While sitting in a women’s conference at our church this weekend, I was brought face to face with the stark reality of the difference between my past and my present…. and it arrived in the most unexpected vehicle.
The recognition of idols of the heart…my heart.
The theme teaching was “Idols of the Heart”. When we hear the word “idols”, we usually think of a gold calf or some other being in the form of a statue or a carving made in wood, or even just a picture. Idols of the heart are something completely different but are just as dangerous because we do not recognize them, even though they exist in our very own hearts. They do not have a physical form upon which to rest our gaze so we can deceive ourselves into thinking that these are not really idols at all. We lie to ourselves and make excuses for our behavior, our habits, our idols, by saying, This is simply my personality. This is just the way I do things. This is just how I like things done. This is just how I parent. This is just because I love my husband/wife more than other people love their spouses. This is just because I like to make people happy. What’s wrong with that? We cannot accept that we may have taken it a bit too far. Instead, we simply look at our idols of the heart and say, “Yep, there’s my idol. We work so well together!”
Idols of the heart are subtle and deceptive because it is something intended for good but has gone into overdrive, excess, and now receives more of our attention, passion, and desires and control over our lives than it should. Idols of the heart are tricky because they are speaking to a real need in our lives. There are countless idols of the heart but some of them can be money, the need for control, the need for perfection, ourselves, food, health, achievement, friendships, people pleaser, children, spouses, and plenty more. Many of these idols fool us into thinking that our identity and acceptance comes from them.... which we know it does not, but how quickly we listen to the lie!
Webster’s dictionary defines “idol” as “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship; a false god.” The synonyms are pretender or imposter. Whoa! So our children can become an object of worship, our spouses can become an object of worship, perfection can be an object of worship. Controlling people and manipulating situations to meet our satisfaction can be a form of idol worship because if you are not in control you get angry, impatient, irrational, feelings of no self worth or purpose…all symptoms of what people feel when their idol is taken away. If that does not give you a “selah” moment, I don’t know what will! (Selah is an Old Testament word that means to pause and think about it.)
In the Old Testament, it says, ”Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV Every time we are turning to one of these idols of the heart to fill a void or to place them in a place of prideful prominence, which they do not deserve, we are turning away from God’s love. Ouch!
As I listened to different women speak about a particular idol of the heart which they battle personally, I was doing some self evaluation, my typical introspection to discern how this all applies to me and what I can take away from it. I realized that before Michael died, I had several idols of the heart but, of course, they were all unknown to me at the time….but it has all changed since his death.
I was always striving. I awoke everyday overwhelmed with my self-imposed insane list of things to accomplish because of the idols in my heart, the imposters, and the pretenders. They made me think that my life was not worth anything, that I was not worth anything, if I did not give them the proper attention they deserved. Achieve achieve achieve…perform perform perfom...excel excel excel… My days were consumed with trying to keep up with these idols. I would often feel like a failure if I did not feed one of them on any given day. At the conference, it was said that we all need to make choices that will starve our idols. We either feed them or we starve them. For years I fed them and fed them daily well-balanced meals. If we keep feeding them, we unknowingly starve ourselves and we begin to suffer.
About three years before Michael died, I came down with a severe case of pneumonia in July. That year started with a bang. Keep in mind as you are reading that I also was homeschooling my three children through this entire time. In January, I was told that I was not able to have more children (which I found out years later was not the case.) In February, at the beginning of the month, I was a keynote motivational speaker at a women’s conference speaking on how to live your life “out loud”. At the end of February, I ended up going to a cardiologist because I was suddenly having spikes in my blood pressure (I was told it was from my performance driven lifestyle.) In March, I did the choreography for a musical at a local high school. In May, I had a lumpectomy on one of my breasts, which was benign. In June, one week after the lumpectomy, I drank an herbal tea that caused an internal hemorrhoid to rupture and I bled profusely and ended up in the emergency room. In July, I cooked a 7 course classic French meal as a private chef for a group of 14 people from France and some local hosts…and cooked and served it in my home…with all the different wines I chose with each course.
The night of the French meal, I began to feel like I was coming down with something but I pushed through the next day to watch Julia compete in a swim meet, even though I could barely stand. Within two days, it was pneumonia. Seventy percent of one lung had fluid. It was discovered two weeks into it that I was carrying two strains of pneumonia, and I had not been taking the correct meds. I was bed ridden for one month, with a fever most of that time, and it came close to taking me out completely. I had already been too weak to walk, but when I became too weak to talk I became afraid. Michael had to lean down and place his ear right next to my mouth to be able to hear what I needed to say. I asked him to have the elders of the church come pray over me and anoint me with oil, as the scriptures say to do. The fever ceased and I slowly began to move around the house again. It took me about three more months to regain my strength.
I tell you this because it was after my bout with pneumonia that I realized my self- imposed pressure to achieve, perform, and excel had taken its toll on my life. While feeding the idols of the heart, I was starving my body. Did any of that achievement mean anything while I was lying in my bed too weak to talk? Too weak to eat? Too weak to drink? My life never went back to the pace where it once was after I recovered. Most of the idols of the heart were destroyed as a result. I cautiously did life for a couple years following, looking skeptically at anything that tried to push me to perform, excel, lead, or achieve.
Fast forward to the conference this weekend…. I realized that when Michael died, any remaining idols had been crushed and utterly destroyed. I had been stripped naked before God and was forced to come to terms that I was in control of absolutely nothing. Who am I now without these idols? Who am I without my achievements? Who am I if I am not performing either by dancing, cooking, entertaining, or leading? I realized that I had once identified myself with these idols and others identified me with them, and, ironically, the world makes us think we should be proud that we are associated with these idols. It’s all a lie… a veil over something incredibly ugly and repulsive.
Now I feel as if I am in a numb place with God. I sit here alone, in a quiet little room, or I walk quietly around the house while asking Him, “So what now? Who am I without these characteristics that I had turned into idols? How can I still use these unique qualities You created and put in me from the beginning to benefit You, and not allow myself to get derailed with them by following the direction that the world would have me to go with them?” The interesting thing is that God put in each one of us that very thing that makes us uniquely different from everyone else. Only God knows how we can use these unique characteristics or hearts desires for His ultimate glory. We need to take these natural giftings to Him and have Him show us how to share them with the world. We see our strengths and assume we know what to do with them so we take off running without asking for directions first.
Our pastor’s wife said, “The same gifts God gives us can also be used to lure us away from Him.” The very thing God gave us for good can become an idol if we use it for the wrong purposes and try to please anyone other than Him. My dad put it a different way. He taught me once, when I was much younger, that one’s strength can also become one’s weakness. We must always keep our strengths in check so as to not give them too much prominence or unknowingly allow pride to sneak into our hearts.
Now I have found that I have swung like a pendulum in the opposite direction. I fled from those idols as far I could run but I find that in their place, fear has tried to slip in the door…fear of my own gifts, my own glory, fear of the glory God placed in me, the way that He chose for me to exemplify His glory… and so I shy away from using the gift to excel, the gift to lead, the gift to do things with the spirit of excellence, the gift to cook, the gift to entertain, the gift to make a difference.
I came home from the conference and cried out to God in my writing room as I looked up at a beautiful oil painting of Jesus and Third Station of the Cross. Tears were running down my face. I repented before God for allowing those idols into my heart years ago and repented for trying to hide my glory, my unique self that He made me to be.
Forgive me for being afraid of my glory. Afraid to have the switch flipped back on again. Forgive me for having tainted your glory within me by using it to fit the world’s ways instead of seeking your ways. Forgive me for striving and thinking that I could do it all in my own strength. I want to take those unique characteristics you gave me and, in my own striving, caused me to turn them into idols, and I want to hand them back to You. Show me how to balance them in my life and use them for Your glory. I know this will enable me to live unleashed in my glory…total freedom to be me. The whole me that you created and were pleased upon creating…because I was created in Your image. If I am made in your image, then achievement, performance, leading, and doing things with spirit of excellence can all be good when they are not used for prideful purposes. Here I am Lord…let me be Your hands and Your feet... again.
Not only keep your eyes straight ahead, but also keep your eyes looking up to Him, take all of your questions to Him, take all of your strengths to Him. Let Him be the keeper of your heart.