Now and then my job allows me to read or tell stories to children. I stand before a small sea of wide eyes and try to gather in their free-ranging attention, not only to offer a few moments’ entertainment but also to receive a little vicarious wonder for myself. This is among my favorite responsibilities as a library branch supervisor, one of the ways I get to be more creative, less administrative.
Well into my thirties I related to children as co-conspirators. I felt like one of them, belonging more to their imaginative world than to that of adults. I put off marrying and having a family for various reasons, but it was a possibility I held before me as the eventual capstone of my adulthood and epitome of my creative life. When I began to realize time could run out on that possibility, obstacles emerged; but I wasn’t worried. I didn’t know then that a biological twist of fate would bring my fertility to an early and abrupt end.
I’m not sure that development changed how I view children, but it has undoubtedly intensified my desire to connect with their world and influence their lives. Of course, this desire began much earlier. I became acutely aware of it as I started approaching middle age.
From college psychology I recall reading about theorist Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the midlife identity crisis, and its existential concern with “generativity.”
At a certain age, a person begins to measure and evaluate the life he or she has lived so far and to feel urgency about passing something on to the next generation. Children become a natural conduit for expressing this concern. A person with no offspring, however—or with an empty nest or a broken connection to family—might easily experience a sense of stagnation.
Some turn to teaching, become mentors, join Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or lead Scout troops. Others become child advocates, teen outreach workers, or youth program sponsors. All kinds of possibilities exist, and it’s no accident that people with a void in their lives often seek creative ways to fill it by serving others. I believe that happens by design. God has his purposes for emptiness.
Proverbs 30:15-16 describes a barren womb as a metaphorical hunger, listing it among a number of things “that are never satisfied,” along with the grave, a desert, and a raging fire. Isaiah describes a eunuch’s inclination to say “I am only a dry tree.” And in 1 Samuel, Hannah pours out her soul to the Lord over her childless condition (1:10-15). Clearly, the Word of God is full of expressions of our Creator’s awareness of and sympathy with the emptiness his children often feel—the voids, disappointments, and bereavements human life compels us to endure.
Scripture encourages Christians to pour out, as Hannah did, our bitterness or despair to “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” so we can be filled instead with God’s love and presence through Christ. Thus we receive the comfort that allows transformation of hunger into action—and not just any action, but action that is generative, creative, and life-giving in a transcendent way.
Godly generativity occurs when we “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Because of the Bread of Life, even our hunger serves, and we are filled as we empty ourselves to fill others.