The Idolatry of the Nuclear Family

This has been on my mind now for a couple of weeks. I mentioned recently how I'd been feeling the Lord pressing on my heart thoughts on intentional community and when I went to hear author Steve Timmis speak, one of the things I asked during the Q & A session was about commitment.

As in, how does his church encourage a deeper level of committment to the community in their small groups?

In his answer, he mentioned something that struck me. He mentioned the need for people to make adjustments to their lives (in order to make community a priority on some level), and then he said,

"We call people away from careerism and away from the idolatry of the nuclear family."

He went on to mention that the notion of the nuclear family is a relatively "new" concept. By relatively new, I think he was speaking in terms of centuries, not years, or even generations.

In our own culture, the more I thought about this idea, the more I realized how right he was to mention the nuclear family as something that could become an idol for us.

My pastor has more than once quoted Tim Keller who said, "The human heart is an idol factory," and if we think about what we treasure in our hearts probably second only to God, it's our families.

And what I believe our hearts are really good at doing is taking good things, blessings that are meant to be treasured, and sneaking them above where they should be, to a place of idolatry.

I want to pause here, to point out out that as a wife and mother of two (almost 3!) my family is pretty much my main focus, besides myself, practically speaking. All day long I am taking care of the kids, managing the home and seeking and enjoying time with my husband.

I'm not saying that just living life as someone who's married with kids automatically makes an idol out of family life. It's all about my motivation. About my heart. About my thoughts. About where my family ranks in comparison to my heart attitude toward the Lord and the Gospel.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

How does this idol manifest itself then? I think we see it when we use our family as an excuse to avoid the community of believers, or even more, to reach out to the community. It's an idol when it prevents us from living out the Gospel with our brothers and sisters in Christ and from developing relationships with those who don't know the Lord.

Practically for me, this means I might have to forgo a nap here and there in order to meet for a playdate with a small group member who I haven't seen in a while or a new friend I want to eventually be able to invite to church. It means my kids might end up staying up past their bedtime one night a week to make our Community Group a priority.

There's balance though. I still know when to say no, when my kids have absolutely had too much "excitement" and Brody is melting down because it's an hour past his bedtime already. I still consider their physical and emotional needs. I have to; I'm their mother. God has given us each wisdom, intuition and common sense to be used.

But I don't let their needs determine every decision our family makes.

One of the most valuable lessons my husband and I wanted to implement when we were welcoming our first child to the family almost years ago, was the idea of the child joining the family, rather than becoming the center of the family.

We have always aimed to make that the way our family works, and I think that has helped us to, usually, not allow our nuclear family to become an idol. Each of our children joins an already-established family. Obviously, there is a time when that baby's needs will take precedence (when they are newborns, for example), but generally speaking, we make our family decisions based on what's best for our whole family

DSC_0131

And speaking of decisions, we also want our small group community to be a place where we bounce ideas off our brothers and sisters in Christ, before jumping into decisions as a family.

When we humbly make our decisions based on what's best for the community, and with the opinions of our trusted fellow community members in mind, we again remove our nuclear family from that potential place of idolatry, by not always basing our choices on what we feel would be the most ideal for our particular nuclear family at that particular time.

The Lord may choose to reveal some wisdom to another member of the community that we may miss out on if we make all our decisions all by ourselves. And we may miss out on some amazing opportunity to live out the gospel in the community, by focusing too much on the temporary needs of our nuclear family.

In summary, I'd say we just need to be in prayer a lot so we can truly be in tune to the Lord's spirit on when we need to sacrifice the schedule, convenience or desire of the nuclear family. I love my family and the time I get to spend with them. Just being mindful of these things and of the needs of the community though helps me keep things in perspective.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

In the classic American Dream, there's next to nothing that comes before the nuclear family, so I guess this is just another way we can "rebel" against the culture and make people wonder what it is about us that makes us different.

So what do you think about all this? Do you find it easy to make the nuclear family an idol? Or how do you fight against this cultural trend? Do you totally disagree with me (just do so in kindness, please, if you do)?