In survival courses for elite Army Special Forces, soldiers are subjected to a special type of mental torture. These soldiers are dropped off in the middle of the woods with little more than the clothes on their backs and a knife. Yet, such sparse conditions are not what cause soldiers to quit, but rather, the indefinite duration of the course. That’s right, every course is a different length — so soldiers have no idea when the torture will be over, when the proverbial light at the end of their tunnel will shine. The psychological maxim behind such a course design is that humans can tolerate anything if they know it is finite: “well, this is truly awful, but I know by tomorrow afternoon it will be over.” etc.
Unfortunately, our convenience culture has applied this human need for finite answers to the family. Most young parents love having chemical or mechanical birth control that enables them to have “finite families.” One girl, follows one boy three to four years later and then, “screeech, off goes the fertility faucet.” Then a smiling cascade of such platitudes as, “you must be all done” and “now you have the perfect, all-American, family” flow forth from the public. Birth-controlling parents know just how many years they will be changing diapers, they can make neat spreadsheets of how they will fund two college educations, they can look forward to traveling together in Europe in x many years.
I – as half of a Catholic marriage open to life – have realized that it takes a great deal of God’s grace to overcome the innate human desire to know how large one’s family will become and, instead, embrace God’s plan for me to be part of his infinite plan. I think I have truly turned a corner because now, when I look at my baby in my arms, I am filled with wonder and gratitude when I think about him becoming a middle child rather than the baby. I am not full of trepidation or concern that a new child will interfere with our college savings trajectory or current Subaru hatchback family car. And, mind you, this is not because these finite dilemmas do not exist – just that I have realized their smallness.
Right now, in this moment (Lord, please inspire someone to pull this from the archives and resend it to me when I backslide in the future), I have been granted the grace to acknowledge my young, fertile state and healthy marriage as God’s invitation to participate in the infinite. These children will come into our lives and we are entrusted with the health of each eternal soul. Eternal, eternal, a synonym for infinite. So really, what is a smelly bag of cloth diapers, or an indefinitely postponed trip to Greece, or several years of junior college for each child in comparison with the enormity of throwing our arms open wide and accepting God’s invitation for us to participate in the Divine.