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“Are you sure? This procedure is very hard to reverse,” the doctor said. He was my age, the type of guy I could watch football and eat Buffalo wings with on the weekends. Instead, he was planning to slice me open and make it so I could never have kids again.
Are you sure? I thought about the possible implications. What if my wife died and I remarried? What if a year from now we no longer feel done? What does God think?
I wasn’t expecting that last one to cross my thoughts. I’m not sure why it did — maybe when you decide to do life-altering things to your body, your mind automatically drifts back to the Creator.
In the Bible, one of the first things God says to humankind is to be fruitful and multiply. That command predates the Ten Commandments and just about every other commandment in the Bible. God wants us to have kids.
But just how fruitful do we need to be?
Different faiths take this scripture differently. The Mormon Church is well known for its big families and against members taking “measures to voluntarily render themselves incapable of procreation.” In the Catholic Church, getting a vasectomy is a mortal sin. And if you had the procedure before you became Catholic, once you convert you are strongly encouraged to get it reversed if you have the means.
But I’m an evangelical. In my lifetime, I’ve been to thousands of church services and lots of Christian men’s events. I can’t ever recall the topic of vasectomies coming up. I have heard lots of sermons aimed at women about reproduction and life and their bodies, while sermons aimed at men only discuss the Internet and premarital sex. So I turn back to the Bible for guidance, which says to be fruitful and multiply, but it doesn’t say how fruitful.
My Christian friends tell me, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.” This is true. Children are a blessing in the same way winning a car on a game show is a blessing. It’s wonderful as long as you have income to pay for the taxes, the insurance, and the licensing. If I won too many cars, I’d go bankrupt.
Are you sure? Yes. My wife and I have multiplied ourselves. We are two people with four children — literally two times two. Seems to me like that’s the most faithful reading I could have given this verse. But even that feels wrong. It’s not like if I hit a certain number, God will allow me to go under the knife.
The Bible doesn’t just talk about having kids, but also gives us insights in how to raise them. Proverbs tells me to train my child in the way he should go, and Ephesians says do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in discipline. According to the Bible, I’m not just called to have kids — I’m also called to parent them.
To be a good father, I need to able to take care of them, to be patient, to love them, and to teach them to love their neighbors. What if multiplying myself doesn’t just mean having as many kids as physically possible? What if it also means multiplying the essence of who I am?
Here’s how Jim Gaffigan describes having four kids: “Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.” When you have four kids, people tell you this joke all the time. And now know I why — four is the absolute limit of what I can handle. If I continue to multiply in number, I won’t have the energy or margin to multiply who I am by teaching my kids how to be good, God-fearing human beings.
Maybe the best thing I can do for my kids is to stop having more kids.
I only say this is the case for me. A vasectomy is so personal. I believe only an individual couple can understand their own physical limitations, their bandwidth, and the financial means it takes to raise a child. Then they have to make the decision of how much they will or won’t multiply.
The doctor preps the table as his question still lingers in the air. Finally, I say, “Yes, I’m sure.” Then he holds the scalpel in the air, and I don’t feel so sure anymore. One thing I’ve learned as an adult is that sometimes we can know what the right decision is, but it still hurts.