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Idolatry and Controlled Burning

Ever have one of those moments when something just finally clicks in your mind and soul and you realize a truth the Lord’s been trying to get you to grasp for ages? A moment when you know the Father is belly laughing and cheering because you finally got there? I’ve recently had one of those moments and, holy cow, how did I miss it until now? 

One of my recent devotions dealt with the topic of idolatry but put it into a form I had never considered. The author asked you to consider what you’re “leaning on” that, if taken away, would cause grief, anxiety, fear, insecurity and more? That grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me a little bit because if asked to define an idol, I’d say anything we worship. However, the things that I would have claimed as idols, past and present, and the things that came to my mind during this moment of introspection were not the same. More than that, I was struck by how each of those ‘concealed idols’ have played a huge part in my life over the last few years and how the Lord’s undoing of their hold on me has gone unnoticed until now. 

See, the last five years have seen some pretty challenging and soul searching moments in my life. Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised because it all seemed to start after I had a “come to Jesus meeting” with, well, Jesus, himself. You can read more about that here but let’s just say I traded my bitterness for a deeper walk with the Father and a new perspective on what it means to live out your purpose. That’s when all the craziness seemed to set in motion which is a great reminder that Jesus promises we will see trouble if we are following Him (John 16:33).

Looking back, I can see how God used these very specific challenges to tear down idols in my life and replace them with His goodness. I can even see that I’m still in the midst of some tearing down but I’d like to share a few that really struck me…

My reputation had become an idol I didn’t recognize until recently. Being viewed as honest, hardworking, kind, reliable, authentic and having a decent character was something I didn’t realize I was “leaning on” for security but God sure did. So, how did that idol fall? I had three… not one, not two, but three, different people go out of their way to try and destroy my reputation. They spread rumors, damaged relationships, filed reports (Yes, truly.) and removed my credibility in many circles. I spent a solid year running around trying to put out fires, prove I wasn’t what they said and basically, try to defend myself against attacks from every direction. I finally realized that the only opinion that truly matters is the Lord’s. He can speak the truth and your name in rooms you have never entered and if you think about it, Jesus’ enemies spent a large portion of His ministry trying to ruin His reputation so I guess I’m in good company. 

My job and finances became an idol of security which is a bit ironic because I work a job that is kind of known for not providing that. However, I had worked hard to get my finances in line, save for the future and was finally ready to buy a new house. I confidently sold the one I lived in with the thought that it shouldn’t take that long to find something in my price range and then the market went belly up. What felt like a safe and well thought out plan was now essentially void. There wasn’t one thing I could do to make the interest rate go down or make someone sell for a reasonable price. I would obsess over finding something to the point of not being able to sleep at night but then I realized when the time is right, the Lord will make it happen (Isaiah 60:22). I’m thankful for a job that provides for me but I’m also confident that the Lord can do as He pleases. 

My appearance definitely became a point of pride and idolatry in my life a few years back. This may sound strange if you know me because you know I have struggled with perfectionism and being pretty dang critical of myself since I was a child but I had worked hard to get healthy and strong. This process originally brought a 70 pound or so drop and I felt good about myself for the first time ever. What I didn’t recognize is I was leaning hard into those people pleasing defenses I used as a child. “If I can be good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, etc. people will like me.” So, naturally, I developed an autoimmune disease that saw me gain 30 pounds in a few months. After fighting it for longer than a sane person should, I learned to appreciate the healthy and strong things my body can do, when it can do them while releasing my need to fit a worldly standard. I also learned to ask for help and not let pride dictate how I approach a problem. My value doesn’t lie in my jeans size but rather the value of who I am in God which includes the amazing abilities He has given my body and mind. 

Finally, my independence has always been a source of pride that I have often viewed as a necessity. Many single women develop the "I don't need no man" mantra as a defense mechanism which when added to an already fiercely independent, stubborn personality can be disastrous. I would rather kill myself than ask for help. I've faced scary moments alone because it felt weak to admit my fears and ultimately, I wanted to prove that I was up to the challenge of getting life done without being a burden on someone else but surprise, surprise, we all need help at times and sometimes choosing to go it alone is dangerous and foolish. This past year was a HUGE lesson in admitting that I needed help which began when I realized I was being stalked. Do you know how scary the world becomes when you realize you are being watch from the shadows by some unknown figure who is getting pleasure out of having "power" over you? The situation only got worse when I figured out who this man was and that he was somebody I was already afraid of from a past experience. Suddenly, my feisty "can do" attitude crumbled as I was walked to my car by friends, followed around church by our amazing security team and kept company in a courtroom for MONTHS while this man sat mere feet away from me. I realized that it wasn't weakness to admit I was scared or needed help and I was overwhelmed by how many blessings and provisions I saw through this ordeal. God didn't call me to be unstoppable and He gave others skills and abilities that blessed me during a very chaotic time just as He wanted.

Side note...Please don't misunderstand me. I do not believe the Lord caused me to be stalked or gave me an illness or any of the other things above as a punishment or test. Let's be honest, half were troubles of my own making. However, I do know that He promises to work everything together for our good (Romans 8:28) and as Joseph so wisely recognized what others mean for evil the Lord can use for good (Genesis 50:22). We live in a fallen world so knowing that the Lord can use it all for our benefit and His glory is fantastic.

As I shared this with my tribe, I described it as burning away the rubbish to allow other things to grow... controlled burning as my friend, Kristi, so rightly titled it. You know when a field or forest is burned to allow the healthy life to thrive? It looks a mess for a while and often seems like going in the opposite direction but it isn't. I think what I’m truly appreciating in the midst of this journey is the fact that most of these idols come from good places but have been warped by my fallen self. Yet, God is loving enough to burn away the dead growth and all the weeds to allow HIS goodness to blossom in the same spots. It’s been painful, embarrassing and emotionally draining at times but the grace of the Father is unmatched. I can’t wait to see what blossoms from the lessons that are still being learned and see what the Lord wants to place in my open hands now that I'm not clutching idols so fiercely.

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