There is an old saying about the Christian faith that sharing in these matters with another is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
In a similar way, that’s how I feel most of the time when I write articles in regard to parenting. Our kids are 13, 10, and 8; they are by no means perfect children. And we are by no means perfect parents. I think the little secret of parenting that all of us know is that none of us actually knows what we are doing. We are stumbling our way through this thing, helping one another, and actively – painfully – trusting in the Lord to make up for what we lack.
It’s out of that lacking that I see this tendency in myself – to take these children which are an incredible blessing from the Lord, and worship them as if they were the Lord. We don’t mean to do this as parents; it’s just something we drift into. But slowly, steadily, we come to the point where our entire lives are centered around our children.
Around our children. Not around Jesus.
Oh, what a line that is. How we tiptoe up to it in the name of love. How we dance around it in the name of responsibility. But oh, how we should be aware of the fact that our children, too, can cause us to drift from the Lord. Of course, none of us bow down physically to our kids. But worship is primarily an issue of the heart – a question of what it is that has the primary place of affection and devotion in our lives.
What, then, can a parent do? How can a parent guard against idolizing their children? Are there steps we can take when we love our kids so much, and yet want to make sure that we do not worship them? Here are three suggestions:
1. Make them go to church.
If we are worshiping our children, then we will find ourselves bowing before their desires more than their needs. And most of us, I think, will eventually come to the point when one of our children will not want to go to church any more. That will be hard. Very, very hard.
I can certainly understand the opinion that gives into that child; after all, aren’t we only turning them further from the faith by making them do something they clearly don’t have interest in? That not withstanding, I still think the better option is to kindly and gently (in so much as it’s possible) to still make them go to church. Why is that?
Well, one reason is because going to church can be like eating your vegetables – you do it when you’re young because it’s healthy and then find you have developed a taste for it over time. Another reason is out of faith – you believe that the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, can melt the heart of even the child who has no desire for spiritual things. But you also do it to communicate something about your own commitment to God as a Christian and as a parent. Your first allegiance is to Him, even more than the child. And in light of that, you and your family will continue to actively engage in church membership.
2. Limit their activities.
As our children get older, it seems their opportunity for activities also increases. Exponentially. Everywhere you turn there is another permission slip, another club, another team, another something. And as parents, we want our children to have opportunities. Good opportunities. Varied opportunities. But we should also, I think, actively exercise a good degree of limitation over what those activities are.
If we are worshiping our children, even if we don’t mean to, then the answer will always be “yes” to any opportunity that is not harmful for a child. But if we do that, then inevitably we will find that our kids’ activities will be the primary driver for our family schedule and culture. We will always be on the run, constantly on the go, and our relationships will begin to be little more than a shuttle service from here to there.
So how many activities should we let our kids be involved in? I don’t know. But I know that we should pay attention before we say “yes” to another one to what effect doing so will have on the rest of the family.
3. Don’t show up at everything.
One final suggestion for the parents who love their kids but don’t want to worship their kids is to feel the freedom to not show up at everything. Here me say that this is a thin line, because there is no substitute for our presence. Time is the greatest gift we can give to our children. But our kids also need to understand that there are other things going on in our lives.
You may have to miss the occasional ballgame because of a work trip. You might not be at the third performance of the musical because of serving on a ministry team at church. That’s okay. And maybe even a good thing. Because this shows our children that though they are important, they are not the center of the universe.
Again, readers, we like you are still figuring this parenting thing out. We are stumbling our way through. But as we stumble through, let’s know ourselves well enough to know that we have the tendency to take God’s good gifts and worship them instead of the God who gave them to us. Let’s be aware of our own hearts even as we seek to shepherd the hearts of those in our homes.