I’ll never forget seeing a woman pull measuring tape out of her purse as she talked about the skull of her child.
This woman, standing in an airport in Russia with my wife and me, was, like us, an American. She, like us, was in the former Soviet Union to pursue adoption. She had heard, she said, “horror stories” about fetal alcohol syndrome and various other nightmares. The measuring tape was for gauging the size of the craniums of her potential children, to make sure there was “nothing wrong” with them.
This woman spoke with hushed tones as she mentioned her last visit to an orphanage. She rejected the referral because the child had “something wrong with her” because she had a “blank stare” in her eyes. “You know?” the woman prodded. “Like, you know, the lights are on, but maybe nobody’s home?” I ventured that maybe the little girl had a “blank stare” because she had been staring at a blank wall for 12 hours a day. The woman assured me that I just didn’t know how bad it could be, and we couldn’t be too diligent in sniffing out “attachment issues” and developmental delay. I was horrified. It was as though she were sorting through a litter of puppies or browsing through a line of secondhand refrigerators. I was judging her.
I rolled my eyes at the very thought of a measuring tape for a child’s skull. But I wasn’t one whit holier. I was just as self-protective as they. I just had a more carefully crafted spin. I wouldn’t have spoken so crassly about rejecting children, because I had a theology to uphold and a peer group who would’ve held me accountable if I’d started talking about a child as if I were buying a condominium. But I dreaded as much as any pagan the thought of struggling for years with a child with a debilitating disease. God knew this, and confronted me in it.
We live in an era when commitments have become opportunities for narcissistic self-realization. I encounter this perhaps most often with weddings. In too many instances, weddings have become state dinners put on by planners and photographers to celebrate the love of the couple. A pastor friend of mine and I find ourselves saying the same thing to couples in premarital counseling, and we find that it is almost always startling. Our message is this: “The most important thing about your wedding is not what makes your wedding unique; it’s what makes your wedding the same as other faithful Christian weddings.” The core of the wedding isn’t the expression of the couples’ unique personalities: the groom’s cake modeled after his favorite football team, the video streaming pictures from their childhoods. The core of the wedding is the exchanging of vows, in the presence of God and these witnesses. Too often, the wedding becomes a stage for photographs, and that’s an acid to the idea not only of what a wedding is, but also of what a marriage is.