Augustine would have made a great mother. Though he was a man (and therefore disqualified), and though he lived more than fifteen centuries ago, he learned how to conquer the kinds of idols that still creep into motherhood today. His Confessions shows him to be a good counselor for restless and tempted moms.
Before coming to faith in Christ, he was something of a playboy. He lived a wild youth, feasting on the idols of life: sex, alcohol, knowledge, laziness, and even thievery. But God rescued him, first through a conversation with the famous bishop Ambrose, and then more dramatically through the living and breathing word. Knowing the temptation of idolatry, having searched relentlessly, even recklessly, for life and pleasure, Augustine encourages mothers (and everyone else) in our battle against temptation:
What tortuous paths! How fearful a fate “the rash soul” (Isaiah 3:9) which nursed the hope that after it had departed from you, it would find something better! Turned this way and that, on its back, on its side, on its stomach, all positions are uncomfortable. You alone are repose. You are present, liberating us from miserable errors, and you put us on your way, bringing comfort and saying: “Run, I will carry you, and I will see you through to the end, and there I will carry you.” (Isaiah 46:4).
As Augustine says, God delivers us from ourselves — from our own miserable errors. Though our sin nature draws us to worship other things, God made a way to redeem our hearts back to him, our first love, through the death of his Son.
Five Common Idols
Motherhood brings unique temptations to idolatry — to put our hope and heart in someone or something other than God. Early in motherhood I often muttered, “If only my child would sleep at night, I’d be a better mom.” Eventually he did sleep through the night. Then my if only became, “If only I could get time to myself during the day, I’d be a happier mom.”
While we may not bow down to idols made of wood, stone, or metal, as many have, we bow in our own ways — to children, to success, to comfort, to control, to approval. To be honest, I’ve had many if only’s in my life as a mom — circumstances, dreams, and pleasures I thought would solve my problems and make life better. But if we put our hope in these longings, our if only’s can subtly become idolatry. The Lord declares,
“My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror. . . . My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:11–13 NIV)
Weary mom, where are you looking for water? Have you found the fountain, or are you desperately digging somewhere else?
Children are a good gift from the Lord. But like all good gifts, we can turn children into idols that we worship.
We might look to having a child of our own as the thing that will make our life whole and complete. We may find our meaning and purpose in our mothering, so much so that, when our children leave the nest, we are left unanchored, without a purpose. We may even seek to live through our children, trying to make up for failings from our own childhood.
In all these ways and more, our very own children become idols we worship. In worshiping our children, we forget that our identity and purpose is found in who we are as image-bearers of God. He formed and made us for his name’s sake (Isaiah 43:7), and he calls us to do all that we do, down to the smallest, most mundane details of mothering, to glorify him (1 Corinthians 10:31).
As moms, we often look to our success as a mother to give our lives meaning. We put our hope in how our children behave, how well they play or perform, what they achieve in school, or how they look. We seek to get parenting right and look to parenting methods to help us succeed. When we worship parenting success, our children become medals. We put them on display for all to see. Our children’s success in life points to our success as moms, and ultimately promises to give our life worth.
Scripture teaches us, however, that our worth is not found in what we do, but in who Christ is for us, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
The stresses and challenges of motherhood often make us look for relief. We may look forward to our child’s nap time, or to their bedtime at the end of the day, where we can find time to ourselves. We may seek comfort in food, binge-watching our favorite drama, or scrolling through social media. We look to the comforts and pleasures of life as something we deserve after a long and crazy day of toddler tantrums, sibling squabbles, and cleaning up the constant mess.
Those comforts become things we need. They numb and distract us from the harsh realities of our days. They become our object of happiness. In pursuing the idol of comfort, we miss out on the sweetest comfort and relief, which is found in the Lord’s presence alone. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” King David writes, “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Moms, as much as anyone, can cultivate an intense desire for things to go according to our will and plan, only to be plagued by the thousands of ways our plans fall apart. If we idolize control, we will do whatever it takes to manage and rule over our life. We dislike chaos and disorder. Not knowing what will happen next puts us on edge. When we worship the idol of control, we often find ourselves filled with worry. We lie awake at night trying to anticipate what will happen next and develop strategies for how to handle it. We live by our to-do lists, personal rules, routines, plans, and strategies.
In worshiping control, we seek our hope and security in controlling our life and the lives of our children. We forget that God rules and reigns over all things, including our schedules, lists, and plans: “The heart of [a mother] plans [her] way, but the Lord establishes [her] steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
The idol of approval involves a longing to be accepted by others. It comes from the belief that we must be loved or accepted in order for our life to matter. When people affirm us, we feel good. We feel right. We belong and are important. But when people do not show their approval, we are devastated. We feel empty and meaningless.
As moms, we seek approval from our children in their gratitude and affection. We also seek approval from others — in their compliments of our parenting or in their admiration of our children. Because our meaning and worth is wrapped up in what others think, it’s a wild roller-coaster of identity. Our value as a person rises and plummets based on the thoughts of others. The Bible calls this the fear of man and warns, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
In Christ Alone
Moms, those things you turn to for life and hope will only provide you temporary satisfaction. They cannot fill you. They cannot complete you. They cannot give you the meaning, purpose, and significance you seek. You’ll only find it in Christ.
We don’t have to worship false gods and created things. We have been set free from slavery to sin and are now free to worship our Creator. Through Christ, we are enabled more and more to love and treasure him above all things — to mother in his strength, and by his grace, and for his glory. We will spend eternity enjoying him for who he is and what he has done, including what he has done in and through us as moms.