Numbers for Life and Work

Some people love numbers, working with them, playing with them, and thinking about them. Other people do not. In my leadership roles I have found that many people do not even have a basic understanding of how to use numbers in their work. Concepts like types of numbers, percentages, slopes and trends are foreign to many American adults. A lot of people learned these things in high school or college, but have not used them since.

The MDH Institute exists to educate, to edify, and to entertain. Most of the things that we include are the direct result of problems that we have encountered in life and work. I have seen many teams fail and initiatives sputter because the action officers did not have the requisite numerical literacy to accomplish the mission. The attached article is intended to reintroduce workers and others to the uses of numbers, and help these people use them.

Numbers for Life and Work

Useful Quotations on Work and Labor

Pithy Prose for Politicians, Preachers, Professors, Pundits, and Public Speakers.

Proverbs 22:29 – Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.

Proverbs 18:9 – He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

Philippians 3:13 – Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

14 – I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

23 – Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men;

24 – knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.” Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Danish physicist. Quoted in: Alan Mackay, The Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977).

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge US President

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

“It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced and less able man.” Professor Scott Elledge on his retirement from Cornell

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), U.S. president. Message to Congress, 3 Dec. 1861 (published in Collected Works, vol. 5, ed. by Roy B. Basler, 1953).

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), U.S. president. Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865.

“Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our government to give employment to idle men.” Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), U.S. Democratic politician, president. “Fireside Chat,” radio broadcast, 14 April 1938.

“I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.” Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U.S. Republican (later Progressive) politician, president. Speech, 8 Sept. 1902, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U.S. Republican (later Progressive) politician, president. Labor Day speech, 7 Sept. 1903, Syracuse, N.Y.

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U.S. Republican (later Progressive) politician, president. Speech, 10 April 1899, Chicago, Ill.

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. Daniel Webster (1782-1852), U.S. lawyer, statesman. “Remarks on the Agriculture of England,” speech, 13 Jan. 1840, Boston.

Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer. You have only to persevere to save yourselves. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British statesman, writer. First wartime address, 4 Sept. 1914, Guildhall, London.

The Long Shadow – How to Follow a Superstar

A Tennessee democrat who was firmly committed to the Union, Andrew Johnson had a distinguished career as congressman, senator and governor of his state. Hoping to send a message of reconciliation to the rebellious South, Lincoln chose Johnson as his vice president in 1864. Johnson’s debut on the national stage went poorly, with a rambling and perhaps drunken speech when he assumed office in March 1865. Lincoln followed with a masterpiece, his Second Inaugural Address. Little did anyone know that in only six weeks, at one of the most crucial times in American history, the rambler would be President.

A Missouri democrat who came to national prominence investigating fraud, waste and abuse on the Committee of Military Affairs during the Second World War, Harry Truman had earlier served as farmer, haberdasher, judge and US senator. With President Franklin Roosevelt in declining health and many expecting that he would not survive his fourth term, the party looked for a vice president who could succeed in the top job. Eighty-two days after the Inauguration, Roosevelt lay dead, and Truman took the top job.

Johnson struggled during his presidency, continually battling Congress on civil rights and other issues, being impeached by the House, and retaining his job by only one vote in the Senate. Historians have judged him to be among the worst presidents. Truman could never compete with the wildly popular Roosevelt, and did not try. He stuck to his agenda and his style through the atomic bomb, economic upheaval, strikes, the war in Korea, and the start of the Cold War. Though his approval rating was 22%, the worst ever, in the final year of his presidency, Harry Truman is now ranked among the best US presidents.

Many have considered why Johnson failed and Truman succeeded in their quest to follow a superstar. Johnson had the disadvantage of following a relatively young and still healthy president who no one expected to die. He also had to rebuild the nation. Truman’s ascension to the presidency was expected, but he had to stabilize the world. This article attempts to help leaders know how to follow predecessors whom others consider to be superstars.

Publicly Acknowledge Reality

1. Your predecessor is loved; do not be perceived as diminishing that in any way. If you do, you, not he, will be diminished.

2. Charles de Gaulle is the most famous man credited with saying “The graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men.” While it is true that the world will not collapse with the loss of any individual, it is equally true that no one is replaceable. Each person’s combination of knowledge, skills, personality, and industry is unique. Don’t even try to replace a predecessor.

3. However, many people could do any given job competently. Your job is not to replace a superstar, but to use your unique attributes to move the team and the organization to the next level and face a new set of challenges.

4. No one, no matter how good, can or should stay in a job forever. New times call for new people. Lincoln had an excellent plan for bringing the United States back together after the Civil War, but Lincoln was one of the greatest leaders in human history. Judging from his performance at Yalta, it is not clear that Roosevelt grasped how the world would be after World War 2, and not clear that he had a sound plan.

5. There are some people in the organization who do not consider your predecessor a superstar. No one is loved by everyone. No matter how good you are, you are not loved by everyone either.

Transition

1. If your predecessor is a real superstar, he will be sad to leave the people he has worked with so well. However, he will not impair your transition.

2. Once she is gone, she will not interfere in the organization. She will stay gone unless asked to assist.

Your task

1. Maintain the advances of your predecessor. Andrew Johnson kept Lincoln’s rough outline for gently bringing the South back into the Union, although he struggled against a vindictive Republican congress. William Taft advanced, albeit imperfectly, Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive agenda. Neither tried to turn back the clock.

2. Move the organization ahead to meet new challenges. Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, but Joshua led them into the Promised Land. Moses’ task was great and his results were legendary. Joshua’s task was also great, and his results also stood the test of time.

3. Know and use your own style. You will fail if you try to mimic someone else. You have strengths and weaknesses just like she does.

4. Improve your strengths, improve your weaknesses, and use your staff to help compensate. Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate, famously opined that the key to success was to surround yourself with good people.

5. Leaders are beloved by their troops because they love their troops. You must care for your people more than you care for yourself. The Chinese military writer Sun Tzu wrote

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.”

6. Leaders are respected because they know their job better than anyone else, and work hard.

7. Leaders are followed because they know where the organization should go and how to get there.

8. As you are accomplishing your mission, enjoy your job and your team. They will not enjoy you if you do not enjoy them.

Anticipate a Positive Future

1. Make sure that your team knows that while their beloved leader has moved on, the team’s future is bright. It is your job and theirs to make the future better.

2. If your predecessor is a real superstar, rather than someone who is interested primarily in himself and his legacy, he will want your tenure to be even better than his, because he wants the best for the organization. The group’s well-being is more important to him than his own.

Conclusion

Some may argue that Andrew Johnson had no chance to succeed following Lincoln, and that the best he could have done was to be a placeholder until the next president came in and the magic of Lincoln had faded from public memory. However, as the examples of Truman and Joshua prove, capable men can succeed in the long shadow of superstars.

You may be following a superstar, but no matter how good, his or her time is over, and yours has begun. You have been placed in this new role by your superiors, and by powers even higher. You must respect and appreciate the past, but you must shape the future. Now all that remains is to do it.

Work in Proverbs

Our family was at the marina yesterday morning getting our sailboat ready to go into the water for the sailing season. Decks needed to be scrubbed, the cabin needed to be cleaned, rigging needed to be checked, and the tires on the trailer, having gone flat during our unusually cold winter, needed to be repaired and changed. It was a family affair, with everyone pitching in to do what they could even when they didn’t want to; like when two of my daughters cleaned the anchor locker. Enjoying the cool breeze and warm sunshine while we worked, another boater walked over and asked how I got my whole family to help with the boat; he had to do all of his boat work alone. It is a common sentiment; we often see whole families enjoying their boats but generally see only adults, usually men, working on them.

In 1978 the movie “Thank God it’s Friday” lauded the last day of the work week and in 1981 the band Loverboy sang “Everybody’s working for the weekend”. More recent and more sinister, nearly 150 police officers and firefighters in New York City were arrested for faking post-traumatic stress disorder related to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack so that they could get government benefits and get out of work. Thus some of the most admired people in the country used one of the most horrific events in our history to cheat taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars each. God made man to work, and yet so many want to avoid it.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about work.

Laziness versus diligence

Proverbs 13:4 – The slothful man lusts after (אָוָה ‘avah) a great deal, but he has nothing. The industrious man has plenty. “Soul” in this verse refers to the totally of the man, body and spirit. Diligence feeds the diligent in every aspect of his life.

Proverbs 14:23 – Honest work is profitable, but mere talk leads to poverty. As technology puts more and more physical labor into the realm of machines, man spends more time talking. As long as the talk is rational and constructive, it leads to good things. When the conversation becomes sinful, angry or vapid, such talk leads only to hot air. People should be more afraid of idle words than of hard work.

Proverbs 20:4 – Winter wheat and barley are major sources of food in the spring, but plowing in the cold and wet winter is hard work. Averse to labor, the slothful man wishes to wait until things are easier and more pleasant. Unfortunately for him, this does not produce grain. The implication is that the sluggard did plant something and did look for a harvest, but since he did not work in the proper season, he had nothing at harvest time.

Proverbs 24:30-34 – The sluggard and the man lacking sense, and the field and the vineyard, refer to the same situation. At one point in time this man was successful; he had a well ordered vineyard surrounded by a stone wall. Few people were wealthy enough in Solomon’s day to have vineyards, and though the work was hard, he was no tenant; the land was his. Perhaps he inherited it or perhaps he had built it himself into a successful operation, but whatever happened in the past, now his business was in a shambles and he was a lazy fool.

The owner of the field did not expect to be destitute. He took a little time off, and then a little more, and then a little more. Jobs that he once had the energy to do slowly became too difficult, and even easy or simple work became harder and harder. It was not because of sickness, because there is no hint in this passage of physical disability. Rather it was because the man got into the habit of foolish thinking and developed a pattern of laziness. All seemed to go well until, with the suddenness of an armed robber attacking at night, the foolish man had lost it all. Maintaining and protecting what he had seemed like too much work, and so the lazy man now had nothing. He also lacked wisdom or strength to reclaim what he had. Note the clear parallels in verses 33-34 to Proverbs 6:10-11.

Proverbs 26:13-15 – The sluggard exaggerates danger, in part to avoid doing things that he does not wish to do, and in part because he truly believes that danger exists where it actually does not. A man who is wise and strong has many ways to deal with adversity and so has little to fear, while a man who is foolish and weak has few resources to handle hardship, so he has much to fear. Fearful and confused, the sluggard flees to his bed, tossing and turning in terror of the terrible fate that he imagines, but which is not likely to ever happen. Even when not fearful, the sluggard clings to his bed. Indeed he is so lazy and foolish that even eating, one of the simplest pleasures in life becomes too hard to do.

Proverbs 28:19 – Not every form of work will end in financial success, no matter how hard or skillfully one pursues it. Some pursuits, such as those that are ethically worthless, will end in poverty. Other pursuits, such as those that honor God, will end in plenty.

Foolishness versus wisdom

Proverbs 6:6-11 – Not only is the sluggard lazy, but he is also foolish. The ant is a tiny, humble creature, but despite his small and weak appearance, he is a fitting example to the sluggard. Ants have a queen to reproduce, have no clear ruler to the casual observer, but do have organization and cooperation. Nonetheless they store in the right season and are secure in the hard times. The foolish man rests when he should be working and finds himself destitute. Laziness develops gradually, beginning with a little sleep and a little slumber and expanding into too much of both. Note the clear parallels in verses 10-11 to Proverbs 24:33-34.

Proverbs 10:5 – Related to the passage in chapter 6, the wise man knows the times and the seasons, both of nature and of life. Just as every day has time to work and time to rest, so also men serve the Lord differently during the times of their lives. Children learn and grow, adults produce the goods and services that society needs, and elders produce what they can while training the next generation. To do otherwise is to bring want and shame to one’s family and harm to society. If too many people do the same, the nation will collapse.

Proverbs 14:4 – In the ancient world, oxen were needed for pulling, plowing and other heavy labor. However, they also required a lot of food, a lot of care and a lot of space. The foolish man does not buy the oxen that he needs because he wants his barn to stay clean, or not have to build a barn in the first place. Some would say that he is “penny wise and pound foolish”, saving a little by not buying oxen but foregoing all of the large financial and other benefits that he could gain.

Proverbs 21:20 – The wise man has great treasure in his home, but the fool consumes all that he has. Like the Prodigal Son, the fool may begin with a lot but squanders it, often in loose living.

Proverbs 24:27 – No man can build a house until he has first prepared the ground. Land for building must be level, with major obstacles removed, and then a strong foundation laid. Only once this is done can someone build a house that will be beautiful and strong. The same is true in a person’s life. He must continually strive to be level headed, to remove sin and keep it out, and lay a strong foundation in knowledge of God and obedience to His will. Only then will his life be beautiful and strong.

Proverbs 26:16 – Despite the fact that the sluggard has nothing, he maintains his arrogance before his fellow man. The lower he goes, the less he has, and the more tightly he holds on to his own opinions and the illusion of his own success and wisdom. One commentator suggests that “much anti-intellectualism may be traced to such rationalization for laziness” (Greenstone, p269, in Allen P. Ross, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 5, Proverbs, p1091)

Stinginess versus generosity

Proverbs 11:24-25 – No man can succeed completely on his own. No matter how clever and industrious we are, the idea of the “self-made man” is self-delusion. Just as there is no success without successors, so those who live for themselves alone soon find themselves dying with nothing at all. “Scattering” in this context pictures a farmer generously dispersing his seed all over his good ground, and the good ground of those around him. He is generous with his bounty, and even in his need. The man who keeps everything to himself, however, will lose even what he thinks that he can keep.

Proverbs 19:17 – The godly man is generous to those who can give nothing in return. The Lord, who is the Master and Creator of everything in the universe, will see such acts done in obedience to Him. In a real sense, that righteous person has lent to God. He will then reward the giver. The reward from the Lord may not be financial, but it will be bountiful.

Proverbs 22:9 – The eye is the metaphor for the heart of man, out of which springs good things or bad things. The generous man (with a “good eye”) looks for opportunities to give, evaluates the situation, and then gives. The Lord will bless him. The stingy and covetous man (with an “evil eye”) holds back from others, and the Lord holds back blessings from him.

Proverbs 28:27 – It is all too easy to see a person begging on the street corner or drive past a homeless shelter and close our eyes. We close them because though we have an inner conviction to do something, we don’t want to. Rather than catching their gaze and dealing with the pleading in their eyes, we avert our own eyes. Parodoxically, the man who is generous and gives to the needy will have more, and the man who holds tightly to what he has will have less.

Anyone who has traveled to the Middle East has encountered beggars, some of whom will curse you if you pass them by without giving anything. While such cursing is often a crass attempt to manipulate others and some of the beggars are anything but poor, it can be disconcerting to a person who strives to serve God. The answer is to look to Him for guidance every moment. A curse without a cause will not alight (Proverbs 26:2), so a child of God must give when He commands and withhold when He commands.

Application

God created man and woman to work; doing whatever task He assigns in His time and in His way. Adam and Eve were to tend the garden, to take care of the rest of creation, and to have children to fill the earth. Men and women today have the same tasks; to tend to the things the God has placed in our lives, to care for those around us and the whole world, and to continue the human race. Each person’s work is a variation on these basic themes. Ultimately the object of man’s work is to glorify God and to love and enjoy Him forever. Proverbs provides specific instructions on how to be diligent and not lazy, wise and not foolish, and generous and not stingy. They are lessons worth learning, as work will not end with death; people will continue work into eternity. Paradise, the New Heavens and the New Earth, will be places of work.

Life’s Biggest Blessings – A Large Family

My in-laws had two children, one girl and one boy, but my father-in-law always wanted more. My parents had two sons, and sometimes said they wished they had also had a girl. I have often met people in the autumn of their lives who wished they had had more children, but never any who wanted less. Despite this, the fertility rate in America, the number of children per woman, is below the replacement level of 2.1, meaning parents are not having enough children to replace themselves. According to the 2013 CIA World Factbook, the US birth rate is 147th out of 224 countries worldwide. People chatter about how important family is to them, and then endlessly complain about children being too troublesome, too expensive, and too much of an interference with what they want to do. My goal today is to remind readers of a truth that for millennia was taken for granted; children are a gift from God and large families are a blessing.

What are the blessings of large families?

The Bible clearly teaches that children are a gift from God, and that those who have many are blessed (Psalm 127:3-5). For millennia, the family was a viable economic unit, with roles for father, mother and children dictated by the need for economic survival. On a farm fathers and older sons, who possessed greater physical strength, worked together to perform tasks requiring the most strength. Mothers, daughters and younger sons performed equally important but, in terms of physical strength, less demanding tasks. In the homes of craftsmen the work was different but the principles were not. Everyone worked, even the oldest and most infirm, doing what they could do to support the family. There has always been a balance between mouths to feed and resources to feed them, but with the coming of industrialism families became less of an economic unit and children came to be regarded as burdens, not blessings. With adults living longer, this balance has begun to shift back.

Children were the most common form of security for their parents in old age. Moses’ admonition to “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12) includes the provision to care for them in their later years (cf. Mark 7:10-12). Children provided money and care for their parents and sometimes other relatives in an age in which government support for the aged and infirm did not exist. Even today the primary caregivers for aged parents are their children. Those without children often have no one. With governments worldwide going more deeply into the red and budget cuts inevitable, families will play a larger role.

Driving from Tacoma to Bakersfield in 1997 I asked a close friend in his late 30s if he and his wife were planning to have children. He replied “no, because we want time for ourselves.” We had four children at the time and I asked him to reconsider, knowing the pain that I had seen in childless couples in my church and medical practice. He said, “Having children is no guarantee that they will be with you when you are old.” “That is true”, I replied, “but not having children is a guarantee that they will not be with you when you are old.” I later discovered that they had had some difficulties with infertility, and later became unable to adopt. We have shared many tears, and we routinely pray that through work, the church and their community, they will touch many lives and will develop a support system for their later days.

Families help children learn how to live with others. Last year my oldest daughter left home to live in the dorm at college. During the year she observed that students who had no siblings generally had a harder time rooming with others in a dorm than those who had siblings. Children who never had to compete with siblings for their parents’ time and resources saw the world differently than those who did, and did not easily adapt to sharing their space. Most of these students learned sharing in school, sports, and many other venues, but that did not prepare them for the intimate sharing involved in rooming together. There are exceptions but they do not invalidate the rule.

Children help parents continually rediscover that life is not about them. When our oldest was born I was struck by the awesome responsibility of having another human being completely dependent upon my wife and me. If we did not care for her, she would not survive. There is no greater responsibility, whether running a huge company or a huge government, than caring for a child. As she grew I realized that we were not only responsible for her physical life but also for her training and development. Things that were toys to us were tools to her as she grew. Moments that we wanted to invest in ourselves ended up being invested in her, and she craved our very presence. As other children came along, they needed the same things as she did, and we provided them. Eventually they became able to help each other.

Children help adults do something that is truly lasting. No matter the job, today’s impossible challenges at work become tomorrow’s forgotten victories. How important is it, really, to make large amounts of money, increase the market share of a product, answer thousands of emails or attend hundreds of meetings? How much money, fame or power is enough, and how are the lives of those who have them? Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) said “the graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men”. Though I am a physician, senior Army officer and leader in the church, one day I will be gone and they will go on. Family is different. Patients can get another doctor, the Army can get another leader, and my church can get another lay minister, but my children can never get another father. Stepfather perhaps, but father, never. The hours of sweat and tears we invest in our work can produce great fruit, but the hours invested into family will reap a lasting reward.

Bill, a friend of mine from El Paso and wealthy owner of a highly successful transnational company, was on a two week long missions trip in Africa in 2006. Our pastor led the team and introduced Bill to the African pastor. After hearing about Bill’s professional success the African pastor said “yes, but what we really care about is his family.” This pastor and his people got it; they knew what mattered. Paul got it right in his letters as well. When describing the qualities of elders to Timothy and Titus, Paul said nothing about professional success, but he specifically required success in the family.

Medically, researchers from the Imperial College of London (LCL) found that having children may reduce a woman’s death risk from many common ailments. They analyzed data from 322,972 women in 10 countries, including the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. Study subjects had a median age of 50 and were followed for 12.9 years, during which 14,383 deaths occurred (5,938 from cancer and 2,404 from circulatory system disease). Women who had given birth had a 20% reduced risk of death and women who breast fed had an 8% reduced risk of death. Women who had given birth to two or three children had a lower risk of death than those who had only one.[1]

Why don’t we have larger families?

Infertility

Some couples are physically unable to have children. This is a great sadness, and medical technology has opened the doors to parenthood for many people who otherwise could not have children. Unfortunately this technology is often expensive and still cannot solve all cases of infertility. Adoption is a wonderful option for many, but can also be expensive. Making adoption safe and accessible should be a priority for any society. How many children have had their lives snuffed out when they could have been given a safe and loving adoptive family?

Culture

The generations in America since the 60s have been pressured to have no more than two kids; to replace themselves at most. People believed the world was overpopulated. Despite the facts that population growth has dramatically slowed worldwide and that in many countries more people die than are born, some still believe that the weight of humanity will eventually destroy the world. The “Malthusian Catastrophe” suggested in the late 1700s and predicted in the 20th century still holds the power to terrify. As a result, parents who have more than two children are passively tolerated or actively discouraged in many areas. Pregnant with our fifth, my wife was rebuked by a nurse practitioner saying “haven’t you had enough?” Acceptance or rejection of large families varies by locale. While most people in El Paso TX were very accepting, even encouraging of large families, many people in Washington D.C. are not. So much for “tolerance”.

Money

A major media outlet reported recently that it costs an average of $241,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18. This includes food, transportation, health care, child care, and many other factors, and differs by region. Many use it to judge how many children adults should have. Some decide that they can’t have children, or more of them, because they can’t afford them. This can be valid, but it can also mean that they don’t want to adopt a cheaper lifestyle to be able to afford more children. If child care or transportation are too expensive, having one parent work inside the home instead of outside can save a lot.

Do children really need to play every sport, every instrument, and go on every trip? Do some people choose more stuff rather than more people? Do we spend money on a lot of things that don’t really matter instead of a few things that do? Do children want our money and things that it can buy, or our time? The answer is clear.

Purely from a financial point of view, avoiding children because of cost is questionable. Provided a family can support a child now, that child will return far more than his or her childhood cost over a lifetime. Even if someone does not go to college, he or she can reasonably earn at least $30,000 per year in the US working outside the home. In eight years they have produced for society at least as much as they cost to raise in 18. Since adults typically have a working life of four decades, the family’s investment in a child earns hundreds of thousands more, at least, than their cost in the early years. Even if they don’t directly earn income, such as stay-at-home mothers, they produce meaningfully in the children that they raise, and the cycle continues.

Some may argue that the money doesn’t directly return to the parents. First, it shouldn’t; no single generation deserves or needs the resources of all others. Second, some of it does, because children often provide financially for their parents in their later years.

Can’t care for many children

Some worry that they can’t emotionally or physically take care of more than one or two children by themselves, husband and wife. In some cases, such as chronic illness, they may be right. In other cases such thinking is an excuse for selfishness. However, no one ever really cares for children all by themselves. Raising children is hard, and since antiquity extended family and friends have helped the biological parents.  Children have never been the responsibility of the mother and father alone, but also of grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and even close friends. Biological parents have the lion’s share of the duty, but in a responsible society, others contribute.

But how often do family help us and we help them? How often do we take time to build such strong relationships with friends that we help each other with hard and unpleasant things? How often do we allow them to help us? Is there anyone that we know and trust enough to let them discipline our children?  Is it easier simply to focus on making money and put our little ones in the care of strangers?

What should we do if we feel overwhelmed by caring for the children that we have and distraught at the thought of having more? That question is too big to include in this article, but the safest course is to trust the Lord. He said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

I’d have to give up my fun

Before we had children, many colleagues told us that we would have to stop doing all of the things that we liked to do. Skiing, scuba diving, backpacking, and other high adventure activities would fade into memory as we were surrounded by cribs and diapers. It was a disheartening thought.

In the event, however, my wife and I found that while we gave up some fun activities we gained others. Downhill skiing gave way to cross country skiing, scuba diving became canoe trips, and backpacking evolved into family car camping. We lost nothing, and gained new activities and fun people to do them with. Eventually as the children grew we began skiing downhill, and cross country.

Need to accomplish something for myself

We are a counting people, and we like to judge our value on things we can count. It is easy to count dollars earned, rank obtained, articles published, or projects completed. It is hard to count maturity gained, moments enjoyed, and lessons learned. In our relentless pursuit of meaning in life, we measure ourselves against others using things that we can count rather than things that we cannot. It is easy, when we have told our son for what seems the thousandth time to do his homework, to grow discouraged and think that we aren’t making any progress. It is easy, when we are tired of spending most of our waking hours with toddlers who can only talk in one syllable, to feel a failure. In such situations the truth is, however, that we are never more successful. We are impatient people; we want measurable success and we want it now. Successes in the family are often hard to measure and don’t come at our pace. However, eventually they come. Einstein was right when he said “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

People who in the past would have been honored by their success in the lives of others are denied that.  In the Army, wives used to “wear their husband’s rank”. The wife of a colonel or general would be honored and would command respect because of her contribution to her husband’s success. These women had to move every few years, take care of their home and children with little help, far from family and long term friends, and often overseas. It was hard work which most women at the time would never have managed. Now women who try to “wear there husband’s rank” are rebuked with a disparaging “she didn’t do it”.  In large measure, she actually did. Wives make a huge contribution, and should be honored for it. A “stay at home” husband should also be honored for his contribution to his wife’s career.

Parents are often not given credit for the accomplishments of their children. I was the first in my family to graduate college and the only one to attend medical school. At a reception after my college graduation, I told assembled family and friends that this degree was not mine alone. Many looked puzzled, so I continued. This degree belonged to my mother for the countless applications she filled out and term papers she typed. It belonged to my father for his relentless encouragement to go to college and for other assistance he was able to give. It belonged to my grandparents for filling some of the financial gaps. It belonged to them all for raising me. The same was true when I finished medical school, but the list of others who deserved credit was longer. Nothing I have ever done was done alone.

In the past, most women were affirmed through their homes and families rather than in the workplace. Today, however, in many circles only what the individual has done matters, and that usually means what they have done in the workplace. Some see large families as preventing women from having a job or career and keeping them from succeeding.  Writers tell women to get a job in order to make something of themselves, as if it is impossible to “be anything” at home. The Bible provides many sterling examples of women flourishing at home and in the workplace (Proverbs 31, Acts 16:14). However despite what we are told, success in the workplace, for men and women both, pales in comparison to success in the home.

Occupations outside the family are important and the contributions made there matter. Teachers impact thousands of young lives over their careers, and police and firefighters protect our society. There are significant benefits associated with mothers working at least part time in income earning activities such as outside employment. Mothers who are self-employed or working for someone else, often contribute to higher academic achievement in their children, especially daughters. Some women have a greater sense of well-being associated with their work. It is wrong to disparage any honorable occupation, but important to emphasize that more fundamental to individuals and to society than any occupation is the work in the family.

What about when children go wrong?

Children do not always become productive members of society. Sometimes they rebel and even harm their parents. Sometimes they become criminals who actively hurt others. Other times they passively hurt others by consuming resources and giving nothing in return. Sometimes young people become infirm and cannot meaningfully contribute, and other times they do it willfully. Occasionally an accident will snuff out a promising youth. Rarely crime ends a life, and more rarely still suicide. These cases rend the heart. A good upbringing is no guarantee that children will do well, and a bad upbringing is no promise that they will do poorly. The small chance of a bad outcome is no reason to miss out on the large chance of a good outcome.

Conclusion

Over the years I have found that much of what we are told in the media and in many areas of American culture is wrong. While we should not have children that we cannot support (1 Timothy 5:8) and we need to be judicious with the earth’s resources, children remain a great blessing. They will grow our economy, build and defend our nation in the next generation, and care for us in our declining years. Some barriers to having larger families are valid, but many are rooted in our own ignorance and selfishness. If we truly knew what was best for us, and for the world, most couples would have more children, not fewer. Pity the person who lets the pressure of others and the lies of the world deny him or her one of tomorrow’s brightest hopes and today’s biggest blessings…a larger family.

 

[1] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-10/31/c_134768119.htm