Are We Worshipping Our Families?
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
Parents are exhausted. You don't have to ask us how we're doing. I can tell you how we are doing - yes, all of us. We are tired.
Now, if you want to know precisely what is sapping up all of our energy, it varies based on the ages of our children. I have been exhausted from actual lack of sleep while taking care of babies. I have been exhausted from never-ending messes and unpredictable tantrums while taking care of toddlers. I have been exhausted from managing homework and elaborate projects while taking care of school-aged children. Right now, I am exhausted from driving. If I only cross my town 3 or 4 times a day, it has been an easy, low-key kind of day, between school, practices and rehearsals, activities with their friends, and the occasional sick kid coming home in the middle of the day or forgetful kid needing me to bring them the items that they've left behind, I basically live in my minivan.
And I know, I should remember how much worse it was when my kids couldn't climb into the vehicle and buckle themselves in. I should weep in delight that I do not have to haul around a giant diaper bag or lug strollers in and out of the trunk. I should wake up every day and thank my children that they have learned how to vomit into a toilet and not all over me and the furniture.* We have all come such a long way.
Still, we are exhausted. We parents can't fit one more thing into our jam-packed schedules, and yet, when our kid declares that they want to to learn to be a world-class archer like Katniss Everdeen, we figure out a way to make it work. We shift the schedule, call in favors, and move heaven and earth to help our kids because we love them, and we are willing to sacrifice for the people we love.
Only sometimes I question if we have our priorities straight.
The bible says that God commanded us to have no other gods before Him. At first glance, it's the easiest commandment to keep. There is zero chance I will make sacrifices to an idol today. The odds that I commit murder, though incredibly low, depend a great deal on the actions of other parents in the school pick up line, so it can never be entirely ruled out as a temptation.
The temptation to worship an idol is low on my list of spiritual concerns. Unless of course, our families could be considered an idol we worship. True, I don't make sacrifices to them, but I sure make a lot of sacrifices for them. What if we don't only worship what we sacrifice to? What if we also worship what we sacrifice for?
I've seen a lot of families sacrifice the sabbath on the altar of sports competitions. Families sacrifice tithes and offering to God on the altar of participation fees, memory-making, family vacations, and Christmas gifts.
I'm afraid that I have taught my children that their needs and desires are our top priority. I want to teach them how to choose to go without, so that we can choose, as a family, to search for the deep need of our neighbors and find a way to meet it with joy and gladness, even if the sacrifice hurts a little.
I justify a lot of family worship by calling it "love." And it is love. I make sacrifices for my family because I love them. But really, I make sacrifices for my family because I love me. I love the feeling I get when they are happy. I love the pride I feel when they compete or perform or learn or grow or succeed. When is the last time I truly sacrificed to help someone outside of my circle? When did I last ask my kids to give up something that mattered to them in order to honor God or others?
We all proudly declare that we put family first and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. When actually, I think the most loving thing I could do for my family is to teach them to put themselves last. Family first usually means "me first." I can't serve at the church, or volunteer in the community, or give generously, or commit to showing up for you, because I've put my family first and their needs are all-consuming.
Family first is a hungry idol. It will never be satiated. I can feed it and feed it and feed it and feed it and never come any closer to quenching the demand that it produces. And I will tell you that I'm exhausted and that I hate driving everywhere, and I can convince you to feel sorry for me as I lament how hard I'm working and how much I'm sacrificing. I will focus so much on everything I've offered to my family that I'll stop asking where my offerings should be going. Who does God want me to serve today? What would He ask me to sacrifice in order to show His love to people who I could easily never even think about, because of the very immediate needs of the people who spend all day in the van with me?
Will you help me with the practical steps? In the comments below, share with us the little ways that you teach your children to sacrifice in order to help others and honor God.
*Correction. Within 12 hours of writing this, my 5-year-old daughter came down with a stomach bug out of nowhere and proceeded to vomit all over the living room floor as well as my bedroom floor. Clearly, I have spoken way too soon.
Amy Noel Green is a conference and keynote speaker. She is a writer and game designer who has received international press attention for her work on the video game about her son Joel, That Dragon, Cancer.