Last night as we were casually hanging out and watching Olympics, Cody's cousin asked me if having kids totally changed my priorities. It was clear he was looking ahead to the awesome changes, responsibilities, perhaps joys that come with the indescribable blessing of having a child.
It would have been easy to just give a pat answer...oh yes, having kids is a life-changing event, I immediately became a more loving person as I put their needs ahead of my own, blah blah blah...
But I didn't do that. In fact, I didn't answer at all. I asked him if I could think about it for a while and get back to him. Over the course of the evening, and even while I was laying in bed between wake and sleep, the answer came to me.
So this morning I told him I was ready to answer. And the answer is: No, having kids didn't change my priorities. I was a selfish person before I had kids, and I was selfish after I had them. My whole life, even though I was pretty much unaware of it, I had been using people to make me feel better about myself. And my kids were a part of that for me, too. By being a good parent, having well-behaved kids, I hoped to somehow be "okay." I thought marriage would fill me up, give me the identity I craved...I thought having kids would do it...I thought having the admiration of others, or succeeding in various aspects of life would give me value. So I was always needing things from other people in order to be complete. But it never worked! I never was complete. I was either trying to "prove" my worth to the people around me to continue getting their admiration, or I was defensive, angry, and blaming them for any criticism or lack of affection on their part.
My change in priorities came much later, when I finally reached a place in my life that was so broken, so riddled with failure, pain, disappointment and despair that I knew I couldn't keep living the way I had lived my entire life. This is where Henri Nouwen comes in. It was through reading his books that I finally grasped the concept of my identity as God's "Beloved." When I finally embraced an identity that only relied on God and expected nothing from any person, then I was free to love people instead of using them. Then I became less selfish. For the first time, I could act out of the best interest of others instead of climbing all over them, scrambling to fill my need for identity and value.
It's a long answer, and probably not what he expected. But it's the answer that saved my life.