Eating my words

Mac McPhail Contributing columnist

November 10, 2013

A pastor once told me that members of a congregation were upset because attendance was down during the summer. They complained that other members were spending their weekends at their vacation homes at the beach and missing church on Sunday. This was causing attendance to drop during the summer months.

One member complained, “If I had a place at the beach, you wouldn’t see me missing church on Sunday.”

“But you don’t,” replied the pastor. “And until you do, don’t say what you’d do. Because you don’t know until you actually have a place at the beach.” I think the Lord soon called him to move on from that congregation.

We may not have that place at the beach, but we can have an opinion. We may not have kids, but we can have an opinion on how to raise them. We may not be in management, but we can have an opinion on how to run the company.

I love to eat. Terri and I went back to Bethabara Church a couple of weeks ago for homecoming. The food was great, and I pigged out. The following Monday we went to the Monday night supper over at Halls Church. It was like homecoming all over again. I love to eat just about anything. But there is one thing I don’t like to eat. My words.

I’ve had to do a lot of eating my words over the past few years. You know, words like, “If they were my kids, I’d never … ,” or “I’ll tell you one thing, I’m never going to …” Now that the grandkids are hanging around the house, I’m really having to eat my words. I’m surprised I had enough room in my stomach to eat all that good church food. But, somehow, I managed.

The truth is we don’t know what we will do until we are actually placed into that situation. I thought about that recently while reading “A Nation of Moochers,” written by Charles Sykes. (By the way, library cards are still free.) The subtitle of the book is, “America’s addiction to getting something for nothing.” In the book, Sykes describes government giveaway programs ranging from welfare to corporate bailouts.

But one paragraph got me thinking. Sykes wrote, “In Wisconsin, if a single mother with two children who makes $15,000 a year marries the father of her children, who makes $30,000 a year, a legislator calculates, “she will lose government benefits totaling $37,000 per year.” In other words, is getting married worth losing almost as much as both of them make?

The seemingly obvious response is that they should get married. It’s the right thing to do, according to religious and historical traditions. Our cultural foundation has been based on the notion of the traditional family. Many studies have shown the importance to children of the stability that the traditional family unit provides. And the stability of the commitment involved in the marriage contract is also important to the adults, as well.

But, as a nation, we’re not as religious as we used to be. And the culture has definitely changed. The stigma of being an unwed mother is no longer there. Acceptance by their peers and society, as a whole, is commonplace, especially when it is estimated that 40% of the births in the U.S. today are out of wedlock.

Then there’s the money and benefits from the government. Programs like WIC and Medicaid were created in part to help mothers and their children who had been neglected and abandoned by the father. Over time, the programs have become a financial substitute for the father themselves and a tempting incentive not to get married. The example from Wisconsin above shows that, and I’m sure there are similar examples here in North Carolina. And, I read this week that Obamcare will, in many cases, penalize couples signing up with higher costs for being married.

I recently heard a commentator on the radio say that a reason is not an excuse, but it is a reason. Why something is the way it is does not excuse behavior, but it may explain it. It’s easy for many of us to look at the situation and criticize those involved. You see the negative consequences of what the breakdown of the family unit has had on this country, especially its youth. And it’s easy to say what you would do if you were in that situation. But you are not in that situation. But one day you, or someone close to you, may be. And eating those words won’t taste anything like homecoming dinner.