My two boys live life at full speed, full volume, and with their full bodies. Sometimes when we are out in public, I worry about what they might do. When my oldest was 2, I took him to story time at the library. All the little girls sat nicely on their mommy’s laps listening to the librarian read. Then there was my son. He ran circles around the group. When he finished making everyone dizzy, he tried to figure out how the blinds worked on the windows. From then on, we did story time at home.

Another time, I let my youngest push the grocery cart at the store. While I searched the seemingly endless rows of cereal boxes for the one I needed, he took off running down the aisle-with the cart. And yes, he ran into someone else.

The Catapult Incident

Some incidents with my children stand out in my mind so much that I give them a name. Last year, the four of us attended a banquet at a country club. Crisp white table linens covered the round tables. There were multiple forks and spoons at each seat and glass goblets from which to drink. For my kids, it was different territory from the usual fast food establishments with the indoor playground, chicken nuggets, and free toy.

It was at this meal where the “catapult incident” occurred. My oldest has an engineer’s brain. He is always building things and designing something new to create. From the moment we sat down at the table, he fidgeted and squirmed in his seat. As I turned my head to talk with my husband and youngest son, my oldest took the utensils and proceeded to construct a catapult out of them. When the fork flung across the table at another guest, I realized what he had done. Did I mention that he used the utensils of the person seated next to him?

When I saw what happened, I felt my face redden. I knew, or assumed I knew, what the other guests thought about me, my parenting, and my children. And I wanted to say, “Really, we aren’t the Beverly Hillbillies!” No doubt, I was embarrassed by my son’s behavior at that dinner. I wanted to hide my head. I chastised him, and then he was embarrassed too. “Mom, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for that to happen, and I didn’t know that wasn’t my fork!”

When my children do something childish, without thinking, and even out of ignorance, I am often embarrassed. Even when they are flat-out disobedient in public, doing something they know they shouldn’t do, I am embarrassed. I’ve come to realize that too often I respond to them out of that embarrassment. In those situations, I care more about what other people think of me than about responding to my children’s heart. While their behavior often requires correction and even consequences, I also need to pay attention to what is going on in my own heart. When their behavior becomes about me and how it makes me look to others, I need to do a heart check.

In reality, my responses can often reflect the idols lurking in my heart. The ones I’ve established on a throne to worship, crafted out of my own wishes and desires. These idols are not made of metal or stone, but they are idols just the same. Because when I care more about the thoughts and affirmations of other people than about what God thinks, I’ve created an idol. When I measure my value and success by the verbal accolades from others about my boy’s good behavior, I’ve created an idol. And when I react out of embarrassment to my children’s behavior, it just might be because I’ve put my idol in first place before God.

Opportunities to Remove Idols

Before I had children, I didn’t realize how much I desired and yearned for affirmation from others. God has used my boys as mirrors, reflecting back to me the pride and selfishness I didn’t know were hiding in the deepest crevices of my heart. Situations like the “catapult incident” provide the opportunity for me to recognize, acknowledge, and remove the idols.

Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods that once we remove an idol, we have to replace it with love for Christ. When I saturate my mind and heart with the truth that God loves me more than I could ever understand, I cannot help but respond to him with love and gratitude. When I realize the great lengths he went to so that I could be his child, my heart is overwhelmed. The more I remind myself of who I am because of Christ, the affirmations from others pale in comparison. Because the truth is, being his child is all I’ve ever wanted. It’s what I was made for and what my heart desires most. Everything else is just a false substitute.

I’m sure my children will continue to do the unexpected, have poor manners, and even act out in public. When I realize that I am angry and embarrassed because desire for affirmation is trying to reign in my heart, I must run straight to Christ. Only in his presence and in the shadow of his grace do the idols in my heart begin to crumble. And when I dwell on Christ’s great love for me, my idols fall from their throne, freeing me to love him as the first thing in my heart.