We love our kids – there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we’re not careful we can begin to love our kids more than we love God. That’s idolatry. Most of us would be repulsed by that idea. But when we begin to carefully examine our lives and breakdown different elements of our relationship with our kids, we may start to see signs that our kids are bringing us a level of sufficiency that starts to head into the realm of idolatry (a sufficiency/satisfaction that shouldn’t be met in people or circumstances but in God). John MacArthur says that an idol is “Anything that people elevate above God is an idol of the heart.” It’s incredibly important to our spiritual development, which is why the Apostle of Jesus, John, told us at the end of his first epistle “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21).
As parents it can be easy to be dismissive when confronted with an area of life such as how we’re leading our children. But before you allow yourself to get defensive – and before you start thinking about all the parents you know that the following points apply to, instead have a humble, introspective attitude that will allow you to think objectively about these various areas of life.
Your child has probably become an idol in your life because:
- You live vicariously through them. It’s one thing to cheer for your kids during a sporting event; it’s another thing to attempt to relive your past through your kids. That inevitably puts them into unhealthy scenarios that will be impossible to live up to.It’s not just sports – it’s anything really where you need them to be successful in ‘X’ area of life because it makes you feel successful. Their success becomes a big pat on the back for you – their victories in a weird, twisted way become yours.
- You compromise your standards for their comfort. They want to stay out longer than they should on a date. They want to spend time with the wrong people. They want participate in good stuff instead of the best stuff. You know what they should be doing, but because you struggle to please them you neglect to direct them when they need it the most. You allow them to get away with things that you know are wrong, but because you don’t want to aggravate them you let important things slide.
- You stop having the tough conversations. You used to talk to them about their tones, attitudes, clothing, etc. But now that they’re a little older and a little more independent you fear having the tough conversations. False harmony has become more important than biblical peace.
- You spend excessively on them. It’s not just new clothes – it’s the excess buying, buying, buying and more buying on just about anything they hint that they want. In fact, you may not remember the last time you said “Sorry, can’t buy that this month – not in the budget.”
- You point them towards your desires instead of God’s. Instead of asking them to pray about what God may want, you influence them towards the things you want. If God perchance lead them to be in full-time ministry, you would promptly encourage them to consider getting a “real job” just in case ministry doesn’t work out.
- You constantly worry about them. You’re worrying about your child probably for many reasons (your own life’s circumstances, because you choose to live with continual worry in general, poor choices they have made, etc) – but when we choose ‘worry’ over ‘trust’ with our kids what we’re saying is that God isn’t 100% God in this area of life. He isn’t capable of taking care of our kids as well as we are. When this happens our kids/our circumstances are controlling our thinking and not the Lord and His Word.
- You feel an overwhelming sense of abandonment when you think about them leaving. There’s normal parental feelings that accompany a child’s departure for whatever reason. This isn’t what I’m taking about. This is an underlying (whether stated or unstated…but typically unstated) refusal to relinquish control of your child’s future to the Lord. The child is filling a ‘hole’ in your life that was never meant to be filled by them.
- You consistently side with them instead of your spouse. In this respect the child has replaced your spouse in God’s desire for one-mindedness between a husband and wife. Without even knowing it you are constantly having to defend them with your spouse, and you even start believing your spouse doesn’t understand your child like you do.
Our kids are a blessing – but they’re not to become our sufficiency in any area of life (nor is anyone else). It can be easy to rationalize idolatry when it comes to our kids because of our close relationship with them and our super-involvement in their lives. But proximity and influence is no excuse for mis-placed worship. It would be good to evaluate your heart and maybe ask your spouse or a close relative about whether they have seen any of these indicators in your life. The point in all this isn’t condemnation or guilt, but a desire to allow Christ to have the rightful place in all areas of our lives and allow our kids to nurture into the godly young people God wants them to be.
Scott is the Associate Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Mullica Hill, N.J. He and his wife Rachel are raising four boys and have served now in both para-church and local church ministry.