In the spring of 2004 I was a sophomore in college, majoring in English, and deciding what the latter half of my college years were going to look like. I had aspirations of travel, and specifically of studying abroad, which I intended to do in the fall. It had always been my dream to go to England, and here I had an opportunity to not just go, but live and study.
It sounded perfect.
Except that I was dating this guy, and we’d been getting increasingly serious. Engagement was on the horizon. And spending 10 grand that I didn’t have to study in another country became less and less logical, in spite of the fact that I wanted to do it more than anything.
In the end I decided to stay. We indeed were soon engaged, and then married, by the summer of the following year. There is this little part of me that always wonders about how amazing that trip would have been. How amazing all of the trips I had intended to take would have been, before the trajectory of my life changed and wife and mom became my defining roles.
I was married at 21, a mom at 24, and by the age of 30 had four children underfoot. Certainly not glamorous. At least not by the world’s standards.
Travel The World, Eat, Pray, Love, Etc.
This past spring a blogger, Amanda Chatel, wrote a post entitled “Why I Would Rather Travel the World Than Ever Have Kids.” I read this post last night and was really struck that, had it not been for God’s clear intervention in my life, I very easily could have written the same thing.
In the post, Chatel compares her travel experiences with the experience of having children, saying, “traveling fulfills me in a way that having children never will.” She describes her globe-trotting adventures, a monkey jumping on her back in Costa Rica, hugging an elephant in Cambodia, wandering the streets of Paris. You get the picture.
Her point in writing was this: Chatel’s desire for these adventures, and others like them, outweighs any potential desire she may have for children. And she concludes that if she were to trade the fulfillment of these desires for children, she’d resent her kids and be unhappy. And so she doesn’t want them.
She might be surprised to find (based on the defensive way in which she speaks about her position) that I am in no way shocked by this desire of hers and I don’t think she’s a freak of nature for having it. I don’t think the woman’s place is only in the home and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to travel.
In fact, in one sense, I think she’s right to point out the unfairness of consigning women to one way of living a meaningful life. She’s most certainly right to criticize the men who email her telling her women were only made to bear children (who are these men and what on earth?? Get a life.)
We are on dangerous, legalistic ground when we oversimplify gender roles to the point of demeaning or marginalizing women who have desires and goals for their lives other than husbands and children.
Where I see the flaws in her argument, however, is in the way she talks about personal fulfillment as the ultimate goal of life, no matter what your role.
“Traveling will never fulfill my sister the way her kids do,” she says. “I’m fulfilled one way, while she’s fulfilled another way.”
I take issue with this comparison, and here’s why:the crux of her argument is the question of which path offers maximum fulfillment. And when you boil it down in this way, you end up dooming yourself regardless of what path you choose. And the reason is simple: No person or thing or place or experience can deliver on the promise to fulfill.
Jesus claims sole rights over fulfillment and he offers it on his own terms.
Now it doesn’t seem Chatel writes from a Christian perspective, but I do think there are many Christian women out there who have let the pursuit of personal fulfillment as an ultimate end creep into their souls; thus consigning themselves to dissatisfaction with the lives they’ve been given.
The world says that no matter what you do, it should be fulfilling. If it’s not, get rid of it and try something new. Eat, Pray, Love, ladies. You just go do you.
If I can be totally honest, what I thought would fulfill me in this life was exactly the life this writer describes. Travel. Autonomy. Adventure. There was a point in my life when children weren’t high on my personal satisfaction list.
A Deeper and Lasting Fulfillment
Whether it was your dream to have children or not, when you find yourself wiping bottoms and losing sleep and drying tears and skipping showers and meals, you don’t feel personally fulfilled. That would be crazy. From a strictly “fulfillment” perspective, there are plenty of things I’d rather do than raise these 4 little people into adults.
And yet, the gospel shows me a deeper sense of fulfillment, which I mentioned above, where Jesus fills more and more of my heart and life as I lay down my own life for these kids. This is one of the reasons motherhood is such a high and holy calling. Not because it satisfies a craving, but because it causes me to fall on my knees and seek the one who made me to find my fulfillment in Him and Him alone.
Here’s the truth: When your baby doesn’t sleep for the 289th night in a row, but you “call to mind” the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord and find hope for tomorrow’s mercies, you are filled.
When your toddler throws himself face first on the floor in the grocery store and screams and you think “I don’t like this small person very much,” but you pick them up and issue consequences and show him that love and discipline go hand in hand, you are filled.
When hormones come a-raging and there is not enough room in your house for all of the feelings that want to inhabit it and you ask God a thousand times a day to give you the patience promised as a fruit of the Spirit, you are filled.
When there is defiance and anger and “That’s not fair!” and you must teach your children about conflict resolution and reconciliation and repentance and trusting those in authority, you are filled.
And when you say goodbye and must fully entrust them to their Creator and His plan for their lives and you cry out and ask Him to make their paths straight and give them a pure devotion to Him, you are filled.
This is the paradox of kingdom life. Fulfillment isn’t about me. It’s about losing my life so that I can gain something better. It’s taking up my cross daily and following him. And as much as I prefer doing things that make me feel satisfied, I know that the pursuit of those things leads only to eternal restlessness.
Travel Came, But Not In The Way I Expected
Interestingly enough, I did eventually get to travel again, although not in the way I had planned. In 2013, we grew our family from 2 to 4 when we adopted a brother and sister from Uganda. We flew halfway around the world and spent a month experiencing another culture in a deep way.
The joke wasn’t lost on me that I’d gotten what I wanted only when it became what God wanted.
Now, as an aside, travel isn’t wrong and I fully intend to cash in my many years of child-rearing for a trip to Europe once we successfully get them all out of here. I hope you’re reading this, husband, because I’m dead serious.
But travel will never satisfy your craving for fulfillment. And parenting won’t either. Neither will your career, or your significant other, or your perfect body, or your beautiful home. We are meant to be “filled with all the fullness of Christ,” and “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” (Ephesians 3:19; St. Augustine).
Find your fulfillment where it’s meant to be found.