Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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September 22nd, 2010

Family Idols


family-idolsI’m happy that the last post has really sparked some good dialogue about trying to balance spirituality and family and how to integrate the two.

I was remembering one of my professors back in college. We were discussing Advent and Christmas liturgy when he went off on a tangent about family life. He said, “You know, sometimes I think people make idols out of their family.” He then went on to talk about this Christian church around his house that actually had no services on Christmas Eve or on Christmas because they believed that you should be at home with your family and not having to take time away from your family by having to come to a church service. I thought that story illustrated his point perfectly.

For the longest time we faithfully went to Mass every Sunday and all holy days of obligation except for Christmas Mass. Why? Because too much needed to be done at home to get ready for Christmas dinner with the family. Cleaning and prepping and decorating and cooking. No time for Mass.

I have found that it is very easy to make an idol out of family. To put family before even God in my life because family life and problems can be so all encompassing. And this isn’t just about being married or being a parent. This is an issue for anyone who is very involved in their family or may have a lot of family issues like sickness or disabilities.

It is a struggle to put God first when your one year old won’t let you put them down and wants to be carried around every waking moment. It is a struggle to put God first if you have to work and get dinner on the table and do that ever growing pile of laundry and keep up with the dishes. It is a struggle to put God first when you are so worn out at the end of the day because of caring for your family that all you want to do is kick your feet up and zone out watching TV.

I have struggled with this a lot. I’ve always felt like God was my homeboy. I’ve had my bouts with not praying for a while but I’ve always been able to get back on the horse with a little effort. But then again I’ve always been in a setting that was pretty open to spirituality. At Notre Dame there were a gazillion different times for daily Mass, prayer opportunities around every corner, a beautiful landscape to inspire thoughts of the greatness of God. In my jobs I’ve always found it easy to make daily Mass a couple times a week and take some time with the Blessed Sacrament. Then I became a mom.

For the first time I’m actually having to work for my spirituality and consciously make time for it and plan for it and I am failing miserably. I actually kind of dread going to Mass because of how hard Olivia makes it which makes me a lot less likely to go to daily Mass. When I finish teaching I know I need to get home to take O off of Brandon’s hands so I zoom by the 24 hour Adoration chapel on my way home and consciously say no to God every time I do it. I don’t really pray other than when I say night prayers before bed with O. Most of my thinking and reflecting is spent either lesson planning or worrying if I am doing everything I can to help O grow developmentally.

I really am spiritually dry at the moment. I think I have fallen into what my professor called, making an idol out of my family. I give so much of myself to Olivia and Brandon that I seem to have nothing left for God at the end of the day. A diet Dr. Pepper and the latest episode of Project Runway are what I crave after I put O to sleep, not evening prayer and some spiritual reading.

I know it is not bad to be really devoted to your family or to want some down time for yourself or to work hard at your job but I really need to figure out how to fit God in there, too.

The discussion as to what to do with babies/toddlers in Mass has got me thinking about this a lot. Should Brandon and I just split Olivia duty on Sunday so that each of us can go to Mass alone but be able to be attentive, present participants. Is our desire to stick together as a family making an idol out of it? I think there are legitimate arguments on both sides.

I think realizing that I have made an idol out of my family is the first step to changing it. But I still have a lot of questions. How do I more consciously pray throughout the day? Is there a good spiritual book out there that I need to find that will spark my interest more than Top Chef? Do I need to find some other moms in the Austin area that are in the same boat? Do Brandon and I need to take turns letting the other one go to daily Mass alone or go to spiritual direction? I don’t know. But I need to commit more effort to figuring it out.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Meagan F

    Thank you again, Vanessa! Although few of my grad student friends are parents, we talk often about the problem of making our work an idol. This is a particularly easy trap to fall into for those who are engaged in work that they feel is for the good of God or mankind — cancer research, divinity school, legal advocacy, etc. It’s easy to push time with God aside in the name of work for him. And these are things far less compelling (and less vocally insistent) than a little daughter! I don’t have any advice, just sympathy and an offer to pray for you until you can find the time to do it yourself :-)

  • Becky

    Vanessa, I hadn’t seen your reply while composing my last comment. I think I do basically agree with your reply, although I still do not like or accept the idol language.

    You wrote:
    “I stand by the statement that it is possible to make an idol out of family. Sure you can pray while feeding your baby or pray while driving them to soccer practice but if you don‚Äôt ever pray and only run around taking care of your family never offering one thought toward God, this is making the family an idol.”

    See, even this I would not consider as idolatry, as I would not say the problem is that one is thinking too much of one’s family, rather I’d consider it a sin of omission, as one is thinking of God too little. Perhaps this is just semantics?

  • Becky

    @Gage, I do actually agree with you that balance is important. Where I disagree with Vanessa is with the entire idea that taking care of one’s family, especially when she uses examples such as caring for a fretful baby, is making an idol of them. If she simply said that “taking care of one’s family is a good way of serving God, and time spent in adoration, Bible study and quiet private prayer is also a good way of serving God, and one ought to try to strike whatever balance is possible within one’s own circumstances” then I could not have disagreed with it. However, a mother whose only time for quiet prayer is while rocking the baby to sleep or even while cleaning the house after everyone’s asleep is not slighting God or turning her family into an idol, she is in fact serving God by fulfilling the duties of her state in life, and her own vocation, and feeding her spiritual life by turning her very work into a prayer. I would encourage such a mother to try to find time for quiet prayer, daily mass, adoration or Bible study, for her own spiritual good, but if her circumstances are such that it is not possible then I don’t think she can be faulted, nor considered any less to be serving God fully than one who can build in many such opportunities.

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    Very good points.

    @Megan – I like this balance you have found. Going to Mass together as a family but then taking turns throughout the week to do other kinds of spiritual enrichment. My husband and I will have to discuss this later on today.

    @Becky – Thanks for the suggestions. I will definitely check out the book you recommended. I think in regards to the CCC 2181, I do agree that the Church takes the care of infants very seriously and that the Church would say it is a mother’s (or father’s or care provider’s) utmost priority to care for infants. The way I see it, though, in order for your Sunday Mass obligation to be excused because of care for a kid, I think the infant would have to be unable to attend with you for some reason (sickness, etc) and there is no one else that could watch the baby for you to get away to Mass for one hour. I think that I would have to exhaust all options of my husband watching the baby, finding a babysitter, etc, in order for the obligation to be excused. I think God would ask us to make every effort to go regardless of the situation at home but would understand if we truly could find no way of getting to Mass because of caring for an infant.

    But like I said, it is a very good point that caring for my child is serving God and that everything I do for my baby can be a way that I worship God if I offer it up to God in that way. I need to change the way I look at this. It’s true that God doesn’t expect me to pray like a monk because that is not what my vocation is but God still expects me to pray in that way a mother can.

    I stand by the statement that it is possible to make an idol out of family. Sure you can pray while feeding your baby or pray while driving them to soccer practice but if you don’t ever pray and only run around taking care of your family never offering one thought toward God, this is making the family an idol. As important as family is and as much love as you have for your family, it still has to come second to your love for God. Of course, I agree that loving your family also is a way of showing love for God but still, in the end, if God is not first than love of family is dis-ordered or out of order.

  • Gage Blackwood

    I’m not sure it is fair to say Vanessa has the wrong idea. Very good things have their challenges and I think this is illustrating part of that challenge.

    We’re supposed to put God first in our lives and if we always put God second after our family, there’s something amiss there. Yeah, it would be wrong to neglect family, but that’s not what she’s talking about (I think).

    Making a point to, let’s say, take an extra hour a week to go for some adoration or a daily Mass or alone on a walk to pray a rosary or whatever while living the kids home with the other parent is not unreasonable. Maybe everyone’s spiritual life doesn’t demand that, but if you’ve gone your entire adult life with something like that as part of your spiritual life, I think it’s reasonable to need that.

    I guess, in short, I get it. If you never take time to make sure you’re spiritually enriched always in the name of your family, that’s going to hurt. Trying to find ways to do that within the context of what’s possible with a family is important, but if you feel “so busy” not to be able to do that, gotta figure out something and make adjustments.

    Just like getting married, starting a new job, taking care of a sick parent–all require adjustments in your spiritual life to keep it healthy. When you realize that either you haven’t made them or the results aren’t enough, you gotta try again.

  • Lynn

    I agree with all the comments and I think you have the wrong idea. You are blessed by God to have your family! I understand that you are busy and I don’t know the demands of having a child but it seems like the issue for most people is how to balance, not that their family is an idol in their life. I don’t think family time should be sacrificed. As far as going to church, My whole family was always in church together and that has had a lasting effect on my life. For me, God is always there. I can pray in the car as I drive or in the bathroom as I take a shower. We do the best we can and I know that God understands that.

  • Megan

    We pray as a family every day when we sit down to dinner. We spend a few minutes praying for everyone who needs prayers, for things we’ve read about in the news, for whatever. My 16-month-old is too little to understand quite what we’re doing, we thought, but we were wrong! The other day, we sat down to dinner while she was napping and she woke up and joined us half-way through the meal. About two or three bites into her dinner, she stopped, looked at both us reproachfully, and held her little hands out to pray. She knows that prayer is just “what we do” before meals. It’s a small way of incorporating God into our daily life, but it’s something. Since Mass is a bit distracting these days, we also take turns watching her so one partner can go to other events that nourish us spiritually — retreats, Bible studies, prayer evenings. The combination works for us!

  • Lindsey

    I agree with Becky. When you serve them in love, you serve Him.

  • Becky
  • Becky

    I think that there is one thing you seem be missing – by caring for your baby and your family you *are* serving God. Consider that the Church considers “the care of infants” to be a serious enough reason to excuse one from the obligation to attend mass on Sunday, see CCC 2181. The best answer is to turn your service to your family into a prayer itself, while still building in some daily time for prayer, if possible. However, someone living in the world can’t maintain the prayer life of a monastery, but moreover isn’t called to do so because they are called to serve God through *their* state in life.

    Is it possible to turn your family into an idol? I suppose so, but carrying a fretful baby isn’t doing so. Even what you write about Christmas isn’t about turning your family into an idol so much as turning an idealized image of a perfect holiday into an idol. I’ve seen families slighted through dedication to the “perfect Christmas” as often as I’ve seen God slighted.

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