Are Your Idolizing Your Children?

You have set her up as an idol in my place. You make decisions based on what she wants; you seek to please her first and foremost. You need to restore Me to My rightful place in your life.

These ice-bucket-like, shock-to-the-psyche assertions were communicated to me in answer to a desperate prayer several years back. Those were the difficult years of parenting teenagers that so many parents experience. Trying times that mostly seemed to be comprised of stressful bouts of fretting over their well-being and wanting to emphasize love and patience to them, punctuated by tumultuous disagreements, tears, and interfamilial drama.

Neither of our girls were particularly rebellious, thankfully. They didn’t stay out past curfew, they didn’t curse at us (at least, not to our faces—I’m not going to assume what may or may not have happened behind our backs). There was no smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, or sexual promiscuity. In many, many ways we were blessed beyond measure; however, when something is happening to your kids personally, there is no sliding scale of devastation. It is a 10/10 because it is happening directly to your family.

The problems we dealt with as a family were devastating in their own right: mysterious medical conditions, multiple surgeries, constant doctor and therapy appointments and wondering ‘what is wrong with me?’. Add to that other issues and their outward manifestations: undiagnosed depression and anxiety, panic attacks, bullying, cutting, and recurring parental guilt. Oftentimes during this period, I felt like we were, as a family, looking over the side of some great precipice as a waterfall cascaded all around us, threatening to take us all down. Because when one member of your family suffers, you all suffer together.

To ease this suffering and to try, in a pitifully feeble attempt to mitigate its effects, I fell back into a former pattern of trying to control the situation through attempting to please everyone. Well, not so much everyone, exactly; mostly one person in particular. In my misunderstanding of my place vs God’s place, I mistakingly assumed that if I could indulge or accommodate the person who suffered most, her pain would be alleviated, and that, in turn, would make life better for all of us.

I was wrong not only in theory, but in practice. Not only had things not improved, they had gotten decidedly worse. It was this decline that drove me to my knees yet again. I don’t remember the exact words of my prayer, but the gist of it had to do with freedom from whatever was going on physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally in our family. As I begged God the Father to show me what to do, He made Himself very clear to me and set me straight with His piercing pronouncement:

You have set her up as an idol in my place. You make decisions based on what she wants; you seek to please her first and foremost. You need to restore Me to My rightful place in your life.

That succinct message shocked me back into proper perspective immediately. Right away, I acknowledged my sin in that regard and asked God to forgive my wrongdoing. I prayed that God would help me realign my attitude and actions with His perfect will for my family. I prayed for strength to follow through in practice what He revealed to me through prayer. It seemed to me that it would be very similar to trying to rein in a toddler who had been given in to habitually. I geared up emotionally for what I foresaw as a tough battle; after all, everyone had settled into their roles, no matter how dysfunctional they were. Would our teen tyrant abdicate her misplaced rule in our house?

Surprisingly, once we adjusted our actions and expectations and dealt with the natural, albeit brief unpleasantness caused by ‘moving the cheese’ back into its proper place, our home environment greatly improved. It was almost as if a collective “sigh” was released by everyone as the proper, godly order of things was restored in our home.

Proverbs 22:6 is a promise for our children, but requires something of us for it to be fulfilled: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Part of that training required from us includes establishing God’s proper priority in our homes. Additionally, while we want to give our children attention, love, and freedom, it must be appropriate, with boundaries, just as God gives us boundaries. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”.

The Bible is very clear that our adoration and worship, our first and highest priority, is to be towards Christ alone. We cannot prioritize comfort, ease, or convenience in our relationships with our children over our devotion to God. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs us, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”. This includes doing so in our actions and attitudes as parents (or even grandparents).