Small caskets are an agonizing sight. But there you are, sitting in a church pew ready to observe the funeral for a baby boy who passed away after battling a terminal illness. Bravely, the mother of that little baby stands up to give a brief eulogy for the son she treasured so much. You are expecting the grief-stricken mom to choke through a few meaningful words about her undying love for the son she’ll never hold again. With a steely-eyed expression unfitting of the occasion, the mother begins to speak:
“God has taught us by afflictions what we would not learn by mercies—that our hearts are his exclusive property, and whatever rival intrudes, he will tear it away… We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or to inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish, rather, to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O may it not be in vain that he has done it.”
The woman walks off the stage while you and the entire audience sit in stunned silence powerless to process the words you have just heard.
These were the words of Ann Judson, wife of America’s first missionary Adinirom Judson, after the tragic death of their son Roger in 1816.
They are the words of someone so profoundly God-centered that they pound like shockwaves on the ears of today’s most devoted Christians.
In our contemporary Christian culture, the ideal parent is one who pours every ounce of energy into developing a spiritually sturdy, socially adept, and financially stable clone. With the right blend of church attendance, sports programs, extracurricular activities, and educational intensity, parents seek to ensure that their children are well adjusted productive church-going citizens.
Of course, none of those things are bad. But I wonder what Ann Judson would think of a faithful Christian parent today whose singular life focus is the well-being of their child. What we call good parenting, she might label as dangerous idolatry.
Ann Judson might be stunned to learn that those extra dollars at the end of the month are dutifully dumped into a college savings plan and only after the college plan is funded do we consider giving to the missionary or church planter. After all, that’s what faithful Christian parents are supposed to do. We secure our child’s educational future and only then give extra time and resources to kingdom work.
She might be surprised to learn that we often skip the weekly church gathering in favor of other important undertakings. After all, faithful Christian parents should encourage their children to engage in other social and recreational activities that create positive environments. Certainly, we attend church as often as possible and even occasionally help volunteer when the time is there but we are reasonable enough to understand that our child’s social development cannot be hindered.
I wonder what Judson’s reaction would be if she discovered that the very house in which we live was chosen largely because of its proximity to an academically-vigorous public school. After all, a responsible Christian parent would never let their children live in a neighborhood where other parents don’t put the same kind of emphasis on education. God forbid it.
The contrast between the heart focus of a modern Christian parent and that of Ann Judson is stark. As Tim Keller said, idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. It seems that, in the name of good parenting, we have taken the good gift of children and turned it into an idol that demands a radical sacrifice of our time, money, and energy; the same kind of time, money, and energy that Ann and Adinirom Judson exhausted as missionaries in the gospel-starved region of Burma.
Not every mom and dad is called to be a missionary but every Christian is called to live with one central focus, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly, this will look different for every family but as it stands now, most of us look the same.