A version of this article made it in our book, Love Another Child. Originally published July 22, 2009.
Some words come loaded with connotation. I think of deep words like Christian or love: the words themselves seldom do the meanings justice. They are better understood by observing–by showing, not telling. “Quiverfull” is one of these words.
It is no surprise that shows like TLC’s John & Kate Plus 8 and the Dugger Family Show have done so well. Viewers are allowed a glimpse into the quiverfull life, to observe the claims in action.
We finished our Reuters and CBS interviews last week. The picture above was taken by Rick Wilking who will also be doing the article on what it means to be “quiverfull” (view slideshow here) CBS plans to have a show (maybe even a few shows), the Jeubs being one of the families featured.
These two media opportunities attempt to answer the question: What does “quiverfull” mean? I suppose a show is much better than an essay, but the question still deserves a rhetorical answer. This article will attempt to explain the quiverfull idea, at least what it means for the Jeubs.
Where the Term Comes From
The term comes from one of the most poetic books of the Bible, the Psalms (or “songs of God”). The subtitle in the header of this Web site is taken from the same Psalm and is a reference to the quiverfull idea. Here are the verses in full (New International Version):
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
One of the shortest chapters in the Bible, but one of the most poetic. Poetry, as defined by one of my college professors, is “condensed thoughts.” Wendy and I have found these verses to be incredibly encouraging as we walk in faith in what God is calling us to do. These verses validate our risks, they galvanize our trust. We’ve applied these verses to the actions in our life, and I can honestly attest that it has led to a most adventurous one.
One small side note on that: the more profound verses from Scripture are misunderstood and often avoided. This is too bad, really. If you are not a Christian, or if you don’t believe the Bible to be genuinely from God, you may end up struggling with these “condensed thoughts.” Sure, you may find this article interesting, but the real depth and understanding comes in applying the principles. These are verses of faith, of walking the walk. We are people of faith, and, truthfully, I can’t imagine applying these verses without a solid faith.
Anyway, back to Psalm 127 and the principles of our quiverfull lifestyle.
Letting God Have Control (versus 1-2)
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.
The metaphors of the first two verses illustrate that Psalm 127 wants us to put God in control of our home building. Our home is our heritage, our family, the things that matter most. I could have likely built my family without God in my life, but I would have most likely done a lousy job. The picture you see above is awesome, and I have to say it is because God has been with us every step of the way.
Surrendering your life to God isn’t the easiest thing to do–it may appear to some as a bit foolish–but it is most daring. I have seen miracles happen in areas of my life that I would have otherwise thought hopeless. Here are just three examples: finances, employment and relationships. When I surrender my financial life to God you’d expect poverty, but I am blessed with much more than monetary wealth. I trust God with my employment, and I receive the joy of self-employment. I have given my relationships up to God, and I have discovered profound love. These were steps of faith where the results would have logically led to harmful consequences, like a blind man walking into a wall. Instead, the consequences have been beautiful. I’ve found this to be the way God works with me: he wants my faith, then he takes care of the results.
The same goes for our reproductive life. Wendy and I believe God wants us to trust Him in our family planning. The results are his to deal out. We’re more than just fine by that. We are amazed at how incredible the blessings have been. I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I look at the picture above and think, “Can life be so good?”
I suppose that picture could be seen as a bit scary. The remaining verses challenge us to rethink how we see children.
Children Are Blessings (verse 3)
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.
How have modern couples gotten into their minds that children aren’t a blessing? Oh, I know, few would come right out and say that, but their actions sure show it. I’ve witnessed parents in earshot of their children rant and rave on how difficult parenting is. In our book Love in the House, I tell of a mom who tried to convince a couple of snow-boarders how awful parenting is:
I recall sitting with three of our kids on a shuttle bus at a ski resort in Colorado when a mother sitting with two children struck up a conversation with a couple of college-aged men. This mother (within earshot of her kids) proclaimed: “Enjoy your life while you can! Once you have children, everything gets so difficult. What I would give to be young again!”
I remember this so well because the two students–whom you might expect to chime right in and complain about children–brushed off this mother’s advice. One long-haired snowboarder said, “I believe children are a blessing.” His friend agreed, “Yeah, I look forward to having a family.” So much for stereotypes.
This gets a little dicey when I challenge parents to rethink what they’ve been told all their lives: “Have perhaps one or two children, but then stop.” Having more than these token children are seen as selfish or irresponsible. Like the mother on the bus, the joys of youth were much more enjoyable than the agony of parenting. Why prolong the pain?
Truth is that these same parents would never admit that there one or two children aren’t blessings. Even this mother on the bus–if pressed–would have admitted she loved her children. Why, then, would you predetermine the next child as some sort of curse?
Imagine for a moment you and God having a conversation. God says, “I want to bless you with $15 million.” You return, “No thanks, God. Sounds like agony to me. I’ll just put up with the few bucks I can manage on my own.”
Take another look at Rick’s photograph above. You know what? My life is really, really good. Granted, it hasn’t all been so peachy, but who can claim a life that is? I can’t imagine life without any one of those blessings–and two adult children not pictured, plus a grandson. God had a fantastic plan in store for Chris and Wendy Jeub when he laid on our hearts to let Him have control of our blessings. The idea that any of these children pictured are not blessings is a ridiculous idea. Actually, it’s kind of sinister, and only a demented parent would claim such a thing.
We take that a step further. We have 15 children, but why would we say that #16 wasn’t a blessing? Or #17? Or #18?
Let me rewind time and put some names to this quiverfull idea. When we had Isaiah 13 years ago (my first son, 5th child), the conventional logic was to stop having children. I had four daughters and now a son, why go on? If I would have followed this course, I wouldn’t have Micah, Noah, Tabitha, Keilah, Hannah, Josiah, Havilah, Joshua, Priscilla or Zechariah.
God convicted Wendy and me to continue having children. Perhaps God convicts couples to restrict pregnancy, but truth be known, I haven’t met any. Most people give me all sorts of reasons why they stopped having children, none of which include, “God told me to stop.” Instead, reasons include “I can’t handle anymore children,” “What would my neighbors think?”, “I can’t afford it,” etc., etc. In other words, “Another child would not be a blessing.”
Verse 3 nips this fallacy in the bud, and the remaining verses blossom the “quiverfull” metaphor.
Blessed Is the Man Who Has His Quiver Full (verses 4-5)
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
These two verses are written with military terms (e.g. arrows, warrior, quiver, enemies). I don’t read this literally. I read this as a metaphor, representative of our walk through life. Whatever life throws at you, a solid family brings strength, stability, preparedness. Paraphrase: “As a warrior entering a battle with a quiver full of arrows, so is a father with a houseful of children.” Whatever the enemy throws at you, you can withstand.
People err in thinking “quiverfull” as some contest to have as many children as possible. I know quiverfull-minded people with just a couple kids; they are content with their two and they are fine if God gives them more. Likewise, I have corrected people who cry out to God for as many children as the Jeubs (I guess you can call them quiverfull wannabes. Believe it or not, they’re out there!). Such is not the quiverfull mindset. We’re not on a racetrack; we are merely letting God have control of our family numbers. This is a walk of faith, not a race to a finish line.
You see, having a “full” quiver is a relative term. That could be 15 children for Chris and Wendy Jeub. I’m not going to manipulate that number. This area of our life–that of so-called family planning–is in God’s hands. We’re refusing to manipulate that.
I can’t begin to tell you how freeing this walk is. It really is! We have been so blessed by our children, our extended family has been blessed, our children bless each other…there is so much blessing going around that I can barely stand it! This is freedom, a good life, an abundant life.
The Quiverfull “Movement”
I’d be fooling you if I were to say this is just my personal conviction. While Wendy and I have acted on faith, I believe God is working on a lot of couples’ hearts. Vasectomies may be #1 unneeded surgery in the world, but do you know what is #2? Reversals. I believe that the quiverfull mindset is moving through the hearts and minds of young couples.
This is more than a hunch. Encyclopedia.com refers to the quiverfull movement taking popularity around 2004 in international media. It references an article from The Nation (hardly sympathetic to quiverfull people) that claims the movement is in the thousands to tens-of-thousands. I find these low numbers hard to believe, but no worries. The multiplying factor make these numbers seem huge (10,000 to the 10th degree equals a lot of people).
Every movement that pushes against the tide of the status quo will have its failures. Most viewers, I gather, are saddened at John and Kate’s separation, and more saddened for their children. Life would have been grand for their beautiful–now broken–family. For me, this doesn’t hinder what God has laid on my heart, nor should it hinder you. Move forward with faith, and let God handle the results.
Word count: 2,017 words. Quite an attempt to define the loaded word “quiverfull.” It falls short of the true quiverfull experience, the idea and what it truly means. For the Jeubs, we are who we are, we confidently apply Psalm 127 to our lives, and we open our home to media like CBS and Reuters as means of explaining ourselves.
Rick Wilking works for Reuters as a photo journalist. He was there with CBS during the shooting of the “Born to Breed” episode. You’ll see a lot of the same shots that was on the show, but Rick captured the moment to a tee. Check out this video, posted in July…