Confessions of an Idol-Worshiper

Once upon a time, people worshiped idols. They were made of wood or clay or stone. They looked like creatures, and they couldn't do anything. These ancient people were silly for thinking the idols could help them. Now, we are so much better and smarter, and we don't have idols.

This was the story I told myself growing up in the Church.
And then my Sunday school teacher informed me TV could be an idol. That didn't quite jive with my definitions of idols. TV didn't look like a monkey or a human with extra appendages. So she explained it to me.
Thus, I expanded my definition to be something to which you give lots of time and attention.

And then my pastor told me work could be an idol.
Okay, I could understand the TV thing, since it was a physical entity. But work was intangible. How could people bow to it? So he explained it to me.
Thus, I expanded my definition to be something to which you give space in your heart where other life-giving things have more claim.

And then an author told me family could be an idol.
What the...?
This one was a bit too out there for my operational definition. Wasn't family a thing the Church loved, a thing that brought life, that embodies love and exemplifies community? How could it be an idol? So the Spirit explained it to me.
Thus, I expanded my definition to be anything that can become my prime motivation, crowding God off His throne in my life.

That revision caused just about everything else in my life to light up as potential idols: Approval, fear, helping others, knowledge, grudges, dreams, theology, identity, exercising (okay, not really, but I kinda wish exercising was something I struggled with idolizing).  Anything that occupied my thoughts and informed my goals more than my Savior would end up in His crosshairs. He's a jealous God; He wants all of my heart.

Family is a beautiful thing, but it must never get in the way of what God is calling us into. We need to regularly surrender our spouse, kids, parents, siblings - or our desire for these things - to the One who gives them to us. We need to keep a loose grip so He can slide His hand in there at any time (for all of our best).

When my son was ill and eventually ended up in the hospital, it rocked me. No mom wants to hear the pediatrician say, "We've tried everything. It's time to admit him." But having him in my open hand, knowing he was on loan to me by his Creator - our Creator - made the journey one where I was walking alongside that Creator instead of fighting Him. It made it a sweet adventure even amidst the uncertainty, and the healing that much more dynamic.

We all struggle with idols, no matter how self-aware, humble, or God-focused we are. Once we accept that basic truth of our humanity, we can then begin to identify what needs to be dethroned. 

Jessica's Idol Identification-and-Removal Routine:

1. Ask, "What, if taken from me, do I believe would ruin me irreversibly?"

2. Once the Spirit answers and shows you an idol, don't deny it. You'll eventually have to let go of it anyway, so my recommendation (from experience) is to do it sooner and voluntarily, rather than later and with a lot more discomfort. It's like tending to a splinter: Pull it out when you see it, rather than letting it stay, start an infection, and require surgery.

3. Invite the King back to His throne. What makes an idol - thinking it can help you, time, attention, space in your heart, being your motivation - is also what restores your King to His rightful place.

4. Repeat. Regularly.


Of Obstacles and Birdsongs

In all my experience with obeying Christ - and with disobeying Him - I have become convinced that when we get serious about following Him, things get harder. Life gets uglier. Obstacles appear out of nowhere, and we wonder if maybe we messed up or maybe it isn't worth it to keep going.

This has become all the more true since I've fully committed to the ministry my Shepherd called me into. A friend of mine recommended I write about it, but I'm in the middle of it all right now, so all I can do is give a brief description of where I'm at in this dark valley.

I had a dream when I was in my early 20s that I had two blond children, a boy and a girl, whom I loved very much. Often when I gaze at my towhead daughter and son, then over at my brunette boy, I wonder where he was in my dream. Perhaps that slight superstition has made me more vulnerable to concerns regarding him, which came to a critical point this past week.

After three weeks of nighttime sleeplessness, crying, screaming, and thrashing about in his crib, last week he developed the inability to walk on his left leg. As a mom getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night - all non-consecutive - I was running out of both sanity and options of providers to visit.

By God's incredible timing, He brought Bob's aunt into town for a scheduled visit just as I was going into a fever, and my parents into town for a conference just as she left. Even when I felt most desperate, I knew I was not abandoned.

And as I futilely tried to calm my sweet, hurting boy one night at 3:00am, I gave up my "Shhh"-ing and "Nighty-night"s, and just started sighing, "Jesus. Jesus. Jesus." And he finally slept. I knew my God was stronger, that He was in control even in this interminable storm.

When the pediatrician announced it was time to admit him to the hospital, I wept. I felt like a failure, but even more so I worried we were wading into an ocean of uncertainty. At least at home we had control over what could happen to him, what we would consider for disorder and treatment; at the hospital, they may want to explore avenues I wasn't ready to walk down.

But it was time. I hadn't been able to fully rest for way too long, and our family's collective health was suffering. So when he awoke with screams and wakefulness just before midnight, I packed up an overnight bag, waited an hour for the police situation and circling helicopter in our neighborhood to resolve, and then drove to Phoenix Children's Hospital. We were a direct admit, and within an hour my boy and I were semi-comfortable in a crib and recliner, respectively.

Over the next two days, I heard a lot of screaming, but I also began to witness healing - for him and for me. After six days of leg pain, he began to walk again. When he awoke at night, there was someone else to help so I wasn't alone in trying to observe and provide care for his ambiguous pain. The hospital provided the food, the cleaning, and the space, and we just had to get better.

I got a text from a friend reminding me to listen to the birds, something I often forget to do when I'm stressed. I stepped outside the cafeteria for a few moments and soaked in their harmonies. "Thank You," I silently prayed.

Bob was amazing with the other two kids, who were also incredible in coping with this strange situation. We were lifted up by family and friends. And when the final test - an MRI of our little man's head - came back perfect, we were able to go home.

He still awoke at night, but it didn't induce a panic attack in me as it had before our hospital stay. I now had medicine and hope. We had walked down some avenues I'd previously labeled "off-limits' and spelunked some dark caves, and I was able to cling to the Shepherd's hand throughout and trust His heart for us.

I've had to put some ministry stuff on hold, but it has allowed others to step into their giftings in my absence. I love that. I love how the Body works together, and it never depends on just one member. I love being part of a system, not a satellite or a cornerstone. And Daddy has been reminding me of this as I have rested and received renewed strength.

There isn't a good way to end this post. As I said, I'm still in the middle of it. It's still messy and uncertain, and I don't have a clean moral to the story. But maybe that's the point. This is where I am simply supposed to "Be still, and know God is God." And then listen for the birdsongs.