Although the sun still beats down hot in many parts of the Western world, summer break is coming to a close. Families are returning to the rhythm of academic calendars, carpools, football season, band practice and the likes. As our kids go back to school and our schedules rapidly fill with their many activities, we would be wise to heed the sobering words of Jesus:
“The one who loves a son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).
Ouch. You might have just shifted uncomfortably in your seat and thought, ‘well that doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.’ He’s all about the love. Yet, His wise words - always spoken in divine truth and love - are inked right there in red, like flashing lights cautioning us to stop and evaluate just who or what it is we love and worship (Deuteronomy 11:13).
In this seemingly harsh statement, Jesus rightly reminds us that we are our children’s caregiver, not their Creator. He reminds us that our sons and daughters are made in His image, not in ours. He reminds us to love the Giver more than the gift and to steward the gift of child rearing rather than try to control it (Psalm 127:3).
Jesus reminds us to let Him parent, lead and shepherd us while we parent our children.
Our fierce desire to protect and care for our children is good and God given yet only a glimpse of God’s heart for us. We have to trust that God loves our children more wholly and deeply than we do, because He made them, knows them and has a sovereign plan for them.
Jesus isn’t asking us to love our children less. He’s asking us to love Him more.
Raising children can be consuming. It is easy to equate being a good parent with bending over backwards to orchestrate our every move around our children, to navigate their teachers and friends and activities all in the name of love. When we do this, we mistake being a parent for being a god and take on way more than our Father ever designed for us to do. When we parent this way, we will grow frustrated and fatigued and we will ultimately fail our God-given responsibility - to make disciples of Jesus not busy-body doers of every sports and social function under the sun.
We can become so preoccupied following our kids’ schedules that we forget to follow Jesus. We can become too tired to spend time with Him in the morning, because we’ve been up so late with the kids at night. We can rush from activity to activity, forgetting to do family devotionals. We can skip church for weeks or even months because the weekends are so busy with birthday parties, sports and homework.
Let's do it differently this school year.
When we parent with Jesus in the center of all our decisions, then our insecurities, our fear of our children missing out or fear of them getting behind will be replaced for a resolve to rush them to the presence of God through His Word and prayer.
The tyranny of the urgent will always knock at our door, so we must knock at the door of Jesus daily to keep Him first and let Him keep us.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).
This door is a Door of delight, deliverance, wise decision and discipline for the lasting things of life. It is a door to sustenance and abundant life for ourselves and our children.
When you follow Jesus, you will be able to bring Him into all of the places you go and all the things you do. You will be able to find safe and secure pastures for yourselves and your children that doesn't run your family ragged. Only you can decide the level of activity right for your family, but be honest about it and know that once it is precluding you from His presence, it is time to slow down or stop.
When you position Jesus as the center of your life, some areas may need to be demoted or removed all together. What we do and what we choose speaks volumes to what we value. We cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13).
What does your calendar and your credit card statement say about who or what you are following, and frankly, worshipping? What demands your time, attention, affection and resources more than any other thing? If it’s not Jesus, then it’s an idol, a false god that will never be able to meet all our needs or satisfy us completely.
Even our children can become idols, which is why Jesus calls us to love Him more. Jesus will not share first place in our life or have any other gods before Him, because nothing could possibly compare to Him or fill us in the way that only He can.
The good news is that Jesus isn’t asking you to love Him or love your children. He’s not asking you to serve Him or the PTA. He’s not giving us an ultimatum.
He’s rolling out the blueprint for how we can love our children and others better, with a divine love that comes from abiding in Jesus.
“Anyone who finds his life will lose it and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
We will actually love our children better, love our families better, love our coworkers and communities better when we love Jesus more. This requires us to put Him first every day. When Jesus becomes the sole recipient of our worship, we will be able to prioritize the other relationships and activities in our lives.
So as I’m making decisions about activities for my family this fall, I have to ask myself:
Am I more concerned about my child getting into Harvard than into heaven (Deuteronomy 11:19)?
Do I want to raise a child who glorifies herself or me or who glorifies God (John 8:54)?
Am I more worried about her being the star player than shining like a star for Jesus in a burned out generation (Zechariah 13:9)?
Do I want her to fit in more than to be fitted by the God who knit her together in my womb (Philippians 2:15, Psalm 139:13)?
Am I pouring more into her character or into her credentials (Galatians 5:22-23)?
Our answers reveal the motives of our hearts and the object of our worship, which is what affects our decision making in choosing or permitting activities for ourselves and our family.
Believe it or not, Jesus’s statement that you aren’t worthy of Him if you love anyone or anything more than Him is filled with a deep love and protection for your heart. A love even more fierce than you feel for your child. It is filled with freedom from guilt over not being the perfect mother or father. It is filled with grace that says you don’t have to be enough or do all the things that parenting today seems to require, because Jesus is enough and has already done the greatest thing when He died on the cross for our sins.
In the midst of our parenting limitations, we can point our children to Jesus. We best serve the next generation by showing them the Savior, not our own strength.
Jesus asking us to love Him more simplifies a busy and complicated world by giving us laser focus for what is truly important. The simple question – will this activity cause my child to love Jesus more – is a great test for whether or not it is worthy to be on your calendar.
Jesus is asking you to give Him, the Master of your soul, His rightful first place in your heart. He’s asking you, a bondservant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1), to take up your cross daily and follow Him (Matthew 10:38) as you lead your family.
He’s asking us to die to society’s standards of success and productivity and all the expectations of what “all the other kids and parents do.”
When you are following Jesus, your life will no longer be dictated by the school schedule or the dance competition or the soccer tournament or board meeting or anything that constantly takes you away from Him. Sure, those things will still be part of your life, but you won’t be consumed by them.
Your worth and identity - and your child’s - doesn’t hinge on your level of involvement or performance but from every word that flows from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
My daughters, the most precious people I know, are not my possessions and should actually not be my number one priority. I have to redefine what makes me a good mother by the standard of Scripture, not the world. My children are gifts from the Lord, to me but not exclusively for me. They are my first and primary audience with whom I am to follow Jesus’ commands to love my neighbor as myself and to make disciples as lights for a dark and discouraged world (Mark 12:31, Matthew 28:19).
But I can’t do that unless I am first abiding in Jesus, unless I am first loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).
Before an airplane takes off, the flight crew reviews the safety procedures. Part of those directions is for the passenger flying with a child to place the oxygen mask on himself or herself first before putting one on the child. As a caring parent, your instinct might be to place the mask on your child’s face first. That might seem like the best way to selflessly parent.
Yet, the airline experts know what God our Father knows: passing out from a lack of oxygen makes you completely useless to your child, so you put the mask on yourself first.
Likewise, when we abide in Jesus, we have the breath of life flowing through us that enables us to offer life giving care to others. This care looks like character building and, yes, sometimes carpool and coaching. But it’s intentional and strategic and eternally minded. It’s for God’s glory, not our own.
We can’t love our children (or family or co-workers) as we love ourselves and disciple them as Christ followers unless we are loving Jesus more.
This school year, place Jesus in the center of your schedule and protect your time with Him as you commit to activities for yourself and your children. Be vigilant about guarding what fills your calendar, so that you can keep Christ and His Church first. Knock daily at the Door to find rest for your tired and busy soul. Abide in Jesus and love Him more, so that you can love others better.