Parenthood and family idolatry

One of my favorite shows these days is Parenthood. I think its fairly popular in this area, largely due to the fact that the family unit is so popular in this area. And that’s a good thing. It’s just not the ultimate thing-which is Jesus. And as Tim Keller reminds us so well that when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing, that is an idol. It blocks the gaze of our Savior (not His gaze of us, but ours of His). And we all say yeah, yeah, I know Jesus is more important than our families-at least that’s what we’re supposed to say if we read and follow the bible (Luke 14:26). But we are all vulnerable to saying one thing, and living something else-which is consequently a more accurate depiction of how well we believe.

I’ve seen episodes that actually challenge the idol of the family and demonstrate some positive ways to lead a family. But last week’s episode-which was not without commendable material-ended up leaving me fairly saddened and frustrated.

Grandfather Craig T. Nelson tries to assemble ALL his family and ALL their children to go visit his mother for her birthday. Because his daughter-in-law is skipping out on the adventure, he goes nuts. After acting like a neurotic jerk who later tells his kids, “You all suck” he seems to come to the point where he is almost repentant. And then his true savior, who has let him down (as all min-saviors do) is expressed verbally: “All there is in life, when it all comes down to it, is family.”

Before his family arrives, the daughter-in-law praises the overbearing father-in-law for “creating” this family. Idol affirmed. Now this man is not without worthy qualities, though over all, he makes me thankful that my father and father-in-law are NOTHING like him.

Then his family shows up, and of course, they seem apologetic and everyone seems OK.

Here are a few thoughts.

1.) An idol will always let you down. And when your idol is being threatened, you will bite, claw, kick, and fight to preserve that idol. That’s what he did the whole show. We all do this. When you idol is removed, you feel there is nothing else to live for. All is lost. If you want to locate your idols, look at your attitudes and actions. Its foolish to think that our families don’t become our idols. When kids or parents don’t behave or fulfill us they way we demand of them, we get nasty. So we need to be careful that the idol of family is not just a non-Christian problem…Its ours as well.

2.) Is life only about family? What about those who have crappy families? Are they then doomed? At the end of the day it is not about how much money you make, how nice of a car or house you have. Most people can eventually get past those things when housing market crashes or when they have cancer. But most folks still miss Jesus because, in the end, its all about family. However, in the end, its all about being included in His family. I remember a lass in my college days telling me this when her father had been in a terrible accident. Such a blessing when you’re family lets you down and vice versa. Or when you move, or have to move, etc….

3) At the end of the show, Craig T Nelson finally got what he had so eagerly sought: his mother’s approval. His whole life, he had loved his kids and told them that he loved them. And though his character is overbearing, and clearly at times “needs” more than love his kids/grand-kids, he does care. And he expresses that care verbally with an “I love you.” But his whole life he worked for her approval and it didn’t come. Until this episode.

It shows the importance of expressing the words, “I love you” to our families. But some people will never hear that from their deadbeat fathers or mothers. They really won’t. While that verbal affirmation is important, it is not essential for the child to break free from the bondage of parental failure. I know folks who have. And its beautiful. It demonstrates that while they may not have heard it from a father or a mother, they face each day with the promise of “I love you and I love who you are becoming” from their Heavenly Father. That promise is something we inherit from our elder brother Jesus. The joy and delight God has over His son (Matt 3:17) is now shared with us as part of our inheritance. And the fact that he didn’t spare His son, but gave him up for us all (Rom 8:32), is not just a spoken “I love you,” but truly sacrificial “I love you” still evidenced by his scars (John 20:27).

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