There is an apple tree in my parents backyard. It’s rather large, some would even say overgrown. It’s pretty old, but is still producing apples most years. It’s strange having such a large reminder looming over head of the idea of being “fruitful” during this time of my life. I feel anything but fruitful right now; in fact, most days I feel like fruit leather.
I’ve had to do a lot of thinking and a lot of research about family size over the last few years. I definitely knew the answer I thought I was going to get, and boy was I wrong.
I’m going to come out and say here and now, for all eternity on the interwebs;
That apple tree in my parents backyard fills up with apple blossoms every year. The tree is loaded with them in the spring and those blossoms are never an indicator of the number of apples we’ll have at the end of the season. Early frost, a strong storm, bugs and other wild life can all wreak havoc on that tree, yet it is still fruitful. It does it’s duty every year filling itself with blossoms that may or may not become apples and at the end of the year whether we have one apple or hundreds it is still an apple tree.
It is not what is produced that makes you fruitful, it is the possibility, the opportunity. It is blooming where you are planted. It is opening the most fragile part of you and saying “Nature, do what you will.” It is about understanding that blessings don’t only come in baby shape.
To avoid too much drama in the comments I am not saying that all motives for having only children or small families are right. I still maintain that using methods outside of your natural reproductive abilities to attain an only or a small family is not ideal, though many people (my friends here included) use these things with good intentions. That is not a judgement on those who use them either, I still love and respect you though we disagree on this particular subject. It’s just that a small family or only children should not be an automatic sign to Catholic families that there is something wrong or that someone is behaving in a way contrary to God’s plan for them.
That apple tree isn’t producing too much this year. What apples it has are too high to pick, but there are still apples. A few years ago we thought the tree was at it’s end. No one could remember it producing fruit for a while. Honestly, we hadn’t paid that much attention to it for a long time. Then one day I was out in the backyard and there hanging just at my eye line was a perfect red apple. There was no reason why that apple should have been there. The rest of the tree was basically bare and the deer should have picked off weeks ago.
I plucked that apple and bit in preparing myself for a bitter, mealy experience.
It was the best apple I’ve ever tasted.
That year there wasn’t much in the way of bounty, but the single apple that tree put forth just by producing blossoms and leaves, roots and shade made more of an impression on me than a dozen years of fruitfulness.
**I know this may be a touchy subject for many people. I welcome thoughtful, calm discussion even if we disagree, but will freely delete anything hurtful or accusatory. I’m not claiming to be an expert on Catholic teaching either, if you can accurately point out a flaw in my logic with evidence to support it, I will not stubbornly oppose it.**
Edit: Thank you to everyone for being so gracious and civil when we disagree. There’s some great questions, reasoning and clarification in the comments that I won’t repost here – but please read through the comments for more discussion. I do just want to clarify that when I talk about a family prayerfully discerning their family size that “discerning” in this case is an understanding of God’s plan and desire for their particular family and circumstances. It is not someone making a decision ala their family size and then expect God to work with them; particularly when this is justified by illicit means. It is us working with whatever God gives us. The best example I can give is my own experience via my one child here on earth and his 3 heavenly siblings; we have “discerned” for the moment not to actively pursue growing our family via the licit measures we can take (via adoption, fostering, medical resources) at the moment. We do not, currently (though this may change in the future) and after much discussion and prayer, feel drawn to using these methods just to grow our family – therefore we’ve “prayerfully discerned” that it may currently be part of God’s plan for our family to remain small because we do not feel called toward these other methods. However, we remain open to whatever the real plan might be in the end. Any more clarification I can give, don’t hesitate to ask.