When my first daughter, Sarah, was born, my love for her was so unexpectedly fierce that I felt like a tsunami of love had rushed my soul. I had loved deeply before – my husband, parents, siblings, friends, students. But I had never had this rushing headlong feeling that seemed to overtake all sense – this “I will do anything to keep you safe” “your wish is my command” thought pattern. This love would not think before it threw oneself into a fire or headlong before a Mac truck if it would keep my daughter safe.
When my second daughter, Chelsey, was born, I feared I would not be able to love her as much as I did Sarah. How could I? Surely this overwhelming emotion that I had for my first daughter could not be replicated. But miracles abound. When my second daughter arrived all pink and thumb sucking -with eyes the color of the autumn sky, a full bottom lip that stuck out for a full five seconds before a cry, and a tousled head of auburn hair – it happened again. My soul pondered how I could love so deeply.
When I was pregnant with my third daughter, Taylor, this maternal love gave me the stamina, by God’s grace, to go through surgery without general anesthesia. This love gave me endurance to be bed bound for four months, and after Taylor’s birth it gave me strength to visit her daily in the hospital for four more months while taking care of two other children at home.
But this ferocious love for my daughters created a dark, secret fear. Was a love this intense idolatry? Could I love my daughters too much?
After a long time of soul searching and Bible scouring, I felt peace. This love was from God. I did not need to fear it. The greatest commandment in the world is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as yourself. Perhaps this love for my daughters was the closest I would ever come to loving the way God loved us – fiercely, protectively – enough to die for us – to die for us.
So then what is idolatry?
Idolatry is not really about love – not God’s definition of love, anyway. Idolatry is about putting something before God. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Idolatry is about worship. What do we worship more than God? What is more important to us than God?
So is it possible to make our children an idol? Oh yes.
When we do what our children want more than what God wants – we have made them into idols. God tells us to discipline our children. In fact, he tells us that if we love our children we WILL discipline them. If we give our children whatever they want, not only are we making them idols – we are not truly loving them. We may be worshiping them, but that deep love of God is not part of the formula.
Idolatry is sneaky, though. It is really about what WE want instead of what God wants.
Last year in March, my youngest daughter, Taylor, told me she wanted to go on an eleven month mission trip to eleven (scary) countries around the world.
“No,” I told her. “I have no peace about that. You have to finish college first.”
“No way!” was really my soul’s response. “She has two years of college left. By that time, she will have forgotten about this crazy plan,” I thought.
Even as I pondered my plan, the Holy Spirit tugged at my heart. Fear was driving me. Fear for Taylor’s life – maternal instinct in full gear.
But had that maternal instinct gone bad? Was it overreacting and attempting to control the uncontrollable? It was searching for safe places – safe places do not exist.
Taylor asked her friends, “If it is God’s will for me to go on this trip, please pray for my mom to have peace about this.”
The hardness of my heart developed a fissure. Was I standing in the way of God’s plan for her? If I stopped her from something God was calling her to, what would be the consequences? I had been praying for her and her sisters for years - “Lord, let them be all in for you. Let them be all about your glory. Give them a love for you and others that is more important than anything else in their life. Keep them from complacency! Keep then from mediocrity! Help their faith to be radical – a change the world kind of faith!”
But did I add an addendum without realizing it? Lord – could they have a “change the world kind of faith” from my backyard please? Where they are safe and I can be with them every day – or at least every week – well – maybe I could stand being away for a couple of months. Was I bargaining with God?
Bargaining is a stage of grief, but God doesn’t bargain. He is compassionate and tender and calls our heart to truth. “Julie, do you love and trust me?”
“I do Lord.”
“Julie do you love and trust me – more than these – your daughters?”
Hesitation. “I thought I did, Lord.”
“Julie do you love and trust me?”
“I do Lord.”
“Let Taylor feed my sheep.”
“Lord, I am afraid.”
“Julie, I love Taylor more than you do. And I love you. Do you love me enough? Perfect love casts out fear.”
There it was – that Peter moment. How much did I really love God?
It was not overnight, not in a week, not in a month. But it came. Perfect love does indeed cast out fear.
When it was time to send Taylor off, my soul rejoiced! In the name of Jesus, she was reaching the world. Miracles still happen. Sometimes those miracles are miracles of the soul.
I had laid my daughter on the altar, like Abraham had laid Isaac, so many years ago. God could choose to call Taylor home to heaven. He could. She could contract a deadly illness, be gored by a rhino, be bitten by a poisonous snake, be attacked with a machete . . . and here in Illinois she could slip in the shower and hit her head, be in a car accident, contract cancer . . .
“Perfect love casts out fear.” I choose to put my trust in a sovereign God – a God who knows how many hairs are on my head – who knows my thoughts before I speak them - and knows the same about Taylor. He is a God who will never forsake Taylor. He will be her ever present help. He will be with her wherever she goes. He will make her brave and courageous.
I choose to worship God, and God alone. He alone is my rock and my salvation. I will trust in Him.