Matthew 10:37 says, “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” One of the most common and most socially acceptable forms of idolatry in the church is idolatry of children. This is sometimes more of a struggle for women. Men make idols out of children too, but more frequently idolize pursuits outside the home, such as a career or hobby.


Parents can easily drift into getting their greatest sense of purpose, identity, and fulfillment from parenting rather than relating to God. This does children a serious disservice. It gradually results in parents loving their children more for their own sakes than for the child’s sake. It is no longer sacrificial. The parent unconsciously develops the expectation that their children owe them happiness. This leads to various unhealthy consequences such as enmeshment (the child not developing his/her own, separate identity) or resentment and rebellion. 


Unhealthy Attachments
I recently heard a message about parenthood by a well-known Christian leader and author. Trying to be delicate yet straightforward, he stated that the way many Christian mothers love their children is parasitic. It stems from the husband not meeting his wife’s need for emotional connection, so she turns to her children as her source of life. The man’s idolatry of a career induces the woman’s idolatry of her children. Neither of them finds his/her life in God.


He went on to say that this can contribute to why mothers-in-law sometimes treat their daughters-in-law abrasively. The mother feels almost as though her son is committing adultery with another woman because he was her primary source of male companionship. Jesus understood how common this family dynamic is. Perhaps this is why He specifically identified the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship as being likely to cause division both in Matthew 10:35 and Luke 12:53.


Putting Your Child on the Altar

In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to lay his son Isaac upon an altar and sacrifice him. Abraham immediately obeyed. Abraham’s obedience showed that he did not idolize his son. He loved Isaac, but he did not need him. This is a sign of a truly great parent.


God does not need us. He does not need us to feel joyful, fulfilled, or complete. Therefore, He is free to love us for our own sakes, not for His sake. There is nothing self-serving about how He deals with us. Every choice He makes is based on what is best for us, not what will make Him feel good. 


One reason it is easy to find our purpose in parenting is because someone we love needs us and it feels good to be needed. However, the ultimate goal of a parent, in a sense, is actually to make himself not needed. If a parent is successful, he will have passed on his love and wisdom to such an extent that his children have been fully formed by it and are ready to move out into the world without him. 


The way God parents often feels counterintuitive to human parents. For example, a mother (or father) who did not learn to put her son on the altar will never let him hit rock bottom if he chooses a foolish path. She will keep rescuing him and enabling him to continue in foolishness. She will never let him fully experience the consequences of his choices because it hurts her too much to watch him suffer. Her rescuing is really about her own discomfort rather than what is best for the son.


God does not try to control outcomes. He focuses on doing His part well as the parent, but knows He cannot control the ultimate results of His parenting. We have a free will. As He did in the Garden of Eden, God can do everything right and still get negative results that lead to pain and grief. No one has ever experienced this reality more deeply than God.


Idolatry and Image-Passing

God’s design is for parents to pass some of their image on to their children, while still giving them the freedom to discover their own unique identity, gifts, and calling. However, one way that idolatry of children manifests in some families is by parents trying to conform their children fully into their own image or into a mold they can live through vicariously. This has the potential to kill the destiny God created them for.


Successful parents help their children develop their own relationship with God so they gradually come to be fathered more by Him than by them. They also prepare themselves for the possibility that their children’s futures may look different than they thought. It could be something they never thought of. Or even be something they are initially uncomfortable with, which was true of many people God used in scripture.


Successful parents also seek out others who exemplify some aspects of Christ’s character better than they do and point their children toward them. They know that, while they may have some strengths their children can emulate, they also need to look to others to model areas they are weak in.


One pastor did the following. He anticipated that his son might become less receptive to his dad’s counsel when he became a teenager. So he carefully identified several godly men that he and his son both liked. Each man had a different character strength. For example, one man had courage and boldness. Another man was faithful and diligent whenever he was given a task to complete. Another man exuded unconditional love. With the group’s permission, the pastor explained to his son the different qualities that each man embodied, encouraged him to glean from them, and told him that if he ever needed godly, masculine counsel from someone other than dad, these men were more than willing.


What if more parents did this? What if more Christian leaders and pastors (spiritual parents) did this as well, pointing their people to other leaders and churches, who have strengths they don’t? How much better off would the body of Christ be?



When you think of the book of Exodus, is parenthood a topic that comes to mind? If not, you might be surprised at how much this topic is addressed. We’ll explore some passages in the next chapter.