It was last week when I put the pieces together regarding my daughter. I’d been praying for my kids one morning out of While They Are Sleeping: 12 Character Traits to Pray for Your Child.
The guided prayer mentioned, “I pray that [her] commitment to you would become stronger than any other loyalty in [her] life.” I was thinking, My daughter’s loyalty to being liked is so her struggle in a nutshell. I need to continue to pray this for her. My next thought: She got that from me.
When it comes to my adorable, intelligent, endearing little girl, praying for her in this area is not just a “should.” It’s a must. In my prayerful understanding of her heart, this is likely the most significant of all the things my daughter craves—and lying at the core of most other things she desires. Her legitimate craving for love and to be liked is often twisted by sin into sucking holes longing for approval.
I identify with this because it’s a hereditary hole, so to speak. She gets it from her mother. French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
I, for one, see this in my heart. I see that God is utterly able to fill all that hunger in me for approval, significance, influence. I see that I am made to worship. But whatever parts of me are not filled by God start sucking in the rest of my world like an out-of-control Hoover. So when I’m not satisfied in Him, quite frankly, I’m worshipping something else. As John Calvin once wrote, our hearts are idol-making factories.
That’s one of the reasons it hurts my heart to see my daughter with these same holes, which she—at five years old—hasn’t yet learned to fill with God. (I mean, you know, her 32-year-old mother hasn’t mastered this, either.) I am acutely aware of the ways that these holes and their clawing, grasping needs have influenced some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. They nearly drew me into an eating disorder. They’ve distanced my family and friends as I drain life from them in my chameleon-esque acrobatics for approval, my over-apologizing, my lack of bravery in conversation or deed.
My holes have caused me to willingly veer out of the good things God had prepared for me; I’ve buckled under the strength of others’ opinions and avoided opportunities to love courageously, despite what God says. My holes have influenced most of the ways I’ve most critically injured others. These holes leave a wake.
But it’s not just the holes of approval that injure our kids. I found Tim Keller’s thoughts in his Gospel in Life series to be particularly insightful as I think of the rest of my children. Keller suggests that there are four general categories in which the holes in our hearts—also known as our idols—fall:
:: Approval (affirmation, love, relationships)
:: Comfort (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)
:: Control (self-discipline, certainty, standards)
:: Power (success, winning, influence)
Keller goes into these a lot more specifically, in very helpful ways. I’ve also found this list of “X-Ray Questions” from author David Powlison very helpful to hone in on some of my own holes/idols, and I think it’s easily translatable to my kids and the “treasure” of their hearts.
Specifically, tools like these help me to pray more powerfully for my kids, and to prayerfully understand the core desires that pull them in different directions.
Even more, it helps me to pour into them very specifically in their areas of weakness and hunger when they’re young. For my daughter, though, I unquestionably believe in the power of encouraging, loving words, I’m not talking about pouring into her self-esteem. I don’t want to further cement her value in what other people, specifically me, think of her!
I don’t think that the solution to her approval complex is to have me fill her holes, or to locate her value within herself. Rooting her significance, identity, and value deeply in the God of the Universe, the Bread of Life—the only true Satisfier of unquenchable appetites—will be what, or rather Who, saves her from making some of my same mistakes.
And along with deep and continuing prayer for my kids, that’s part two of my strategy for filling the “holes” in my kids. Thankfully, God’s been teaching me where to go with my holes for decades now. I have Scripture and encounters with God that I can share with my daughter.
With my sons, I can also direct them not to temporary solutions for that unending thirst for control, power, or comfort—but instead, to God’s way of looking at their desires, through His Word. I can increase my kids’ awareness of these base needs that fuel their actions, and teach them the difference between counterfeit or real and lasting satisfaction.
Bottom line: My hope is that locating my kids’ holes will be an unmatched opportunity to point them back to the ultimate hole-filler, the Living Water for every true thirst.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!