I’ve been keeping my eye on a cultural trend: love of family is fastly becoming idolatry. My observation is based more on a hunch than on scientific research, but nevertheless there are signs that devotion to family is in some quarters a religion in its own right, with family the object of ultimate allegiance.
The self-enclosed or ingrown nature of many families—where all dreams and expectations are wrapped up in family togetherness—means that one’s absence from a family activity is perceived as serious insult. Miss the nephew’s soccer game, skip a cousin’s birthday party, pass on watching Sunday Night Football together with the extended family, and you’ve essentially broken ranks. You’ve disrespected the tightness of the family bond.
Family affection and togetherness is lovely. A healthy family system is where we learn unconditional love. It’s an ideal laboratory for navigating relationships and learning where we fit and how we express ourselves. But the object of parenting should be to raise kids who don’t just serve the family but who move beyond it.
The scriptures give us no sense that the family is an end in itself. Isn’t one of the chief purposes of family to teach us to turn outward toward others? If you love only those who love you, Jesus said one time, what credit is that to you? In other words, so what! There’s nothing noble about spending all your energies of love on those closest to you or on those easiest and coziest to love.
A recent survey confirms my hunch. The number one source to which Americans look for meaning and fulfillment in their lives is the family. In fact, when it comes to those activities that provide a great deal of meaning and fulfillment, religious faith falls far behind spending time with family, being outdoors, caring for pets, and listening to music. No wonder funeral eulogies often saturate listeners with the deceased person’s adoration of family.
In the Gospels, the family is always secondary to MASHIACH’s claim on his followers. YAHUSHA never asks us to choose him over the devil; he asks us to choose him over the family. This message is hard for many believers to swallow. What YAHUSHA implies is that fixating on love of family will not make one a disciple. It may even get perilously in the way.
YAHUSHA creates a new concept of family, one based not on blood but on love in action. “Woman, behold your son . . . [and] son behold your mother,” he said to his mother and beloved disciple at the cross. Elsewhere, he referred to those who do “the will of my Father in heaven” as those who are his “brother and sister and mother.”
What’s going on in these and other utterances? YAHUSHA is dethroning the biological family and asking us to transcend our genealogy and clan enough to become members of a larger family of faith.
Family can be a beautiful means to even greater affections. But when it becomes an end in itself, our availability to and for others shrinks dramatically. That makes for a very small religion.
Many families who claim to be believers today are in a situation like Jacob’s when he left Paddan Aram. YAHUAH told Jacob to leave the land of his father-in-law, Laban, and return to his ancestral home (Genesis 31:3). So Jacob made his escape. But his caravan included cargo Jacob didn’t know about: Laban’s household elohiym, secretly taken by Jacob’s wife Rachel (Genesis 31:19). YAHUAH had blessed Jacob, and YAHUAH was preparing him for yet greater things. But pagan idols had slipped into Jacob’s household.
So it is in many of our homes today. We haven’t turned our backs on YAHUAH; we haven’t stopped worshiping Him or enjoying His favor. Nonetheless, idols have been brought into our households. Sometimes we have lugged them in ourselves, adopting — or adapting — some of the pagan idols that surround us.
The idols in our homes aren’t like the little clay statues Rachel hid in her saddlebags. We don’t bow to golden calves in our living rooms or chant prayers to an image, but that doesn’t mean we are free of idols. It may just mean our idols are more subtle or we worship in ignorance, like the ancient Athenians (Acts 17:23).
The pace of modern life makes it more challenging to raise a family without giving in to culture’s pet idolatries.
Here are a few common household idols:
As Christians, we are commanded to do far more than care for our children; we are called to train them, carefully and strategically (Proverbs 22:6). But it’s just so easy to stick our kids in front of the TV for hours while we “get things done.” It’s so easy to use video games as baby sitters instead of engaging children in constructive activities. It’s so easy to keep them occupied in the minivan by playing a DVD instead of playing road games together. It’s so easy to grab dinner at the drive-through instead of eating together at home. Sure, being a parent is time-consuming and exhausting, but we can get so busy that we don’t realize our use of modern conveniences is resulting in neglect and poor modeling.
Our submission to the idol of convenience often fuels the idol of consumerism. Before entering first grade, most children will have absorbed 30,000 advertisements, primarily from TV. Little wonder, then, that parents face a challenge in countering that influence. Our kids crave the coolest toys, the trendiest clothes, the hippest music and the latest technology. But parents can make matters worse by trying to keep up with playmates’ or classmates’ families. Rather than teaching our children to budget, spend wisely and be content with what they’ve been given, we bow at the altar of consumerism, which breeds greed and gluttony.
Our homes (and our children’s bedroom walls) reveal that BELIEVERS are just as prone to celebrity worship as everyone else. We idolize famous authors, famous preachers, famous singers . . . and not always because of how YAHUAH is using them, but often just because they’re famous. And worse, we impart such celebrity worship to our children, encouraging their worship of the latest stars or singing group. Marva Dawn, in her book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, writes:
Several years ago a teenager heard me speak at a youth convention, saw me in a store and begged for my autograph. I asked her why my signature was more valuable than hers. We are all equally significant members of the Body of MASHIACH , are we not? We all have crucial parts to play in the church’s ministry to the world. The church should be the last place where anyone is more important than anyone else.
My husband and I are the parents to 3 now adult daughters. When they were children and because we loved the world, ultimately each of our children had the same inability to postpone gratification. Given the choice between obtaining or enjoying something now or later, they were virtually untrained and unable to choose later.
So it is in many homes of claimed believers today. Our children have become so accustomed to getting what they want when they want it that they find it nearly impossible to postpone gratification. Too often, they become like us. We buy things on credit simply because we want them now. We give up if we don’t see quick results in dieting, studying or saving. And we are prone to take shortcuts, make decisions too quickly and value instantaneous satisfaction more than quality.
Toss false elohiym
These are just some of the idols we worship. They may be harder to recognize than a golden calf or a stone idol. They may also be harder to correct. But our modern American idols are as abhorrent to YAHUAH as the idols that tempted and afflicted ancient Israel. If we don’t do something about them, they will corrupt us just as they did the Israelites.
So how do we cast down our idols? The first step is acknowledgment. We must let YAHUAH show us those idols we have adopted — or adapted. And when we recognize an idol, we must choose humility and repentance (instead of defensiveness), call our pet idolatries by their proper name, sin, and confess each one to YAHUAH.
Once we are aware of an idol, we must not only refuse to bow to it any longer, but also avoid reinforcing it. We must clearly and consciously “set apart MASHIACH as ADONAI” (1 Peter 3:15) in our lives and our parenting decisions.
Finally, casting down our idols will mean giving ourselves anew to prayer and devoting ourselves to the cultivation of new behaviors. We must beg YAHUAH to replace our false elohiym with His sufficiency. We must yield to YAHUAH our allegiance to convenience. We must ask Him to cleanse us of consumerism and celebrity worship, so we might be better examples to our children. We must seek YAHUAH’s help in countering our children’s attachment to instant gratification.
Such steps may not be easy. But they will bear fruit in children who “shine like stars” in the midst of an otherwise “crooked and depraved generation” (Philippians 2:15).