parents (now my husband) my list of gifts I want, and maybe I won't get all of them, but I'll get at least a few. I'll get something on Christmas morning! I can't imagine Christmas without gifts under the tree. We call Christmas gifts "gifts," but really, we expect them. There's no question that we'll get a gift at Christmas...
But what about this: what if "gift" is something so much deeper than something that makes us happy, something that we feel more or less entitled to. Because there really is something wholly gratuitous in the very nature of the concept of gift. A gift is, by definition, something that we don't deserve, something that is given freely and not because of anything we did to "earn" it, something that comes entirely from the generosity of the giver.
Like our lives, for example. Life is a gift, pure and simple. That's not a Hallmark card statement - it's a fact. I didn't do anything to "deserve" existing...I simply opened my eyes one morning, and I was. I receive my being completely from our generous God.
So back to the child...yes, of course children are (in general) wonderful and cuddly and all that good stuff. They are a great addition to your life, they're funny, and so forth. All good things! But to describe them as "gift" says so much more. It says that they aren't owed to anyone, that no one "deserves" a child, and (most radically) that maybe you won't receive one. (More to the point, maybe I won't receive one.) They're not prizes for acing some human being test or something, after all. They are completely gratuitous, created for their own sakes (as every human person is) and entrusted to their parents because God's generosity is completely unfathomable. I can't think of any better attitude a parent can have toward their children than one of gratitude. To be entrusted with another human being...not because of any merits of your own but simply because...well who knows why? it's a mystery...and yet here he/she is...wow.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that IF is teaching me new depths to the phrase "children are a gift." I really hope that if we are ever blessed with a child, my reaction is not like my own first world reaction to Christmas gifts - I'm grateful, yes, but also expect the gifts and would be rather put out if I didn't get any; of course I'll get a gift at Christmas - but instead like a little child in some far off country who doesn't know whether she'll get a toy at Christmas...and when she wakes up Christmas morning and sees a simple, handmade little doll sitting there smiling a little button smile, her heart bursts with gratitude and wonder and the most pure childlike joy at the miracle in her hands, not taking a moment of it for granted, knowing in her heart the full depths of gift. Thank you...thank you...thank you...it didn't have to be and yet it is...thank you.