4 ways we unknowingly idolise our parents
Anyone who sets a benchmark for how we live our lives becomes our idol – and that includes our parents. Whether we accept or avoid their desires and patterns, our focus is invariably fixed on people, rather than on our Heavenly Father. Earthly fathers and mothers become our idols when they dominate our thoughts and influence the course of our lives, whether positively or negatively.
The very first people we develop relationships with are our parents. As toddlers, our parents were the heroes who met all our needs and desires – or the anti-heroes who did not.
Parents are the appointed guardians of God’s children
Because God is Spirit and invisible to our eyes, young children are unaware that our primary and eternal parent-child relationship is with our Everlasting Father, Wonderful Counselor, and Prince of Peace. It is an amazing fact that God calls Himself our Heavenly Father. He could command us to refer to Him as our Ruler, Judge, or King. Yet, He reminds us of His intimate and affectionate relationship with us. God is the only true Parent for every human being.
Isaiah 9:6 ESV … the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In God’s view, our earthly biological, foster or step-parents are merely guardians of His most treasured creations, His people, until we receive God’s Holy Spirit and are “born again” in His name. From then on, we are to call God “Papa!” or “Abba”, its Hebrew equivalent.
Galatians 4:4,6 ESV I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father… And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Problems arise when we mistake people for “Papa”
The term, Papa, is intimate, affectionate and childlike. It reflects the type of relationship that we all deeply long for, one that is based on being fully accepted, understood, valued, forgiven and loved. When we turn to our parents to meet such God-sized desires, a few problems will invariably arise.
When we idolise our parents, we find that we will:
- Seek to please them;
- Desire their attention and approval;
- Become deeply frustrated when they didn’t meet our childhood needs;
- Subconsciously pick up our parent’s sinful patterns;
- Be deeply hurt by episodes of rejection and abandonment;
- Judge them for not knowing or changing for the better;
- Give excuses for their sinful behaviour;
- Have difficulty empathising with their brokenness and forgiving them.
We must all recognise that our parents are no different from us – sinful and broken. At the end of the day, all of us are all simply brothers and sisters in Christ who are tasked to look after one another. There are no family relations in eternity.
Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
1. Our idols of comfort and wisdom
Compared to other people, our parents are likely to understand us the best because we spent lifetimes growing up with them. When we were children, their comfort and wisdom provided all our answers. Subconsciously, we can form such strong bonds with our parents that they become our idols without us even realising it. Our parents’ words and actions however, are not the bibles from which we are to live our lives.
We ought to remember that our biological fathers and mothers are imperfect products of their own imperfect upbringing. At the end of the day, they can only teach us as much as they know or have learned. Often, this is biased and limited. Even “helicopter” parents will not be able to anticipate or control all our futures, relationships and circumstances. Papa’s wisdom, on the other hand, is unimaginably infinite. As followers of Jesus, we are called to develop our own ability to discern, judge and make decisions based on the “mind of Christ”.
Romans 11:33 ESV Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Neither are our parents able to comfort us in the deepest corners of our souls. Only Papa can do that because He is the one who lovingly created us. The Bible describes how Papa personally knitted our DNA strands together to create who we are. Our parents had no control over that. Papa’s Holy Spirit is able to reach into the depths of how we think, feel and react like nobody can.
Psalm 139:13 ESV For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
When we turn to any human being for wisdom and comfort, we are in danger of setting severe limits on our lives. Papa invites us to go to Him first for all wisdom and all comfort.
Proverbs 2:6-8 ESV For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.
2 Corinthians 1:3 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
2. Our role models
We can celebrate our parents’ wisdom, prosperity or achievements, but need to remember that as disciples of Jesus, we are made in Papa’s image, not our parents’. We are called to follow Jesus Christ. He is our role model and we are His disciples.
Genesis 1:27 ESV So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Jesus made what sounds like a shocking statement. He tells us to follow Him and “hate” our parents. The root word for “hate” here refers to “do not choose”, “turn from” or “reject”. Papa knows that when we will not flourish to our fullest if we only choose to model ourselves on mere human beings. Only our Creator knows how to make the most of our lives. Papa has already designated a unique path for us and calls us to walk with Him along it, and “hate” any other path that other people may try to influence us to take.
Luke 14:26 ESV “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
John 10:10 ESV I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
3. Our anti-role models
No one hates their own children or wishes to abuse or abandon them physically or emotionally. It is usually their past circumstances or pain that makes it difficult for them to love anyone well. Often, parents who turn into our anti-heroes haven’t received wholesome love in their own childhood in the first place.
People who do not know how to deal with their own toxic issues will, unfortunately, leak their pain to their own children. Anti-hero parents are usually emotionally “handicapped”, unable to take on full parenting responsibilities. This is how distorted parent roles unintentionally come about at home. Some examples include:
- Anxious parents
- Abusive parents
- Controlling, domineering parents
- Demanding parents
- Delinquent parents
- Distant, disengaged parents
- Exhausted stressed parents
- Unhappy, complaining parents
- Silent, passive parents
In some cases, children are forced to become caregivers, protectors, and love-substitutes for their parents. All these are perversions of God’s plan for the family. The lack of healthy role models at home drives people to feel hopelessly frustrated and yet also guilty about not accepting their parents fully. Such conflicted emotions are often the root cause of sexual intimacy and sexual identity issues later on in life.
Trying to distance ourselves from our broken homes is not the same as growing closer to Papa. Most times, it results in just the opposite because Papa chose our families for us in the first place. He may use our home environments to train us for the things He has planned for us in the future. Most times, He chooses us to be the ones who bring salvation to our households. This is why it is imperative we learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us with His love, power, and self-control.
1 John 5:3-4 ESV For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
4. Our anti-idols of comfort and wisdom
No one is ever completely prepared for parenthood. Most parents are able to fulfill their basic duties of feeding and sheltering us, but are poorly equipped to fulfill our emotional needs. How can they? They are just as complex and imperfect as we are. Sometimes, we only feel unloved simply because they expressed love differently from the way we do. Other times, we don’t feel like they care about us because they did not set any standards and boundaries for us growing up.
We can turn our parents into our anti-idols of comfort and wisdom where we reject them for their shortcomings and blame them for our problems in life. When we feel deprived of emotional and spiritual nourishment at home, many of us will resort to judging, cursing, and hating our parents or turning to unhealthy love-substitutes outside of home. Often, this is the root of all forms of addictions, from substance abuse, perfectionism, and materialism to addictions to love, human approval, sex or even self-harm. Instead of healing us, all these only bury our inner pains deeper and keep us in spiritual darkness – until we stop relying on our own ways and invite Papa to heal us.
Matthew 15:4 ESV For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
Jeremiah 17:5 Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
Renewing our relationships with our parents and Papa
Let us pause and consider all the ways our views of our parents blind us from seeing our Perfect Papa who has been patiently waiting for us to turn fully towards Him. Thank God that Papa waits for us to go to Him so He can hold us close to Him.
Psalm 27:10 Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.
1. Accept our parents for who they turned out to be
No matter what our parents have done, we need to accept that they did their best based on their circumstances.
If our parents were raised in households that loved and feared God, they would have been exceptional parents, but most weren’t. It would not be fair to expect good parenting from people who have been emotionally crippled by anger, fear, grief, and insecurity themselves. And even if our parents did a great job raising us, they will still have their own shortcomings and blind spots, compared to God’s 360-degree view of all things through all time.
2. Recognise ungodly expectations
We all set higher expectations for our family members than strangers. Beneath our expectations can lie certain ungodly ideas, such as:
- “How can I be like him/her?” / “Why can’t he/she be more like me?“
- “Why can’t he/she meet my needs away I want him/her to?“
- “Why can’t he/she do things like me?”
- “Why can’t he/she understand me and accept me fully?”
When our focus is on people, rather than God, we fail to see God’s plans for us.
Galatians 1:10 ESV For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Through unrealistic expectations, unhealed parent wounds or pure self-centredness, we can make ourselves the focus of our expectations, when instead we could focus on Papa:
- “How can I be more like Papa?“
- “How can I wait on Papa to fulfill my needs?“
- “How can I love him/her like Papa does, in spite of his/her shortcomings?”
- “How can I release my parents from any ungodly expectations I have developed?”
Ungodly expectations will manifest in blunt words, impatience and unkind attitudes towards the very people we desire to love and be loved by. Family conflict and misunderstandings arise when we try to model ourselves on worldly patterns, instead of simply following God’s commandments. The apostle Paul calls us to mature beyond our childhood expectations, idolatry and pains to give up our childish ways.
1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
To mature as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to recognise the important role we play in contributing to or resolving any conflict. Family fights, arguments, and grudges only last when both parties choose to react in ungodly ways. If one party chooses to behave as Jesus would, our conflicts will eventually dissipate. The Bible warns us against following worldly patterns in our expectations and the way we behave towards our parents and families, and make ourselves “enemies” of Papa.
James 4:1-4 ESV What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
3. Repent of parent idolatry, judgments, curses, and vows
Next, we ought to repent for allowing our relationships with our parents to set the course of our lives, whether positively or negatively. Our parents are our guardians, not our masters or our adversaries. Our true good and perfect master is Papa. Our true and most evil adversary is Satan.
If we have ever fallen into Satan’s trap and judged or cursed the guardians that Papa put into our lives, we also need to ask Papa for forgiveness. Let us align our hearts to focus on Him, not on our earthly guardians.
Micah 7:7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.
In the confusion of our childhood experiences, we may have sworn that we “will be just like” or “never be like our parents”. Choosing to be or not to be like someone doesn’t make us more like Jesus Christ. Often, it is quite the opposite because we follow our own idols instead of God. The only vow we are to make is to follow Papa for the rest of our lives.
Without godly guidance and counsel, we may even have ended up hating, cursing and holding a grudge against those who have caused us pain. This brings God’s judgment against us. If we have ever hated and cursed our parents, we must repent, revoke our words and forgive them. We may also need to forgive ourselves if we have been too harsh on ourselves for our shortcomings and mistakes. Also, see Cursing our parents and Confucianism.
Matthew 5:21-30 NLT “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
Leviticus 20:9 ESV For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.
We might also have made other vows to “avoid being hurt again”, “prove ourselves”, “have the perfect family” etc. All vows become strong barriers to following God’s will freely and ought to be broken in Jesus’ name.
Proverbs 20:25 NIV It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.
Let us pray and ask the Holy Spirit to convict us of all the obstructions in our hearts that arise from our families that block us from having a pure and pleasing relationship with Papa. As we pray and seek God through this process, we may be reminded of significant events in our lives that we need to deal with. Over time, as we choose to put down our past and obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings, Papa can use us to bring reconciliation and healing in our households. He is the One who chose our guardians for us and He has a good and blessed purpose to fulfill through our families.
Also, see Toxic parents who bring us pain.
4. Seek counseling for parent wounds
Most of us have observed and reacted to our family dynamics over many years, but not yet fully understood why people do the things they do and how they have affected us. Going through Bible-based counseling is a good way to unravel our subconscious drivers and discover the hidden motivations of our hearts. It helps to have a God-fearing brother or sister in Christ who is experienced in listening to Papa to guide and counsel us during this process. As we get to understand ourselves and other people, we will be better equipped to empathise, forgive and live with one another with greater grace. This forms a healthy foundation for us to heal from our parent wounds.
Also, see Parent wounds need to be healed.
5. Renew our identities on Papa
Last but most important of all is our submission to Papa so that He can transform us to be more like Him and serve Him only. We need the power of God’s Word to renew our thinking towards our families and to turn our eyes to the one True Parent who fulfills all our needs, God Himself.
Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
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