Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” – Psalm 127
Two years ago, when Sarah and I found out that we were pregnant for the first time, I cried. I cried tears of joy for the opportunity to be a father, but I also I cried tears of fear for what I didn’t know and understand at that time. Sitting behind the locked door of the bathroom stall at the office building where I worked, I strained to choke back the tears, but they kept coming. I read the words of Psalm 127. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” It was as if God was speaking directly to me.
Children are a Gift:
During those first few days after finding out that we were going to have a baby, things seemed fine. Our plans to go to China seemed on course and largely I didn’t have a sense that anything needed to change in my heart. I was excited and happy! But, God saw what needed to change. I didn’t know it at the time but I needed to learn that every child is a gift from God. Yes, that’s right. Every. Single. One. The “planned” child. The “unplanned” child. The orphaned child. The aborted child. The “special needs” child. The miscarried child. Yes, they are all gifts.
It was only a few days later that we got a phone call from the company we would be working with once moving to China. During the course of that phone conversation, we were asked to consider postponing our planned move to China for at least a year to avoid going through culture shock and the addition of a new family member all at the same time. Wait. What? Change the plans? Now there was a tension. Going back to that story of me crying in the bathroom stall, I had just come from explaining to my boss how our plans had changed. I still needed my job for at least another year. Sitting there in the bathroom, I wrestled with myself. How could I feel so conflicted? Having a child was a good thing! But, now we weren’t going to China. It felt bitter-sweet. “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward,” read the passage. There was not equivocation. No disclaimer. No loophole that disqualified any situation. There was just that truth. Little did I know that in just a few weeks, God was again going to take us through another change of plans. A change that involved a miscarriage, through which He would show me the other side of the pain I felt, all so I could both say and understand this truth: the fruit of the womb is a reward.
God is Giving me a Heritage:
Heritage. Warrior. Gate. Shame. These were words that, as I sat in the bathroom stall that day, I didn’t quite understand. Though they gave me courage, I didn’t know why. That was okay, because in hindsight I can see that at that time God was helping me understand the word reward. He planned to deal with these other words once we got to China. Growing up in the States, I knew what the dictionary said about heritage, and I had an image of what a warrior might be like, but gate and shame were words I didn’t really understand. Thankfully, God as the author of culture, was about to put me in just the place to learn about these two words.
Gates are everywhere in China. One of the first things you notice when you drive through any Chinese city are all the gates that, to us Westerners, seem oddly out of place. They are in front of apartment complexes, school campuses (preschools all the way through universities), government buildings, public parks, and just about any other important gathering point that you might find in a city. In fact, that’s one of the primary functions gates served in the ancient world too. Gates were places where the city gathered to make plans, trade, and celebrate together. Gates also acted as “choke points” during times of war, through which you could more easily defend against an enemy trying to enter your city or your home.
But what did it mean to be put to shame in the gate? Again, my American upbringing wasn’t helping me much in understanding what it meant to be put to shame. In China, however, shame (and its antonym, honor) play a huge role in society. To be put to shame is to be publicly ridiculed. It is to lose esteem in the eyes of other people. It is for your shortcomings or failures to be pointed out in the full view of the public. So, why does the Bible pair these concepts? Heritage and honor? Warrior and arrow? Children and gate? They are paired because ancient Hebrew culture and Chinese culture understand something that we as Westerners sometimes struggle to fully grasp.
Ancient Hebrew culture as well as ancient (and modern) Chinese culture understood the fact that very few things that you have or do while you are alive continue on after you die. One thing that does continue, however, is the heritage (in modern English, we often say legacy) you leave behind. You can see how much ancient Hebrew culture valued this in Abraham’s quest for a son. Even after obtaining the promise that his descendants would be like the sand on the seashore, Abraham goes so far as to sleep with his female servant to make sure that God’s planned heritage doesn’t “mess-up” somehow. Now, imagine that you are fighting (or at very least speaking) with your enemy at the city gate. Having many children would be a huge help in preserving your legacy! The man who has no children is easily overcome. He is like a warrior standing on the gate without any arrows. Without men by his side or arrows in his quiver this man will be killed and his legacy will end. In Asian culture, there is no greater shame. The one thing (your heritage) that continues beyond the grave is gone.
As I prepare to welcome our little boy into the world a few months from now, I am reflecting on what a heritage means in the life of a Christian. There is the physical heritage that was given to Israel in the Old Testament. There is the spiritual heritage we receive as members of God’s family. And, Paul also speaks of the church at Thessalonica as his children in the Lord. It is this last image that I have been focused on. Children are not just a physical heritage, but a spiritual one as well. In the life of a parent, there is no greater calling than to raise your child in the fear of the Lord. There is no greater discipleship relationship than the relationship between parent and child. It is my hope and prayer that, despite my failures and shortcomings as a parent, Roo will grow up understanding and valuing the amazing work that God has done in Christ. In Jesus both justice and mercy are married together in one man, meaning that we are set us free from the consequences of our spiritual criminality against God. Whatever little Roo’s choices may be later in life, in receiving this opportunity to teach God’s story of redemption, I have to come to understand that God is giving me a spiritual legacy. A relationship in which I can pour the love of God and live out the Gospel commands.
That leads me to my last reflection on Psalm 127…
The Lord Watches this City:
What if Roo doesn’t believe? What if he doesn’t see God’s plan for salvation as a miraculous, ingenious, or beautiful? Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” and “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” I have come to realize over the past two years, that like the builder, I lay the foundation for my children. Like the watchman, I watch over my children. However, I am not God. The Creator of the universe presides over my children and watches them. God stands ready, better trained than any builder (read parent) in building foundations, better equipped than any soldier (read parent) in guarding a city, and he offers me, as a parent, rest. The final responsibility for my children’s choices and well-being are not mine. As I think about all the ways in which I am afraid I will mess up discipline and not be a perfect father, I am given peace, knowing that in spite of anything I do or don’t do, God is in control. Just like two and a half years ago when we lost our first baby, God is still in control.