By Dee Brestin
At the root of every destructive behavior is a deception. We may think that our identity is in Christ, but in reality it may be in the success of our marriage, mothering, or ministry. We may think that God is our refuge, but in reality, we may find refuge in friendship, food, or Facebook. Seeing the lie is half the battle in being set free. These are deceptions that are common among Christian women, though they certainly can snare men as well.
My Friends Can Be My Security
Women are the relational gender and, generally speaking, their friendships are more intimate, more enduring, and more satisfying than the friendships of men.
But the dark side is that women can begin to expect their friends to be what only God can be. When Christy’s best friend, Brooke, began to be less available because of a new boyfriend, Christy felt avoided as if she had the flu. A wise friend gave her the name of a good Christian counselor, and Christy finally decided to go. She remembers the opening conversation verbatim:
“Christy, you became a Christian at a young age, correct?”
“Yes – at vacation Bible school when I was 8.”
“Christy – do you need a Savior?”
“Of course I do.”
“And what is it you need to be saved from?”
“I need to be saved from sin so that I can spend eternity in Heaven with him.”
“Well, will you let him save you from this?”
“From relational idolatry.”
When the counselor used the term idolatry, Christy was shocked because she knew idolatry was a sin. It became clear to Christy that she was worshiping people over God. The approval and security of others had become more important to her than God’s approval and security.
That was the beginning of Christy being set free – for then she was willing to do the hard work of counseling, of immersing herself in the truth, and trusting God to be what her friends could never be. Today Christy is free, enjoying a stronger relationship with God and healthy friendships.
I Can Have a Perfect Family
Hope had a picture in her head of the perfect home, perfect meals, and perfect children: “well behaved, obedient, and saved!” She also pictured a happy husband who was home each night enjoying it all.
“The problem,” Hope told me, “was that whenever anything threatened to disrupt this perfect mental picture, I’d become resentful and angry. I was living in a constant state of striving, complaining, disappointment, depression, and exhaustion. I was driving myself, my husband, and my children crazy. I was robbing our home of joy.”
Hope’s negative emotions were her red flags that a heart idol was operating. When she recognized her idol of control – control over how her husband and children acted, how her home looked, how others saw her – she responded to the Spirit of God and laid down on his altar her desires for particular outcomes. With wonder she told me, “If I lay down at the altar every time my children disobey me, every time my husband is late getting home or has yet another business trip . . . if I give all those circumstances back to God for him to be in control of, then I find life. My heart rests.”
God has not called us to have perfect children, homes, or ministries. God has called us to be faithful, and to leave the results to him. He does not promise us perfection or freedom from pain, but a peace that passes understanding. That’s what Hope has now.
Food Can Relieve My Stress
Idols don’t need to be negative things like drugs or illicit sex – idolatry occurs anytime we turn a good thing into an ultimate thing, expecting it to do what only God can do for us.
Rebecca is the mother of four boys, two on the autism spectrum. Each night, after she finally got all four boys in bed, she’d get a glass of milk and a big piece of pie and settle down in front of the news. As she said, “It brought quick relief – but it didn’t last, so I needed another piece of pie.”
Rebecca came to see that her heart idol was comfort, and instead of allowing God to meet that need, she was running to food – and it was destroying her. Her weight ballooned along with depression.
“Seeing the idol was half the battle – but then I was afraid. If I didn’t eat, would God just let me sit in my pain?”
As Rebecca began to study passages about God’s unfailing love, she took a step of faith. She turned off the news and stopped running to food. She began to read books about intimacy with God, like A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God.
Rebecca has lost the weight, overcome her depression, and is experiencing the presence of God in a way she has not in a long time. “It wasn’t a quick fix” she says – but God came to me. Intimacy with God is like a stream – and I hate it when the rocks get in the way.”
(If you would like to see Rebecca’s testimony on video or use it in your preaching, click here.
Fantasy Can Help Me Through Life
Susan is married to an unbeliever who often belittles her. As an escape, she dreamt up the perfect husband and fantasized about him. Then she began to fantasize about a real man, the husband of a friend, who was all she wished her husband would be. “Fortunately,” she said in retrospect, “that couple disappeared from my life. But then, after our third child was born, I had a breakdown and panic attacks. I cried out to God, ‘Why can’t I just be happy like I was before?’”
Gently, he asked me: “What were you so happy about?”
I realized what I had done. I had forsaken the lover of my soul for a fantasy. My husband may never be what I wish he would be – but I do have a God who cherishes me, who will never leave me or forsake me, who sees my tears, and who is real – not a fantasy.
I Am Not an Idolater
We are naive if we think of idolatry in terms of statues. If we are honest, every single one of us has times when we run for refuge to things other than God, find our identity in things other than God, or when we trust in things other than God.
Heart idols are invisible – all that can be seen is the bad fruit that emanates from them. Our body language is key – we are tense, jittery, or downcast. There is strife in our relationships.
Rachael was in constant strife with one of her children. When she began to study idols of the heart, she began to realize that she was an idolater – not of visible things, but of invisible. What Rachael wanted was the approval of others, so she wanted her children to be model children. She was convicted by a book by Paul Tripp that said when that happens, our children can become our enemies, keeping us from what we really want.
“I was broken – repentant,” Rachael said. “I asked God to help me really love my children and trust him for my approval. It’s made all the difference in our home and in our lives.”
Idols are not our friends – they only pretend to be – but then they turn on us and cut us to pieces. Why would we run to them when we have a God like our God? Instead of cutting us to pieces, he was cut to pieces for us.
He is the God of all comfort, the peace that passes understanding, the friend who is closer than a brother, and the lover of our souls.
Dee Brestin is the author of The Friendships of Women, The God of All Comfort, and most recently, Idol Lies: Facing the Truth about Our Deepest Desires.
You can connect with her at www.deebrestin.com.