Life-stage. I am thinking a lot today about where we are in life and how that impacts our vocational thinking. I remember as a zealous 20something looking with contempt on the settlers. You know, the responsible, dull adults who had settled for the settled life. The immobility of it all seemed so stifling. The conversations seemed so… normal.
I got married. I had a kid. Another kid. Another. And yes, one more. Four kids. That’s 80 finger- and toenails that need cutting. That’s 200 band-aids a year. That’s 20 lbs. of cutlery, dishes, pots and pans to wash every day. When you have kids, your stuff (you know—the possessions you need to be ready to forgo in an instant at Jesus’ call), it all stuff gets multiplied ad nauseam. Moving requires more than a pickup. My spirit cracked inside in 2006 when I realized in the heated moment of loading a 25′ U-Haul that I had more stuff than could fit in a 25′ U-Haul.
Having kids means you have to have a stroller. Two of them—if you want to go off-road, you gotta have a “jogger stroller,” okay? Don’t forget the baby bed, the baby furniture, the diaper-changing table… geez. It really is too much. Our baby-culture is surely partially sponsored by furniture, toy and baby retail companies.
But think about the bikes. Bikes are necessary, right? Remember all that bike-riding you did as a kid? How free you felt with the wind whipping through your locks sailing down the street singing Bon Jovi or Michael Jackson (okay, that was my decade, maybe not yours)? When you’re a parent, you can’t deprive that thrill and freedom of your kids, right? But to let them have the freedom of those two wheels, you have to shell out more cash. Even used bikes can be pricey. So you need a job for buying things like strollers and bikes. And for crying out loud, you need a garage or a shed or something for storing all the bikes and scooters. But you need a bigger car to haul everyone around in with their bikes, which will share space with the car in the garage. Of course, you will likely run over one of the bikes with the new car and have to replace it (the bike) and fix the car. Better make sure the job is a good one… and hopefully one with good insurance since your kid is definitely going to go from bike to dirt at some point.
Clipping tiny toenails off squirming toes, cleaning the junk that leaked out of the diaper, pumping up bike tires, sweeping up the garage you keep the bikes in, making mac’n’cheese and then picking up the mac’n’cheese that splattered to the floor and cleaning all the plates the mac’n’cheese stained happy yellow before carting off some of the kids to soccer or gymnastics or church or a friend’s house, all the while trying to pay for your own house without faulting on the mortgage since you just bought a car and some bike… the settled life.
Pick up and move overseas? Global missions? Leave everything and move to the Sub-Sahara? Jettison all the stuff? Look, it’s not just generic stuff anymore. Among the flotsam and jetsam is that red flyer tricycle with the dinging bell your toddler wobbled all over the driveway on, the stroller your baby used to fall asleep in on your neighborhood walks, the outdoor playset where your daughter got the arm-strength to be a champ in gymnastics….
Life-stage. It affects how we think vocationally. And it should.
That does not mean that we cling to the stuff and squelch any calls to abandon the settled life. Not that all the reasoning governing the developments above are justified. But when you are 25 and unburdened with childcare, untrammelled by the need to buy hordes of mac’n’cheese and the pots and dishes to cook and serve them in, then it is easier to cast a wistful eye to the beckoning horizon. And when those of us settlers trammelled and burdened by kids and boxed noodles look to the horizons, we often ache harder for an outbound flight than the 20something… we just lack the energy and freedom from responsibility to leap.
My wife and I leapt. Seven months ago. We moved overseas. Not to the sub-Sahara, okay. But we moved. Hardest thing I have ever done. I am still wondering at times if it should have happened.
I saw a number of comments attached to the online article at Relevant expressing concerns that my words would allow folks to remain in their settled lives. My hope is that those of us in the settled life would realize how noble that calling can be. I also hope the article might call the unsettled to see more of the broader picture, the complexities and motives that need to be weighed for outward journeys to bear long-lasting fruit. One of those complexities is life-stage.
I love my stage of life. I am trammelled and burdened joyfully. My wife and I are living the dream as parents. It is, however, the most exhausting, most stressful, most anxious time of our lives heretofore. It could be much worse. The stage of life has brought marital strife for many, and a child with a serious illness can elevate the stress and anxiety to barely bearable levels (PB & WB: you are our heroes).
But here is what I am wondering in the midst of it all: What does faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospel look like for families with small children? How do we think vocationally about this life-stage? Does stage of life affect calling? The vocational image of a young man or woman living solo in a slum was once my ideal. Is that valid now?
What say you, dear readers?