Recently, my son was the best man at the wedding of a life-long friend. By life-long, I mean they were in the church nursery together, and they trace their first memories of friendship back to age five. It was especially heartwarming to me, as his mom, to watch him take on this duty for his friend with so much enthusiasm. Before and since the sudden death of the groom’s father, we have lived a lot of life together. The mother of the groom has been a friend and co-laborer in ministry with me for most of those many years.
For me, having the experience of watching my son as best man gives context to John the Baptist’s response when his disciples came to him asking about “this Jesus” whom they had seen with John in the past. But now they complained, “Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John’s response used this idea of “friend of the bridegroom” to answer their concerns:
A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 3:27-30 (ESV)
It would be unfathomable to see a best man, in the run-up to a wedding, flirting with the bride. But I’ve done the very same thing.
I have been a glory thief from way back. I had my first child at the age of 33. For much of my life, I have had the privilege of being involved in many different thriving ministry opportunities. Whether it was college campus ministry, church ministry, or working at a seminary, it seemed growth happened in each situation very quickly. I loved seeing God work in people’s lives, but I also loved being the pioneer and being up front. I enjoyed the recognition others gave me for the success. When I had my first child at the age of 33, I saw motherhood as one more opportunity to be involved in Kingdom building for the glory of God. What’s the harm if it also gave a little affirmation to me? I have come to realize I was flirting with the bride, drawing some of her attention away from her perfect groom.
There is nothing I want more for my kids than that they would love the Lord with all their heart and invest their lives in building his Kingdom wherever they live and work. There is no greater purpose in life than to invest in what will last for eternity (human souls and God’s Word). To do that, my children must transition from the childhood belief that we as their parents are their sole providers, to recognizing the Lord as their only provider. In both cases, it is imperative to avoid the deadly error that they can somehow provide for themselves.
From experience, I can tell you that over time, as we parent children toward the Lord, it is very difficult for a glory thief to show them Jesus without photobombing the picture. The only way to handle my desire for affirmation is with Gospel truth, apart from worrying about how it comes across to anyone else. If I want my children to worship God and not me, it is essential that they learn their parents, too, are sinners who must apply the Gospel to real life struggles. That is the only way to illustrate Kingdom principles to them.
Our two are in that “almost grown” stage of life between college and adulthood. When they were young, I used to joke with my close friends that I was praying they would find a career that would support them well enough financially so they could afford the counseling they would need to overcome all the ways we were screwing them up. I have apologized to my kids many times over the years and asked for their forgiveness for my various failings. But I must admit, in these post-high school years, I have spent far too much time worrying about the effects of what they were being exposed to without us there to help them interpret. I have come to realize this is just one more way I am photobombing Jesus. Even though I love my kids and want the best for them, my worries are in no small part because I am concerned with how their choices might reflect on me and my far less-than-social-media-post-worthy parenting skills.
In order to truly glorify God without flirting with his bride it is essential to avoid photobombing the picture. Decreasing from the picture as he increases is impossible for a glory thief like me to achieve on my own. Fortunately, all things that are required by God that are impossible for us are made possible through his power given to us by grace. Only he can show me my rightful place in his most beautiful picture.