Book Review: "Idols of a Mother's Heart" by Christina Fox

Idols are sneaky. You don’t even know you’re making one and then—wham! You discover one, two, three, and possibly more in your life. And this is certainly the case when it comes to motherhood.

Wanting to be a good mom is a noble goal. You try to do all the right things, follow good advice, and honor God, but it’s easy to get your identity and self-worth all tied up in your mom job performance and end up worshiping something besides God. Is there anything a mother can do to develop and keep a godly heart?

Thankfully, author Christina Fox has taken considerable time, thought, and effort in her latest book, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, to help moms navigate the anxieties and insecurities of parenting that easily get them off track. She brings a sound theological foundation to motherhood responsibilities so women can rightly apply God’s truth in day-to-day life.

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What sets Idols of a Mother’s Heart apart from other books on motherhood is its emphasis on knowing sound biblical teaching to fulfill our vocations as moms. There is a reason why the first part of the book of Romans focuses on doctrine and the second part on application of the doctrine: we need the former in order to work out the latter in our lives.

Likewise, even though it may have been tempting for Fox to get right into addressing the specific idols we may be worshiping as moms, she takes just the right amount of time discussing why motherhood is a sanctifying process in which we should ultimately be focused on worshiping God. Fox explains,

First, as mothers, we all face the problem of the presence of remaining sin in our life. Secondly, motherhood is hard. It is challenging and stretching in unique ways, different from other areas of our life. Thirdly, motherhood is another area of our life God uses to transform us. . . . As mothers, we ought to view the difficulties and challenges we face in our mothering as opportunities to learn, grow, obey, and be changed more into the likeness of Christ. (pp. 31-32)

Fox cites historical church documents such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and numerous respected theologians, including Martin Luther, R. C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and John Piper, as she addresses essential doctrines including the holiness of God as well as our duties as his image-bearers. While Christians are to “actively pursue growth in holiness” (p. 51), Fox points out that such growth is impossible apart from the Spirit:

The Holy Spirit has made a home within us. He comforts us, guides us, convicts us, and prays for us. The Spirit enables and empowers us to worship and glorify God. Though we are tempted and often give in to the desire to worship lesser things, we are strengthened by the work of the Spirit in us to put to death our idolatrous worship and learn to live more and more for God’s glory alone. (p. 50)

Next, Fox covers what an idol actually is and makes the critical point that something can be a good gift from God and still end up becoming an idol:

Good things can become bad things when they become the only things that matter in our lives. When we trust in even good things to make our lives better, safer, happier, and more comfortable, they are idols. When we trust in good things to give our lives meaning and purpose, they have become idols. When the good things in our lives control us, direct us, and rule us, they are idols. When we cling tightly to a dream, a hope, a goal, and feel as though our lives will lose purpose without those things being fulfilled, they have become idols. (pp. 80-81) 

Recognizing the idols we have as mothers can be exceedingly painful—but it is necessary. Thirteen years ago, my sixteen-year-old son died in a skiing accident, and the grief and pain from his death seemed impossible to bear. Yet, along with trying to survive after such an unfathomable loss came with it an almost unbearable sense of failure. My son was under my care, and he died. The recognition of this fact, even with taking into account God’s sovereignty, revealed how much my identity as a “pretty good” mom had become an important part of how I evaluated myself as a Christian.

What are some of the most common idols moms manufacture in their hearts? Fox does an outstanding job guiding readers in how to identify them. I won’t give away all the main categories she lays out but will note her section on the idols of “achievement and success.” Fox explains,

As mom, we want to get motherhood right. We research, study, plan, and prepare to learn the best way to raise our children. We want our children to be healthy, happy, and productive in life. We want them to have the best education. We want them to play the right sports. We want them to be the best dressed. As Christians, we want our children to obey us the first time, to love Jesus, serve others, and behave well—especially around other Christians. (p. 114)

Fox rightly points out how moms can all too easily get into the trap of comparing their mothering to that of other moms. Yet, it’s important to note that moms aren’t necessarily trying to win the “Mommy Wars” competition in making these comparisons. Often, it’s because the moms themselves had a less than ideal childhood, and they want something better—something godlier, happier, more fulfilling, and more meaningful—for their children.

Moms aren’t sure if they are going about being moms in the “right” way, and thus, the “compare game” gets going. This certainly was the case for me as I sought to give my children the things I had wished for in my own upbringing. And wanting this for our children is not necessarily a bad thing. But when it becomes more important than it should be, taking a place in our hearts that belongs to God—in other words, it has become an idol—we need to stop, reflect, and change course.

Although I would have given anything as God would have allowed for me to grow in humility another way than through the death of my son, in his providence he works good amidst the many circumstances that he has orchestrated in his own perfect will. While we cannot possibly begin to understand what God is doing, we can hold on with childlike trust. Over time, I came to be thankful to be able to recognize the pride that had been in my heart and to work on letting go of it. Being at rock bottom with my self-esteem shattered made it easier for me to focus on how God might be able to use my life for his purposes, rather than how I could give my life meaning and significance.

If only Idols of a Mother’s Heart had been written earlier. It would have been much help to me both as a new mom and a more experienced mom going through the fiery trials of parenting, because its basis is not so much good advice (although there’s lots of that in the book!) but rather living out the vocation of motherhood with the foundation of good biblical doctrine. And this is what every mother needs and, sadly, what many aren’t finding.

After helping us to understand what idolatry is and how to recognize the idols in our lives, Fox ends Idols with helpful direction for mothers on how to turn away from their idols, turn toward Christ, and guard their spiritual hearts. She also includes a beautiful prayer at the end of each chapter to help moms direct their petitions to God in light of what they may have found personally convicting in the text.

There are numerous things I value about Christina Fox as a writer, including her deep and abiding respect for sound doctrine, her considerable wisdom for someone her age, and her ability to communicate essential biblical truths with ease and humility. All of these attributes come together in Idols for an accessible read that leaves you encouraged, inspired, and more knowledgeable after every chapter of the book regarding how the Christian faith applies to the vocation of motherhood. 

The internet, print publications, and social media channels contain an overwhelming amount of advice on how to be a good mother. Some of it is helpful, but much of it is extra-biblical “wisdom” that can end up heaping more and more guilt on moms as they struggle to meet the impossible photoshopped, filtered, and edited standards set before them on a daily basis. Christina Fox’s Idols of a Mother’s Heart is an edifying and calming resource that helps moms keep a steady focus on bringing glory to God alone throughout the ups and downs of raising children in an increasingly noisy world.

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Idols of a Mother’s Heart by Christina Fox

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