"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."
We looked yesterday at the meaning and interpretation of this proverb. If you did not read it yet, take a couple of minutes and please do so. You can read it here. The main principle of this verse is: There are things in life that are messy, but they are worth it because of the value they bring to our lives.
This week we will be looking at different applications that come from understanding the meaning of Proverbs 14:4. We looked first at the "Manger of Marriage" -- the reality that being married can, in fact, bring frustration and struggles, but it is worth it because of the rich blessing that comes from a godly marriage.
Let's now look at Part 2 -- The Manger of Parenthood
Isn't it amazing how disproportional the correlation is between the size of the child and the size of their toys? When our children are little, their toys take up so much space. The living room is constantly cluttered with playpens, mats, and toys that seem to take up half the floor. To pack up and go to grandparents house for the weekend nearly requires renting a U-haul to get everything down and back. Sometimes going to the store or out to eat seems like a good idea, but it gets derailed after fatigue sets in just from trying to pack everything necessary into the vehicle.
By the time our children are in high school all they need is a phone that they can hold in their hand and they can occupy themselves for hours. Yet, even though their toys may not take up the whole living room, it seems the number of shoes left out multiply by a factor of ten. Simply put, where there are children, the manger will be messy. In a home with children, clothes will be left out, dishes will be found in bedrooms, handprints will be on the door, and laundry will never be caught up. Children simply equal messy mangers.
Is there anything better than holding your baby when their eyes first lock on you and you can tell they recognize you? How about the first time your baby sees you walk into a room and you hear them call out, "Mama", or "Dada"? Your heart melts in an instant.
Parents quickly come to understand that the Bible is true when it says that "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him" Psalm 127:3. Children certainly are a gift from God.
Now, it is true that if you have children, you should be prepared for some sleepless nights. When they are young, they will cry the loudest when you need sleep the most. When it is time to go to bed, they will turn into the thirstiest creatures on earth and come up with ten thousand ways to prolong going to sleep. When they are teenagers, their struggles will cause you to stay awake into the night while you pray for them, and try to discern how to best shepherd them through the trials of these years.
And that doesn't even take into account the expense of raising kids. Wow, is it expensive!! According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it now costs a middle-income family in America an average of $233,610 to raise a child...and that does NOT include college. I have no idea how that figure is determined, nor do I know if it is fully accurate. However, I absolutely can confirm that raising children is an expensive endeavor. Of that, I am certain!
And so...as with marriage...parenting can leave quite the messy manger. Exhaustion, stress, and drama are part of the residue left in the manger. In addition are late night science fair projects, research papers that were put off too long, and homework that is well beyond the expertise of either parent.
So, someone may ask, why mess with the mess? As someone has written elsewhere, for the expense ($233,610 to be exact!), you get:
"Naming rights. First, middle and last.
Glimpses of God every day.
Giggles under the covers every night.
More love than your heart can hold.
Butterfly kisses and Velcro hugs.
Endless wonder over rocks, ants, clouds and warm cookies.
A hand to hold, usually covered with jam.
A partner for blowing bubbles, flying kites, building sand castles and skipping down the sidewalk in the pouring rain. Someone to laugh yourself silly with no matter what the boss said or how your stocks performed that day.
You get to finger-paint, carve pumpkins, play hide-and-seek, and catch lightning bugs.
You have an excuse to keep reading the adventures of Piglet and Pooh, watching Saturday morning cartoons, going to Disney movies, and wishing on stars.
You get to frame rainbows, hearts, and flowers under refrigerator magnets and collect spray painted noodle wreaths for Christmas, hand prints set in clay for Mother's Day and cards with backward letters for Father's Day.
You get to be a hero just for retrieving a Frisbee off the garage roof, taking the training wheels off the bike, removing a sliver, filling the wading pool, coaxing a wad of gum out of bangs and coaching a baseball team that never wins but always gets treated to ice cream regardless.
You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost."
So, yes, with children, the manger is quite messy, but it is worth it because of the value they bring to your life. So, parents, press on! Keep teaching, shepherding, correcting, loving, feeding, discipling, hugging, and loving your children. It. Is. Worth. It!
A final word -- What about those who do not have children?
Some of you reading this are single and would be happy to be single forever. Perhaps it is not God's plan for you to be married. Others of you are single and are actively praying for the Lord to bring the right person into your life. Perhaps you are married but do not yet have children, although you plan to one day. And in some cases, it may be that you want more than anything to have a child, but the Lord has yet to answer that prayer.
Let me say that God knows best. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Trust in the wisdom of the God who made you and knows all things. He has a plan for your life that is worthy of Him. He loves you and knows what is for your ultimate good. Trust in the goodness of God.
Yet, whether you have children of your own or not, all of us have the opportunity to invest in the lives of children. Perhaps the children in your life right now are not your own. Maybe they are nieces, nephews, children in your neighborhood, or perhaps your church. Make no mistake, there are children all around you that need someone to pray for them, to model the Christian life, and to be a steady support for them. You certainly do not have to be a parent to love children nor do you have to be one to influence children for Jesus Christ.
Whether you are married or not, have children or not, we all have the same choice to make in this regard. Will you open up your heart to love children and to care for them? It will cost you some time and energy, not to mention some sleep and money.
Where there are no children, the manger (or house, or car) is clean, but much blessing comes from caring for little ones. As Jesus Himself reminds us,“Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Part 3 on Wednesday, May 2 -- The Manger of Ministry