Parenthood for Henson and Serene Lim started off typically. Two years into their marriage, the couple felt ready to have children.
In 1998, their firstborn, David, arrived. Two years later, they welcomed their second child, Sarah. By most Singaporeans’ standards, it was the perfect two-child combination.
Fast forward 20 years and the Lim Tribe, as the family is affectionately known, has expanded. Apart from David (22) and Sarah (20), there is Aaron (18), Esther (17), Ruth (15), Deborah Hope (13), and Anna Joy (11)—a grand total of seven children.
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Many couples, acknowledges Henson, would not make the decision to have so many children. But the founder of Archippus Awakening, a ministry to spur Christians towards knowing and fulfilling their God-given kingdom assignments, clarifies with a chuckle, “We never ‘decided’ to have seven children.”
At the same time, their story is not one of a string of accidental pregnancies. While they never planned to have so many children, they welcomed and cherished each addition as a gift from God. The large family did not come as a result of an aim for a numerical ideal, but from the goodness of a sovereign God.
“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” —Psalm 127:3
Initially, the couple thought they would stop at two. But Henson says, “After we had our first two kids, David and Sarah, we felt the Lord challenging us to trust Him in all areas of our lives. If we say we trust God in one area, then why not in another area—family size? And when we tried to rationalise and justify our reasons for not having more kids, we discovered that all our answers were fearful and selfish ones.”
As the couple wrestled with this, they realised that they were dictating how—and how much—they wanted to be blessed. If “the more the better” was true when it came to finances, then why not the same for children? It almost seemed like they were telling God that two blessings were enough, thank you very much.
“As parents, we said: ‘children are a blessing’,” recalls Henson. “But that was on our terms! If the Lord says that children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3), then who are we to consider them as burdens?”
Deeply convicted and determined to trust God in all areas of their lives, Henson and Serene made the decision to let the Lord decide their family size.
Henson and family.
Deciding to trust God didn’t mean that expanding their family would be easy. In the early years, especially, Henson and Serene faced many challenging moments. Their third child, Aaron, was born in 2002, and their fourth, Esther, followed soon after in 2003. With two infants and two growing kids running about and needing constant attention, parenting became a hectic, 24-hour affair.
On top of that, it was also at this time that Henson decided to obey God’s call to enter full-time ministry, which meant that finances would become an even bigger challenge.
By 2009, the couple had celebrated the birth of their seventh child—and suffered the pain of one miscarriage. At work, Henson had just taken up the role of pastor at a newly-formed church while Serene had her hands full homeschooling the kids.
“Faith eventually must translate to action; and there is a lot more work to be done in a large family, as well as a lot more sacrifice that is required.”
“Serene continued to plan the curriculum and oversee the schedule for all our children even through times of pregnancy and confinement,” says Henson. “I would chip in and help out as much as I could.”
Henson describes how they tried their best to juggle their various duties and responsibilities. “Parenting was tiring, both physically and emotionally,” he says. They also had to adjust their expectations of each other.
“There was a period of time when Serene was just not able to accompany me at social or ministry functions,” Henson recounts. “I had to learn to understand her challenges at home and accept that for the moment.”
This was where the couple discovered how important it was for husband and wife not only to be in agreement with each other, but also to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21). “Faith eventually must translate to action; and there is a lot more work to be done in a large family, as well as a lot more sacrifice that is required,” says Henson.
Henson and Serene.
Protecting Their Marriage
One of Henson’s top parenting tips is to nurture a good couple relationship. Since strong marriages build strong families, it helps when parents take the effort to strengthen their relationship. He elaborates: “Parenting can take its toll on any marriage, especially when convictions and styles are different between spouses.”
“Serene and I have had to learn how to submit to each other in the fear of the Lord, so that our marital relationship may be rightly grounded on kingdom principles before it can be a blessing to our children and to others.”
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” —Ephesians 5:21
Nurturing their own faith and their marriage has helped them in their journey of parenting. Their own closeness has translated into closeness among all seven children. Says Henson: “In our home, there are noisy and rowdy times, but through that cacophony, there is love and joy. The bond amongst the children is close and heartwarming.”
The Lims at Chinese New Year, 2019.
“We’re Not Super Parents”
Some have called Henson and Serene “super parents”—a label that Henson firmly rejects, because it gives the impression that they are great parents. Though the Lims have more children than most couples, they do not think that this makes them any more qualified than others, nor more knowledgeable in what is best for every child.
“Like everyone else, we also desire to give the very best to each child,” says Henson. “However, that takes on a very different meaning when there are seven ‘bests’ to dish out. What is the best?”
He goes on to suggest: “Each family will need to determine what their parenting principles are and how they are best worked out.”
Henson and family at breakfast.
Is Parenting a Calling?
Some have suggested that one requires a special “call” by God to have many children. Henson, however, firmly believes otherwise.
Nowhere in the Bible, he points out, does it say that having many children is a call reserved only for a few. He adds: “If there is even such a concept of a call to have a large family, then this so-called call applies to every believer—‘be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1:28).”
Rather, the Lims’ decision to surrender control of their family size came not from responding to any “call” to have a large family, but from obeying every Christian’s call to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness and providence.
Henson thus sees parenting not as a “call”, but as a choice.
Some have also suggested that he and Serene can have a large family only because they are rich and are thus able to afford such a “choice”.
“If the Lord blesses us with children, will He not also provide for them? If we believe that God will and does provide, the issue to grapple with, then, is contentment with whatever the Lord provides.”
Henson knows all too well how expensive it can be to raise a large family in Singapore. “We have had to grapple with how we spend and what we spend on,” he shares. But he also points out that whether a couple can “afford” to have a large family depends greatly on how much they think is needed in the first place.
“We are not rich, but ‘not rich’ does not mean we are poor,” he says. “The starting point cannot be based on what this extremely consumeristic world determines as essential. If so, it will never be enough.”
Ultimately, says Henson, couples need to be content with what God provides. He says: “If the Lord blesses us with children, will He not also provide for them? If we believe that God will and does provide, the issue to grapple with, then, is contentment with whatever the Lord provides. By His grace, our family has never lacked (Matthew 6:33).”
The Lims at Chinese New Year, 2020.
Trusting in a Great God
Henson and Serene respond the same way when others comment that it takes “great faith” to raise such a large family. Henson admits that while he understands what people mean, he cannot fully agree with it.
“It is not just about faith, but the object of our faith,” he explains.
“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? ” —Numbers 23:19
“If Peter can walk on water to Jesus with his little faith (Matthew 14:22–33), and if mustard seed-sized faith can move mountains (Mark 11:22–24), why does having children require great faith? My humble reply to this impression has always been: Great faith without a great God is useless.”
His simple statement is a powerful reminder for all believers, whether one is a parent or not, that we can be confident in our faith because—and only because—of who God is.
For Henson and Serene, what matters is not how big or small their faith is, but living by faith according to God’s Word. By choosing to yield control of their family size to God, and trusting God continually in raising all seven children, the couple have both found themselves blessed with a closer, deeper relationship with the Lord.
“Our large family dynamics have pushed us to the Lord over and over again. Perhaps, if we had less children, we would have relied a lot more on our skills, talents and abilities,” Henson muses. “But with a large family, we are compelled to lean on the Lord for His wisdom and strength. It has been most humbling, yet totally fulfilling.”