Monday, August 5, 2013

Thoughts on "children are a gift" from an IF perspective

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

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 didn't have to be and yet it is...thank you.



  1. Wow, so many things I could say but you've said it all so beautifully. I'll just say I more than love this post!!

  2. So amazing! You are a beautiful person and this is a beautiful reflection of that!

  3. This was beautiful and so what I think God wanted me to hear. I, too, have heard the whole "children are a gift" and kind of always brushed it off until now. I will have a lot of thinking to do after reading this post. Great job! Thank you so much for writing this... your attitude and perspective is something that I need/want to strive for. Have a wonderful week!

  4. Your post reminds me that when God gives, He gives what is sanctifying. His gifts are, as you said, completely loving, gratuitous, and unfathomable, but they are also sanctifying. I try to remember that when I hear that phrase, "children are a gift." After RG died, I would hear that phrase and cringe, as if God had given me a gift and then cruelly taken it back. In reality, He hadn't (of course); instead he had given me the gift of RG in order to lead me toward sanctification.

    Beautiful reflection. Thank you for it.

  5. I love everything you've said here. It's all so true and along the lines of how I've been viewing things for a little while now. I was reading an excerpt from the YOUCAT (a youth-friendly version of the Catechism) early today and it is entirely related to this.

    "Q: What is the significance of the child in a marriage? A: A child is a creature and a gift of God, which comes to earth through the love of his parents. True love does not desire a couple to be self-contained. Love opens up in the child. A child that has been conceived and born is not something 'made', nor is he the sum of his paternal and maternal genes. He is a completely new and unique creature of God, equipped with his own soul. The child therefore does not belong to their parents and is not their property." (YOUCAT question 418)

    I see that last line being connected to the idea that children are gifts as you described. For a while, I thought that children "belonged" to their parents. But when I started to think otherwise, some of the IF struggle was made a *tiny* bit easier. And this perspective puts a more positive spin on adoption too, since all children do not "belong" to their biological parents. They are a gift no matter where they come from. It's a nice reminder of what it truly means when God calls us to be parents. God is the ultimate parent who entrusts us with His children during their time on earth. Our only job is to get them to Heaven and back to our loving Creator.

    I hope we are all blessed with many of these little gifts some day!

  6. what a powerful reflection on what a gift actually is. I could really relate to your example of gifts Christmas morning ... but I never really realized that it is a form of entitlement. Hmmmm!

  7. What a beautiful post! I was just on vacation with my family and my sis, who got pregnant 2 weeks after getting married, talks about more kids oh-so-casually- as if, well of course they will come when expected. I can't even imagine that mentality anymore.

    Sometimes I think when gifts are delayed, or when we're not sure we'll receive them, that we appreciate them more. More so than if we were given them when expected, because then we truly can appreciate that they are just that - gifts.

  8. Have I told you how glad I am you started blogging? This is amazing - as are you :).