I had had it.
All day long I had given and given and given until I had nothing left to give. A frustrated, angry spirit was quickly replacing my "good mommy" attitude.
So I put my baby in his crib then sent my girls to their room with instructions to play Barbie and leave me alone. Truthfully, this wasn't one of those "Now precious girls, let Mommy be by herself for a while" days. Right or wrong, it was more along the irritable lines of "I have got to have some time by myself so go to your room."
As I fell exhausted into my chair, I mentally calculated all that I had done for my children that day. I had nursed the baby and attended to his every need. I had taken my daughters to the library and craft camp. I had stopped at the grocery store to get ingredients for a healthy dinner. I had washed loads of laundry and cleaned the house. Without reservation I had given my family my best effort all day long. Everything within me had been poured out for them; every last reservoir of strength was gone, save one.
Now all I could do was cry out, "God help me!" and wearily pick up my Bible.
Not expecting anything particularly applicable from the Old Testament, I nevertheless started reading where I had left off in 1 Samuel. Within moments, a verse almost leaped off the page at me. "Why do you honor your sons more than Me?" God asked a parent in 1 Samuel 2:29. It was as if God was asking me the very same question. The thought gripped my heart as I continued reading.
First Samuel tells the story of Eli, who served as the high priest of Israel during the time of the judges. Scripture shows that while Eli seemed to serve God wholeheartedly, he had a weakness that eventually led to his family's downfall. His problem? Eli was more partial to his sons Hophni and Phinehas than to God. When they pursued sex outside marriage, indulged in wicked behavior and even blasphemed God, Eli honored his sons so much that he scarcely disciplined them for their behavior.
God warned Eli of the judgment looming over his family and asked the piercing question of honor. If only Eli had listened to God's warnings, if only he had allowed the question to penetrate his heart, if only he had put God first in his life, he might have repented and avoided the resulting tragedy.
But he didn't. Eli continued honoring his sons more than God, so God brought judgment on the family. Hophni and Phinehas were killed, Eli died in shock, and his family forever lost its honored position as the high priests of Israel. As all this was happening, his widowed daughter-in-law gave birth to a son and named him "Ichabod," meaning "the glory of God has departed." This tragic sequence of events all started when Eli allowed his children to have first place in his heart.
As I sat there that afternoon, I almost dismissed Eli's story as not applicable to my life. After all, my 4-year-old does not blaspheme God, my 2-year-old is hardly sexually promiscuous, and the dirtiest thing my baby does is fill his diapers.
However, I couldn't get past the deeper message that the text has for every parent. Though the original question has a historical context, the thought it conveys is timeless: Why do you give all your best to your children and give Me second place?
There I was, desperately needing a break from serving my children, when God took the opportunity to tell me how much I needed to be with Him. He wants my relationship with Him to supersede every other relationship in my life, including my children.
I really wrestle with this, though. And, as I've informally surveyed other mothers, I have found that it is truly a common struggle. We "good" mothers tend to give all our best to our children, seldom leaving time for ourselves, much less God.
However, regardless of our children's ages or stages, God always demands first place in our hearts. He wants you and me to honor Him more than we honor anyone else.
This is a fine line, because mothering our children well is a way we honor God. Taking care of our children, even going beyond the call of duty for them, is not the issue, though. The heart of the matter is that nobody, not even our kids, should have a higher place in our hearts than God, lest they become our idols.
My children — idols? Your children — idols? It seems almost ludicrous to refer to them that way, yet that is exactly what they become when we honor them more than God. Consider these questions:
Please don't read me wrong. I am not suggesting that we become such spiritual legalists that we ignore the realities of motherhood. Teaching the alphabet, cooking healthfully and involving our kids in sports are excellent things to do. Figuring out how to be the best mom possible is good and admirable.
However, we cannot — indeed, we must not — allow these pursuits for our children to minimize our pursuit for God. We cannot be fooled into thinking that all the great things we do as moms are more important than being intimate with God. The stakes are too high, for we risk our families becoming like Eli's if we put our children before God. He must have the highest place of honor in our hearts.
It took that day of absolute frustration and exhaustion for me to be reminded of this. Since that hallmark day, I've begun asking God this question each morning: "Lord, how can I put You first today?"
When you and I ask God that question, we must obey whatever He tells us, whether it's to home school our kids, take them to the library, minister to a neighbor or even spend time alone. It is amazing the strength that He will give us when we carry out His plans for our lives. By seeking God first, all the many aspects of our lives will fall into place, for our good and His glory.
Nothing will make our homes radiate more than His presence. Nothing will enhance our children's development more than having mothers who really know God. And nothing will make us better mothers than giving our Lord first place in our lives. It all comes down to a question of honor.
Whom are you honoring most today?