by Pastor Jason Poling
Recently, I watched an episode of a popular TV show about family life. One of the comedic themes throughout the episode was about parental favoritism. It played well because the writers did their homework. They knew favoritism was a common human experience.
Favoritism is so common precisely because we are human. We can’t love perfectly. Of course, a good parent fights against this. They seek to show love to all of their kids equally. That’s why Christmas gift buying can quickly descend into complex equations of higher mathematics: “If Suzy got one, name-brand gift for $50, but Joey only wanted a toy that cost $25, how many gifts must Mommy buy to equal Suzy’s total outlay without causing Suzy to be upset by the volume of gifts given to Joey?”
In spite of these efforts by good parents, however, kids will still perceive hints of favoritism that parents may not even consciously realize exist. The biggest problem with parental favoritism is how children allow this broken reality to color their perception of their heavenly Father. How can we prevent them from imposing our parental failures onto their image of God?
Let me give you a few brief answers:
- Ask for forgiveness for any ways in which you have not loved them perfectly. They should see you doing this with your spouse and the other children as well. They need to see that you not only fail to love them well, but everyone else too.
- Explain that your main struggle is not favoritism of children, but favoritism of self. This helps the child see that it is not about a comparison of their worth relative to another sibling. The issue is that all humans, parents included, worship self. If one child’s disposition makes it easier for the parent to experience self-indulgent relaxation, for example, it may appear that this child is the favorite, when in reality, this child merely allows the parent to more fully embrace their truly favorite person: themselves.
Now for the most important truth…
- Show them God is unlike their human father and mother in the display of love. God is not subconsciously moved by uncontrolled affections and sinful selfishness that cause Him to waver in His decided disposition toward His children (1 Sam. 15:28; Jam. 1:17). He has firmly decided, once and for all, that He will eternally put His steadfast love upon all of His children who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Read these verses with your children: John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 8:37-39; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 4:9-10.
Parental love is far from perfect. Spending our energies trying to convince our kids that it is, will never work. They will see favoritism at times in our sinful, finite love. Why not devote more of our efforts to showing them the perfect, infinite love of God? Show them that all Christians are God’s favorites, regardless of performance, because all Christians share equally in the endless, inexhaustible love God has for His favorite Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:26; Psalm 136).