Now that I’m visibly pregnant, I get asked more and more often for a detailed plan of how many more children I’ll have and when I’ll be “done.” Much of the time, “Congratulations” is swiftly followed by one of the following questions:
- “So, is this the last one?”
- “How many more are you going to have?!”
- “When are you going to be done?”
These are usually well-intended statements, expressed out of a concern for me. An old friend whose youngest just started kindergarten said to me the other day, “I don’t know how you hang on not knowing when you’ll be done with the baby phase. Aren’t you just dying for the days when you don’t have to deal with sippy cups and strollers and wiping noses?” She pointed out that it’s so much easier when all of your kids are old enough to do most things for themselves. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life changing diapers, do you?” she wanted to know.
In terms of my bad character traits, my selfishness is surpassed only by my laziness. Also, though I love my babies and toddlers, I connect better with older kids. I’m not a “baby person” and always breathe a sigh of relief when each kid turns four. And I’ve been changing diapers every day for six years now — much of that time with three kids in diapers at once. So yeah. My gut reaction is that it sounds pretty nice not to have to deal with all the extra work that babies and toddlers require.
But to buy into that mentality, the idea that I would be happier and my life would be better if I could just do whatever I want all the time, would be to fall back into the spiritual morass I found myself in before my conversion to Christianity.
As I’ve said many times before, one of the most shocking truths I discovered when I converted to Christianity was that autonomy is not the path to happiness. The golden calf that I spent most of my life worshiping turned out to be a dead idol. I always thought that the secret to a fantastic life was to optimize on getting as much autonomy as possible so that I could do whatever pleased me, whenever I felt like doing it. Boy was I surprised when I found out that that kind of life left me amused but not deeply happy, and that the only source of real happiness — of joy — is God. And you only need to glance at a crucifix to be reminded that God is the God of self-sacrifice.
Through Christianity, I discovered the secret formula for that fantastic life I always wanted: be other-focused at the macro level, and self-focused at the micro level. Of course we each need to make regular time for rest and relaxation — and women especially need to be careful not to run themselves ragged by never taking time to recharge their own batteries. But the overall purpose of life is to serve. And the closer you get to God, the more he’s going to set you up with opportunities for some serious self-sacrificial service.
So that’s why, as lazy as I am, I kind of shrug when people ask if I’m anxious to be done changing diapers. With what I’ve seen of the Christian life so far, I presume that as soon as my last kid is out of diapers, God will simply send more opportunities for intimate, challenging service my way. Maybe one of our parents will become ill and need us to take care of them. Maybe a relative will need to move in with us. Maybe we’ll be called to take in foster children or volunteer with the homeless. Heck, given our current track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if our oldest children start having kids around the time our youngest is finally potty trained — and then a whole new cycle of diaper changing will begin again!
“Changing diapers” has become the ultimate symbol of the sort of intimate service that leads to a lack of autonomy — which is probably why our culture makes people feel so anxious to be done with it. It’s also why I’m ambivalent about it: it’s just another form of service, which is what the Christian life is all about. So maybe it won’t literally involve Huggies and baby wipes, but yeah, if I am to make the most of my time here on earth, I do assume that I’ll spend the rest of my life changing diapers.