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When Idolatry Intersects with Parenting

Posted by Stuart McCray on

Parenting During a Nuclear Meltdown

Parents: can you relate to this experience? Your child spontaneously goes into nuclear meltdown, in the back of Target, with a shopping cart full of items that really need to be purchased? On top of that there are, of course, plenty of spectators around to view this stunning moment in parenting history. Obviously these onlookers seem to be watching intently, analyzing and scrutinizing your parenting skills, as you address this "code red" situation, with the pure intention of wanting to learn from you how to handle this type of situation.

Well, if you're like me, you can tend to immediately succumb to the temptation of fear of man and desiring the approval of others, and become completely embarrassed. It's at this point when your desires can quickly change from rightly wanting to parent your child with grace that points them to Jesus, to simply a desire to elude the title of "that parent". Sadly the resulting parenting techniques that often come with that are usually laced with harshness and graceless discipline.

If you can relate with me, we're not alone. Christina Fox wrote an excellent article awhile back sharing her same temptations to give into the fear of man and how she, by God's grace, sees these as opportunities for her to "recognize, acknowledge, and remove the idols" of her heart. Here is how she explains it: 

In Need of a Heart Check

When my children do something childish, without thinking, and even out of ignorance, I am often embarrassed. Even when they are flat-out disobedient in public, doing something they know they shouldn't do, I am embarrassed. I've come to realize that too often I respond to them out of that embarrassment. In those situations, I care more about what other people think of me than about responding to my children's heart. While their behavior often requires correction and even consequences, I also need to pay attention to what is going on in my own heart. When their behavior becomes about me and how it makes me look to others, I need to do a heart check.

In reality, my responses can often reflect the idols lurking in my heart. The ones I've established on a throne to worship, crafted out of my own wishes and desires. These idols are not made of metal or stone, but they are idols just the same. Because when I care more about the thoughts and affirmations of other people than about what God thinks, I've created an idol. When I measure my value and success by the verbal accolades from others about my boy's good behavior, I've created an idol. And when I react out of embarrassment to my children's behavior, it just might be because I've put my idol in first place before God.

Opportunities to Remove Idols

Before I had children, I didn't realize how much I desired and yearned for affirmation from others. God has used my boys as mirrors, reflecting back to me the pride and selfishness I didn't know were hiding in the deepest crevices of my heart. Situations like the "catapult incident" provide the opportunity for me to recognize, acknowledge, and remove the idols.

Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods that once we remove an idol, we have to replace it with love for Christ. When I saturate my mind and heart with the truth that God loves me more than I could ever understand, I cannot help but respond to him with love and gratitude. When I realize the great lengths he went to so that I could be his child, my heart is overwhelmed. The more I remind myself of who I am because of Christ, the affirmations from others pale in comparison. Because the truth is, being his child is all I've ever wanted. It's what I was made for and what my heart desires most. Everything else is just a false substitute.

I'm sure my children will continue to do the unexpected, have poor manners, and even act out in public. When I realize that I am angry and embarrassed because desire for affirmation is trying to reign in my heart, I must run straight to Christ. Only in his presence and in the shadow of his grace do the idols in my heart begin to crumble. And when I dwell on Christ's great love for me, my idols fall from their throne, freeing me to love him as the first thing in my heart.

Tags: idols, parenting, the heart, tim keller, christina fox