Of Journals
What We Can Fly On

The Good of Dying

"We like to think that it is we who benefit them, but the truth is that they benefit us, if we will let them, if we will simply lay down ourselves and die, which is alien talk to people who are not aliens in this world. But every father with ears to hear knows he must lay down and die, today and the next and the next, and pray for grace in the interstitial places, and give thanks that there is more watching over them than our weakling prayers." 

 (Tony Woodlief, in Somewhere More Holy)

Whenever I hear a person say that they don't plan to have children, at least not yet, and certainly not many, I cringe.  One of the best arguments for children is that you get to die to self.  You don't have to, of course, as you can determine as some (mostly men) do that they will go on with life just as always and let someone else handle them (a wife, day care, the TV), and yet only the hard hearted and habitually absent can avoid the character-shaping impact of a child.

I like the comment a friend of mine made several years ago as I picked him up to give him a ride to work. Obviously frustrated, I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "I can't ever do a damn thing I want to do." And that's right.  You can't, or at least it feels that way sometimes, and I would argue that you shouldn't be doing just as you want to and please to, not even if it is by mutual agreement with your spouse who also wants to do as they please.  Children are here for any number of reasons, but one major purpose they have is to expose what self-centered beings we really are and teach us to say "no" to ourselves.

This idea seems to be losing ground, as many think they can have it all, that is, have children, two careers, and do as they please, a kind of acculturated selfishness so built into society that it seems normal and anyone who says and does otherwise abnormal.  What an upside down world.  By saying no to ourselves we are really saying yes to being fully human, to being what God intended us to be, to being truly free from the passion of the moment.

I spent a couple of Summers working with orphans in Uganda.  They taught me a great deal, more than some college professors. They reminded me that I have no entitlement to personal time or space, that I have no right to time alone, that love --- even the pitiful love I had --- meant dying a thousand little deaths every day.  That I sometimes begrudged them my time, touch, or tenderness shamed me and made me a little more human, more the man God intended me to be.

You don't get over selfishness here, but look at it this way: in God's mercy, you're already dead to it, already wholly human.  We just need to do our best to catch up with Him --- to take hold, press on, fight on --- to say 'no" to ourselves, to die.

That does sound alien, doesn't it?