by Dani Maddox
I’m a mom of three. If you’re a parent or have ever taken care of kids, you know it’s a pretty demanding responsibility. My kids are always asking for something. They are always in need of attention, entertainment, or food. My days usually consist of me running around like a crazy person trying to meet the demands.
My 5-year-old is bored. “You can have computer time,” I respond.
My 6-year-old is mad. “Go play with your Legos,” I tell him.
My toddler is cranky and whiny. “Here are some snacks.”
The cycle continues again and again and again. They have a boo-boo, I fix it. They are bored, we go do something fun. They are upset, I give them food or a toy or whatever.
As God has been drawing me to a closer relationship with him, he’s been revealing a lot of sin in my heart. The way I parented was in response to how I generally cope with life. Instead of going to God for connection, I automatically turned to things that would make me feel better temporarily. Psychology calls these coping mechanisms. The Bible calls these idols.
Anything we turn to for comfort, connection, happiness, or fulfillment is an idol. God alone is the only one capable of filling these needs. Jesus says in John 4:14 that, “’whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” Jesus Christ is that living water.
Idols always leave us wanting more and more. They never satisfy, so we will spend our entire lives chasing after these things to find fulfillment. If our idol is food, we are left continually hungry. If our idol is money, it’s never enough. If it’s a spouse, we will constantly be sucking them dry and blaming them for not making us happy.
When it comes to parenting, we usually pass down our idols to our children. My idols of choice are usually food and busyness, so when my children would cry out for attention, I would give them food or something to keep them busy.
As God continued to reveal the ugliness of my heart, I began to see the ways I was teaching my kids to turn to idols. Like me, my kids truly just needed love, acceptance, and connection. Instead, I was giving them a shallow substitute, which left them feeling disconnected from me and always wanting more.
God has slowly been peeling away the layers of sin in my heart, revealing a heart that is so desperate for true connection. As I realize my need for Him, He continues to pour out His love on me and show Himself faithful time and time again. God’s love for me has translated into a deeper love for the people around me, especially my kids.
For the first time, I feel as though I truly know my children. As I seek to understand them more and empathize with their emotions, God reveals their little hearts. Instead of merely judging their actions and offering them a cheap substitute for my love, I offer them myself—my love, my empathy, my acceptance.
It’s no wonder parents feel the pressure to give so much to our children—expensive trips, nice gifts, fun outings, the newest gadgets, delicious food, etc. We feel as though these things are necessary because they have replaced actual heart-to-heart connection. We have this attitude like, “I do so much for you! You should know I love you!” When, in actuality, the gifts we give and the fun time we spend together should be our secondary displays of love, a lesser manifestation of the affection in our hearts.
This really ought to be a relief for us as parents because that means it doesn’t matter how much money and resources we have. We have the ability to express love no matter what our financial situation looks like.
The amazing thing is that when we begin to spend the time connecting with our children, accepting them exactly where they are, and getting to know their hearts, their neediness begins to subside as they are now filled up with genuine love. Which was all they wanted in the first place!
I’m also reminded of how the crowds responded differently to Jesus’ miracles. Miracles are a sign from God that point us to him, just as an outward expressions of love is a sign of our love for others. Jesus performed miracles for the purpose of drawing people to Himself, not just to give people health and sustenance. For some, miracles caused them to put their faith in Jesus. For others, Jesus become merely the source of what they wanted (the outcome of his miracles).
In John 6:26-27 Jesus responds to the latter: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Jesus didn’t continue to miraculously produce bread for these people. He had already performed miracles so that people could see that he was sent by the Father. When the people insisted that he prove himself once again, Jesus declared in John 6:35-40:
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
As in all things in life, I’m realizing that the answer is always to seek God with all your heart. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Before anything, pursue God.
I can only do so much in my own strength, but God gives me the wisdom (John 6:45), the ability (Philippians 4:13), and the resources (Romans 8:32) to accomplish his will.