Each member of my family was ordered to put on jeans and a nice sweater. They were told what time to be ready. They knew what I wanted—a simple Christmas card picture.
And we got that picture. Five lovely-looking people with clean hair and white teeth, smiling for all of our friends and family, standing in front of a large evergreen tree. We looked like a happy family, and for the most part we were.
What nobody who received that card knew, however, was that just moments before our friend snapped that picture, we were all snapping at each other . . . in anger. It wasn’t a good day to take a Christmas card picture—everyone was in a bad mood, feeling hurried and rushed—but I forced us to stand in front of that tree and smile because I wanted a beautiful, smiling, happy image to send to everyone on our list.
What I wanted was for my family to match the ideal image I had of them in my head, so I could believe that I was a good mom, that I was doing a good job.
For many of us, the need for our families to look or act a certain way extends well beyond our Christmas card photos. Maybe you need your children to behave a certain way or participate in certain activities because you think of them as your report card. Maybe you need your husband to fulfill a certain role or respond to you in a certain way for you to feel like you’re “okay.” It may be easy to think of yourself as a sort of director making sure everyone plays the right part, but the reality is, when we need our families to make us “okay,” when we place our hope or our worth in them, that’s idolatry.
Throughout the Bible we see examples of the Israelites bowing down to false idols and forgetting God, who had delivered them over and over again from awful situations.
Yet God told the Israelites that He wouldn’t have it—He would not tolerate anything coming before Him. Not idols carved of wood or stone. Not false worship. God wants all of our hearts to worship Him only. Because He alone is worthy. He cannot tolerate our worship of other things because He loves us, and they yield no life.
But we are so like the Israelites, aren’t we? We look to so many other things to fulfill the role that only He can: our kids; our spouse; our perfect image in front of our neighbors, even our Christmas card pictures! But these things cannot save us or give us life.
The good news is that Jesus came to free us from our bondage to these idols. He came to rescue us from our self-imposed enslavement to the opinions of others or the delight of our loved ones. None of those affections can save us. Only Jesus can do that.
Here’s what the Bible says about our idols:
Our husbands and children are not fashioned from gold or wood or cast, they are made in the image of God, but they are not God. They do not have the power to save us or bring us worth. Placing our hope in anything other than Jesus will put us to shame. Christ came to rescue us from our idols. He alone can free us from our slavery to sin, and to redeem us to God.
As Isaiah 9:22 says, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
In the same chapter in which God clearly lays out the sins of His people for turning to idols, He shows such loving grace, begging His people to return to Him and telling them their sins are like mist.
And the promise that God made to the Israelites is still true for us today.
How has He redeemed us? He has sent His son, Jesus Christ, to make a way for us to be forgiven, even for the times when we put other things before Him. Jesus, our redeemer, has come to blot out our sins forever.
I’m so thankful that my family doesn’t redeem me, nor does my reputation. Those things are nothing in the end, as Scripture tells us. Only Jesus is our perfect redeemer. Our perfect sacrifice. Our perfect gift.
QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION/ REFLECTION:
- In what ways do you make idols of your children or your spouse? Do you ever find your sense of security attached to their performance or existence?
- How does the coming of Christ provide a better source of redemption, rescue, and security than your spouse or children can provide?
- How might the idolatry of your husband or children affect your relationship with them?
- Repenting of this idolatry and placing your full faith in Christ delivers your family from a burden they were never meant to carry. Spend some time doing just that and ask God to help you transfer your hope to the finished work of his son daily as temptation arises.
Shelly Wildman is a former college writing instructor, a speaker, and author of the forthcoming book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (available April 2018). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Follow Shelly on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.