A number of years ago, as a homeschool mother, I sat with some ladies offering comfort and encouragement to another mom we knew who wanted to homeschool, but whose husband was against it. She would not go against his wishes, but it was hard for her. This woman was certain that her life as a mother was doomed to failure unless she homeschooled. An older and wiser woman commented saying, "Be careful that you don't let homeschooling become an idol."
This was not something I had really considered before. As I thought more and more about it in the ensuing weeks, I did see how homeschooling could become an idol. Furthermore, as time went on, I began to see that our children, themselves, can become idols in our hearts. This is not an attempt at an indepth discussion of the topic; that is beyond the scope of any one blog post. I do want to share, though, some thoughts about the reality that our children can become idols.
Idolatry is a sin; we know that. The first two of the Ten Commandments make this clear (Exodus 20:2-7). In Exodus 32 when Aaron and company proceeded to make an idol of gold, God's anger burned against them. We are not to worship anything but God. Our lives are driven by what we worship; if it is not God, it is surely something else. For some, it might be success; for others, it is money and possessions; some are driven by the praise of men, or even something as inconsequential as having an home that looks like something out of a magazine. And yes, for some, it can be their own children. The point is, something rules in our hearts, and unless it is God, it is an idol.
We love our children. We sacrifice for them. We stay up late with them while they are sick, tend to them and nurture them. We have inexpressible joy in them. Normally sedate women will become ferocious lionesses when someone wants to hurt their children. There is spiritual blessing in having children. It is not wrong to love our children. However, sometimes, as we love them, it is difficult to see when we have crossed the line and begun to love them more than God. Ultimately what happens is that their happiness and our good relationship with them becomes more important to us than our righteousness, our obedience, and our relationship with God. The result is sin as we seek to serve our child who has become more important to us than our God.
When our children are more important to us than God, authority in the home is affected. Unless a husband shares his wife's tendency, there will be inevitable conflict between husband and wife. It also creates an unhealthy relationship between child and parent. A child needs love, teaching, and discipline from his mother and father, not worship. Aside from the obvious assault on God's holiness, idolizing a child can poison a family's relationship. In the end, a child will not thank you for setting him up an idol; he will resent you. No human being can take the pressure of being the centre of someone else's worship.
How do you know when this is happening? What are some signs that we may be making an idol of our children? This is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few thoughts.
You excuse your child's bad behaviour. It's always someone else's fault. You excuse their sin instead of addressing it. You don't believe your child would ever lie to you or do what that person said he did. You blame the youth group for not teaching them better or their teachers for polluting their minds.
You can't bear it when they are angry with your discipline. When you do impose consequences and boundaries, and they react badly, you try to appease them because you don't like their anger. You don't like the conflict. You will go out of our way to avoid it, even if it means neglecting to impose a godly standard.
You try to shield them from mistakes. As they get older, you interfere with giving them freedom to try and fail at things. You jump in and fix things before they have to deal with the consequences. This may take the form of constantly intervening with people to whom your children are responsible, like a teacher or a leader. Instead of letting them take responsibility for something, you micromanage how they handle it so that you don't have to see them fall.
You struggle to let them go. Now, I realize that releasing our children to be independent is hard. I've done it three times now, and it was hard every time. However, when the grief begins to infiltrate other areas of our lives, and incapacitates us, we're in trouble. If God cannot fill the spaces they've left with their absence, we have to wonder where our true worship lies.
In all of these situations, the root of the problem is that we are looking to our children to fill what God is meant to fill. Our hearts were meant for one God, and one God alone. If our children replace Him, we are putting ourselves at risk, and putting them on a pedestal. When they fall, which they inevitably will, it will devastate us. We are not called to neglect our children, but to love them. That, however, does not include loving them above God Himself.
Perhaps this notion seems ridiculous to you. After all, can we ever love our children too much? Perhaps you can't believe that anyone would do such a sinful thing. All I can say to that is, "been there, done that." Perhaps I am the only one foolish enough to get caught up in such a business. I suspect not, though. I am not unique by any stretch of the imagination. As painful as this revelation was to me, and as difficult as the fallout was, I learned so much about God's grace; more than I'd ever seen before. And it takes God's grace for us to love our children as we should.