Killing the golden calf


I don't know about you but whenever I think about idols or idolatry I usually remember this Bible story about the Israelites in Exodus (chapter 32) where they wanted something to worship so they built a calf shaped statue made of solid gold. Or I think of any other number of stories in the Bible where people made statues out of precious material and then called them gods or goddesses.

I know that still happens in the world but if I look around in my cosmopolitan environment I don't see that. The idols I see are famous people, our careers or the money we make. It's always been pretty clear to me what idols are and I have made sure to stay clear of worshipping or making gods out of them.  So while I know I'm very far from perfect, I always felt like I had that ticked off the list of what not to do in order to be a "better Christian" (more about this pointless expedition in another post).

Those of you who know me will remember that I have always loved and wanted children. When I was in my teens I worked for a number of years in a crèche for the under-twos, I don't care about babies being sick on me, pooing on me or having tantrums. I absolutely adore children and I wanted two before the age of 24. So that never happened and then when I did give birth a few years ago, my daughter only lived for a few hours. Despite this I never stopped wanting to have children of my own and have never, ever envisaged a life without them in it.

A few weeks ago I was reading the story of Hannah in the biblical book of Samuel and how she prayed for a son and promised God she would dedicate him to serve God in the temple and when she got her son she did exactly as she had said. She gave him up and the commentary talked about how all parents have to "give up" their children at some point, whether it's when they leave for university or to get married or just to move away from home. And as I was reading it, a little voice inside my head said, "But what if I don't have to give up my children? What if I don't have any to give up? What if I don't want any to give up?" And as I sat stunned, thinking about what inner me had just said, I realised that the idea of living a life which didn't involve having my own children suddenly wasn't scary or damned. And as I was mulling over my thoughts I was shocked by how calm I felt at the prospect of living a life without any.

I've been processing this for a while and for those of you who don't want and have never wanted  children, this may seem to have been a pointless exercise but for those that know me, this is the first time in my entire life where I have ever felt like this. I wondered if it was because I wanted children when I was young and I'm not (as) young anymore. Or maybe I'm just in denial as its not happening for me right now. But in church this weekend the speaker defined idolatry as this: anything more fundamental than God to your self-worth, significance or value. And as I wrote that down, I suddenly thought, what if having children was my idol? What if I was holding onto that as my thing, the thing that consumed me more than anything else. I have always wanted to be a mother but maybe the loss of my daughter fuelled that fire until the baby shaped golden statues were completely and fully formed in my mind and heart.

You see I used to say things like, "If I don't have children I'll want to die" or talk about how worthless I would feel because of my previous loss and because, well, it's what I wanted and felt I should have. I used to say I would rather have children than a husband without children.

It sounds crazy but recently a friend asked me if God was enough for me. And I wondered what she meant, but when I listened to this teaching, I got it. If I don't get married again, if I don't get fashion editor at Vogue, if I never live in Primrose Hill, if I don't have children; is God enough for me? And it's a scary thought because I thought I was idol-free. I thought I was putting God first (or trying to) but I was hanging onto something which may have been weighing me down. That deep need which may have directed many a thought, action or decision - perhaps to my detriment.

And you know since this realisation, I haven't felt one shred of jealousy seeing other women with their children or babies. I don't feel sad or envious or anything really, other than to note how cute (or otherwise!) the child is.

So maybe I won't have children, or maybe I will, I don't know my future but for now I know that I will be okay if I don't. God is enough. He really is.

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