When I was in junior high school, I admired teen idols Shaun Cassidy, Parker Stevenson, and Andy Gibb. Mesmerized by their photos in Tiger Beat Magazine, I pretended their smiles were for me alone. I fantasized about meeting them and having them realize I was the one true love of their life.
Being only 13 years old wasn’t a problem. Somewhere deep down in my miserable juvenile delusion, I held onto the desperate hope that they would be more than happy to sit at home alone every night waiting for me to grow up. Or, at least every girl they met who wasn’t right for them would lead them one step closer to finding me.
By the time I entered high school, I no longer clung to paper idols. Instead, I made idols of the people around me. Desperate for love and belonging, I participated in harmful behaviors to win their affections.
When that still didn’t fill the void inside, I tried to find satisfaction in accomplishment. Earning a college degree became my next idol, as did trying to perfect my physique as a body builder. Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with education or physical fitness. What made them idols was looking to both those things—instead of to my Creator—for my value.
It’s crazy how insidious this habit of making idols can be. Just when you think you’ve discovered one and toppled it, another one crops up in its place. And they can crop up anywhere!
After I graduated, I made my career an idol. After I got married, I made marriage an idol. After I bought a house, I made my property an idol. After I had children, I made motherhood an idol. I’ve also made idols of money, security, health, romance, recognition and success.
Of all the idols I’ve served, and I’ve served quite a few, the absolute biggest idol of them all has been this one: people’s opinions of me. Winning the approval of others was so important, I strove for perfection in everything I did. When I failed to live up to my impossibly high expectations, I would endlessly obsess over what they must think of me. And I always thought the absolute worst case scenario!
Part of me was doing my best simply because I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well. But there was also another part of me that was over-achieving not out of a desire for excellence, but out of the fear of being rejected.
Carrying around this deep-seated longing for belonging all my life has felt like a curse. Yet, the truth is, it has also been a blessing. Like those teen idols I hoped would find their way into my arms by realizing no other girl would do, it was all those longings unmet by serving idols that led me to find satisfaction in God alone.
When I did, I came to understand we create idols when we look to something other than God to meet our deepest needs. We aren’t even safe in church. In fact, just as many opportunities for idolatry exist within the constructs of religion as anywhere else.
When we elevate our pastor above us, or hang on his or her words instead of God’s word, we have made them an idol. When we serve in ministry in order to feel good about ourselves, serving becomes an idol. Even studying scripture can become idolatry—if being a Biblical scholar gives us more satisfaction than our relationship with Christ.
In fact, religion itself can be an idol. Anytime we find comfort in following rituals and traditions, or in offering up our daily prayers—instead of in knowing God—we have made it so.
The reason it is so easy to make idols of practically anything and everything, is because we were created with an innate need for worship. The problem is, when we aren’t worshiping God, we are worshiping something else. And that something else will never satisfy the longings of our soul.
“The enemy of joy is not suffering, it is idolatry.” ~ Matt Papa