Jesus unequivocally identified our top two priorities, in the book of Luke: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). Got it! But what about everything else, like caring for our spouse and children for example? Some of us are a little jealous that Jesus did not have to balance those two things along with ministry (loving God and loving others). The competition for time between those three things can leave us burn-out, isolated, and useless. To keep their priorities in order, Many Christians seek to live by this bit of brilliantly simple applied theology: “God, family, ministry.”
Staying connected with God and rooted in family holds the potential to create and preserve a healthy self with much to offer the community being served. That is fantastic. However, lumping spouse and children together as “family” erroneously devalues the difference between them.
Raising our kids is critical, noble, and never ending work. In many ways it is what we do with our lives. It also serves as one of the primary measuring sticks used to evaluate us as people. And, since we never feel truly adequate, what do we do? We marshal our intestinal fortitude, focus our eyes on the sustaining vision of successful children, and co-opt our spouse and God into the noble endeavor of serving our kids. That all seems well and good. Our church and partner are often happy to join in and do what seems best “for the family.” But, do you know what gets lost? Our connection with God and our connection with spouse. They become tools rather than cherished relationship partners, and that is the kiss of death for both. Although it seems right to put our children first, that just is not the case.
Giving our children top priority, believe it or not, is also terrible for them. Kids need to know that they are not the center of our universe. They do not deserve that sort of incredible pressure. They need to witness us drawing our peace and joy from relationship with Jesus rather than their grades, band performance, or selection of friends. When they instead see that our moods and actions are determined by what they do, they are forced into the role of family deity. No one, least of all our children, thrive under those conditions for long. So, what can we do?
Think of the need to, desire for, and reward of raising our children as a powerful river rushing us downstream through huge portions of our lives. It takes incredible wisdom, discipline, and the ability to relinquish control to resist that constant and furious force. Do what is best for your kids and everyone involved. Place two large and immovable rocks in the middle of that river – your god and your spouse. Watch the water flow around those anchor points and cling to the strength, balance, and purpose they provide. You must depend on them, love them, and devote time to them in order to be your best. Only when your relationships with God and spouse are healthy and life giving can you hope to parent in the way your children deserve.
Here is where it gets tough, because I am not suggesting you add something to your already overfull plate. Instead, neglect your kids a little bit. You may find that they think of it as freedom and take advantage of the opportunity to make mistakes they can learn from. This prepares them for living a healthy grown-up life. Use that extra time to pursue whatever spiritual pathway works for you. Use it to lavish time, attention, and resources on your deeply deserving spouse. Invest in the person you will live and interact with daily like they are your best and most treasure friend. You will not regret it. Neither will the person you are married to, your kids, or your grandkids.
Grace, peace, joy, love, faith, and hope,