No parent would ever admit to raising their children with the help of a little, carved wooden statuette. That is ridiculous. Yet, often, in times of need, parents are tempted to turn to their favorite idol for help, wisdom, and/or relief. Pressured parents (or anyone for that matter) turn to what they believe will deliver what they need, like direction, joy, hope, or encouragement.
Parenting is full of rough seas, from stress-filled dinners to the backlash from a teen to joylessness to a child’s habitual, embarrassing disobedience. Parents can feel overwhelmed by it all, as if they are trapped in an ever-shifting, unsolvable puzzle and the only other sentient beings alongside them are their rebellious children. It is in these difficult or perplexing times parents turn to what they truly believe will offer them help, thus these are the times that parents are tempted to turn to their idols for help in raising their kids.
The Bible makes clear that in times of pressure the human heart has a big decision to make: trust God for help or trust something else for help. Due to sin and pride, mankind often turns to the later, either by doubting God’s goodness or by overestimating the power of the “something else”. If parents do not turn to God for His help, wisdom, or relief, then they are substituting Him with an idol (false god) because they believe it to be more powerful, more wise, or more satisfying than God. This is to say, in the rough patches of family life parents are tempted to reach out for something other than God with their hope, trust, and reliance.
As God would have it, and as I have mentioned in a previous blog, parents pass their values, beliefs, and commitments down to their children by the way they parent their children. This means that what parents rely on for help, wisdom, or relief in raising their children is often what their children will end up relying on themselves! We see this in Israel’s lineage of kings, if the king was an idolater then most likely the prince would be idolatrous as well.
A contemporary example of this is the promises you, or someone you know, made to yourself that you’d never parent as your parents did to you, and then when push comes to shove you parent just like your mother or father. You think to yourself as a young man, I will never be as angry toward my children as my father was to me… until the day you lash out at your children for defying you. You think to yourself as a young woman, I will never turn to alcohol to get through the day, my family responsibilities, and my marriage… until the day you notice you are planning your day around your next glass of wine. Maybe this same exact thing has happened to you, maybe you realize that what your parents turned to for help, wisdom, and relief is now what you turn to in times of parenting panic. Our idols become our children’s idols. The more we trust anything other than God for help, wisdom, and relief in parenting, the more our children will find their help, wisdom, and relief in things other than God in life.
What do you turn to for help when parenting isn’t going as planned? (Maybe an equally challenging question worth investigating to the heart level is, What do you turn to when parenting is going as planned?) Do you rely on your anger to forcibly correct your children’s terrible behavior, believing that if you get angry enough one more time then they will finally snap into shape and behave the way you want them to. Or maybe you rely on food or drink to grant you the comfort or satisfaction you desire and believe you deserve. Or maybe you rely on distractions to push off the concerns, worries, and responsibilities of family life for one more hour, one more article, one more Instagram post. Or maybe you turn to the latest and greatest parenting book which offers the best flowchart of discipline for your child so they will grow up to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. In each of these instances parents are not relying on God’s wisdom, or hoping in his satisfaction, or trusting in who He says He is, instead they are turning to something else – the false god of anger, the false god of food or drink, the false god of leisure (my constant struggle), the false god of man’s wisdom, etc.
So how parents maintain trust, reliance, and hope in God instead of turning to our favorite idols and turning our children to our favorite idols too? By knowing and believing that God is who He says He is. If parents turn to something else other than God in times of boiling pressure it is because they truly believe this something else is better than or more effective than the God of the Bible. The only way to secure God in the top spot of your heart is to believe that He is the best helper, source of wisdom, and sustainer. You may know He is those things, but knowing isn’t relying. Yet, knowing cultivates relying. So reading the Bible and knowing more about God is the beginning of reliance on God. Another helpful tact is to study what you are relying on, study your anger, study your wine, study your phone and see what value it has in your life, your children’s lives, or in eternal life. In this parents start to believe that our idols really don’t (and ultimately can’t) help them in the way they need help. Finally, you must act on your belief in God. We must translate our belief to action, this is faithful action.
When the times get hard and your kid is writhing on the ground in the middle of Shoprite, screaming for a Spiderman toy that costs twice as much as the groceries you are trying to peacefully purchase, and you feel absolutely justified in lashing out at them and forcibly peeling them up from the floor by their armpit for their outlandish escapade… think about who God is and what His promises are, think about the actual value of your anger (or lack thereof), and then act in a way that trusts God and His Word.