The Idol of Success
I listened as the father said to me in the presence of his teenage son, “Do you know what it’s like to go to church and know that everyone there has been talking about and praying for your rebellious son? Do you know what it’s like to enter a service with all eyes on you, knowing that people are wondering how it’s going and how you and your wife are coping?”
He continued. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. We tried to faithfully do everything God called us to do as parents, and look what we ended up with! I ask myself, if I knew that this was the way it would all turn out, would we have ever chosen to have children? I can’t describe how disappointed and embarrassed I am.”
That afternoon, with his son listening, that father spoke what many parents have felt but never verbalized. You see, we tend to approach parenting with expectations as if we had hard-and-fast guarantees. We think that if we do our part, our children will become model citizens. We tend to approach parenting with a sense of ownership, that these are our children and their obedience is our right.
These assumptions pave the way for our identity to get wrapped up in our kids. We begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success. We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God’s creatures. We secretly want to display them on the mantels of our lives as visible testimonies to a job well done.
When they fail to live up to our expectations, we find ourselves not grieving for them and fighting for them, but angry at them, fighting against them, and, in fact, grieving for ourselves and our loss. We’re angry because they’ve taken something valuable away from us, something we’ve come to treasure, something that has come to rule our hearts: a reputation for success.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that these are God’s children. They don’t belong to us. They’re not given to bring us glory, but him. Our kids are from him, they exist through him, and the glory of their lives points to him. We’re only agents to accomplish his plans. We’re only instruments in his hands. Our identity is rooted in him and his call to us, not in our children and their performance.
As parents, we’re in trouble whenever we lose sight of these “vertical realities.” Whenever parenting is reduced to our hard work, the child’s performance, and the reputation of the family, it becomes very hard for us to respond with selfless faithfulness in the face of our child’s failure.
God-ordained moments of ministry will become moments of angry confrontation filled with words of judgment. Instead of leading our needy child to Christ once again, we’ll beat them with our words. Instead of loving, we’ll reject. Instead of speaking words of hope, we’ll condemn. Our feelings will be flooded much more with our own embarrassment, anger, and hurt than with grief over our wayward child’s standing with God.
I want to ask you today to be honest. Examine your own heart. Do you have an attitude of ownership and entitlement? Have you subtly become ruled by reputation? Are you oppressed by thoughts of what others think of you and your child? These questions – no, let me rephrase that – these idols need to be confronted if we’re ever going to be the parents that God has called us to be.
So be honest. Confess to areas of parental idolatry. But be filled with hope, because Christ died to break the back of our self-absorbed idolatry. God is intent on owning our hearts unchallenged. His goal is that our lives would be shaped by our worship of him and nothing else. And, hear this: while God is at work in your own heart, at the same time, he has sent you to be his ambassador in the heart of your child.
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