Friday, May 18, 2012

Reflections on Redemption: Part 2- Demolishing Idols

2.  "Pain is God's megaphone." (C.S. Lewis) 

God is committed to breaking down the idols in my life.  An idol is a substitute for the real thing, and God will not let me settle for less than Himself.  He is committed to disrupting what I love more than Him.  This process hurts!  When my idol doesn't satisfy as I hoped, or when I cannot obtain my idol, I experience frustration and suffering.  Ripping away an idol is painful because sometimes the idolatry has become so much a part of you that it's like tearing your skin to be free from it.

How do we handle pain?  We may try to ignore it, but it keeps haunting us.  We may try to medicate it with hours in front of the TV, overeating, reading, shopping, partying, spending time in hobbies, sports, busy schedules or religious activities.  The most significant way we respond to suffering is that we give meaning to it.  We derive a story from the suffering and come to faulty conclusions- "God doesn't love me or this wouldn't have happened."  "God is cruel." "God cannot be known, and He doesn't understand."  "People cannot be trusted."  "Relationships are too hard; they aren't worth investing in."  "There is no hope for me."  "I am unworthy of love and affection."  "I'll do whatever makes me happy to get rid of this pain."

These conclusions have more impact than we realize.  They become central to our lives and part of our schema.  As humans, we are meaning makers, hard-wired to interpret life.  Author Paul Tripp says, "We do not live our lives based on the bare facts of our existences; we live our lives according to our interpretation of those facts."  Based on the events in my life, I believe a story of my life, I tell a story from it, and I live my life according to that story.  If 10 different people were going through the same circumstances, there would be 10 different meanings, stories, and reactions.  We are unique in the stories that we tell ourselves.

The devil lies to us in our stories; he does not want us to approach God in our pain.  Satan whispers, "The idol will take care of you, God won't.  The idol gives you what you want, what you crave; it relieves your pain; it liberates you.  Fight for your idol; serve and defend it."  When we stubbornly hold on to our idols and our own stories, we do not see the true purpose of our pain- that God is loving us out of our idol worship.

Yes, demolishing idols means we will experience pain and frustration as we confront the lies we have believed, the stories we have created with ourselves as the main characters.  But God can and will work through my sin to bring me closer to Him.  How far will He go to get my attention?  Sin knows no rock bottom; if I hit rock bottom, it's called the grace of God.  Once I'm there, God wants to show me that what I'm looking for is Him; no person, no experience, no dream will ever fully satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.  He wants me to understand what it means to have joy to the full, life abundantly, and unconditional love. He wants me to see that He is at the center of my story, and when I begin to recognize that, my idol will lose its mastery over me.  Why?  Because the end of slavery is the beginning of freedom.

Questions:

1) If you had to write a one-sentence title to the story of your life, what would it be?

2) How have you suffered?  What meaning have you made from your suffering?

When I had to answer the first question in class, we had about 10 minutes to think about it.  Here was my life-story title: "A girl who longs to be loved for who she is, not for what she does."

This title originated from many hurtful experiences growing up in the 80's as a Korean-American in a predominantly Swedish town in Illinois.  The meaning I made from my suffering was, "You are different, you are ugly, nobody wants you, nobody accepts you, nobody loves you."  This caused an intense self-hatred; I despised the things that made me different- my hair, my eyes, my skin, my small frame.  I didn't believe I could ever be loved, accepted, or celebrated for who I was, so I dealt with this pain by driving myself into perfectionism in order to be accepted.  "If you don't like me for who I am, maybe you'll like me because of what I do."  I even remember telling myself this as an 8-year-old sitting alone in my room.  I was determined to be the best at whatever I did so that there would be no reason not to be liked, accepted, or respected.  Though I didn't know it at the time, I built my idol of perfectionism that day, and I vowed to worship it forever.

I have clung for years to a faulty conclusion that my worth is based on my performance.  Being punished for making mistakes, losing a competition, or getting bad grades only reinforced this conclusion.  Perfectionism and performance are so much a part of me that it is extremely hard to believe that I am actually valuable outside of what I do.  Who am I if I'm not striving for something?  Can I really accept myself without any accomplishments?  Where will my significance come from if it isn't from the things I have created?

Someday I want to rest in the knowledge that I am loved, deeply loved, for the soul inside this Asian body.  I want to believe that God created me exactly the way He wanted, and that when He looks at me, He sees the heart of the little girl who has longed to be loved all her life and who desires to rest in grace but is too afraid to stop running.  How do I get there?  That's coming next. . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reflections on Redemption- Part 1: Idolatry

I joined a group this spring at my church called Redemption.  It was 11 weeks of being confronted with the state of my heart as we read through Exodus and the Redemption book by Mike Wilkerson from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I've decided to share four statements that were game-changers for me in this process, but I will do them in a series so I can digest them fully!

1.  Our hearts are idol factories. (John Calvin)

We were created to worship.  You can't turn it off; either we are worshipping God each minute, or we are worshipping something or someone else.  Worship is not an activity- it is an identity.  Whatever is most worthy of your attention and devotion, whatever drives you at the core and flows from the essence of who you are- that's what you worship, that's what you live for.  We love to worship; it is part of our basic human wiring.  To not worship is to not live- I worship something every day, whether I recognize what it is or not.

Sin corrupts worship.  It doesn't cease worship; it just distorts it.  We will exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god.  We worship idols as one who have the God-like ability to "fill" us with esteem, love, admiration, acceptance, respect, and other psychological desires.  They are worshipped because we perceive that they have the power to give us something.  We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us.  This is idolatry- something or someone has become bigger than God.  Addictions and other issues are not just problems- they are worship disorders.  They flow from hearts bent on worshipping created things rather than the Creator.  Our sin distorts the distinction between the Creator and the created.

We are both spiritual and physical beings, but many times we believe that the essence of life is found in the physical things.  As physical people in a physical world, it is hard for us to keep physical things in their proper place.  The result?  We end up dealing with spiritual things by indulging in physical cravings.  For example, if I have a spiritual need for love, I may seek to find it in the physical affection from another person, or if I have a spiritual desire for acceptance, I may seek to satisfy it through physical comforts or affirmation from people.  If I have a spiritual need for security, I may create physical safety by furnishing my home, working harder for a bigger paycheck, and surrounding myself with physical items to fill that void.

What starts as healthy longings, such as love, acceptance, significance, can lead to bondage and slavery.  Because of sin's blinding effect, we tend to look at our motives and see only what is pure, just, lovely, and noble, when in fact there is pollution, revenge, perversion, pettiness, and indulgence.

Question: What is your answer to the statement, "When I _______, then I'll be happy," or "There's nothing wrong with wanting __________."  Your answer exposes an idol.

My own personal answer to this was, "When I achieve perfection in all areas of my life, then I'll be happy."  "There's nothing wrong with wanting excellence in everything I do."

I have a huge idol of perfection.  I have bowed down to it and worshipped it for decades.  However, I never saw it as anything bad; instead, I've always believed my perfectionism was a strength- it just pushes me to do my best, isn't that noble?  But perfection always eludes me: I want the perfect spouse who treats me perfectly, perfect kids who do the right thing all the time, a perfect house with all the best furnishings, the perfect figure so that I can feel good about myself, the perfect wardrobe so I can stay up with the times, perfect relationships where no one gets hurt and there's no conflict, perfect performances where I make no mistakes.  On any given day, I am reaching for perfection in some way, shape or form.  When I don't achieve perfection, I beat myself up for being imperfect.  Even if 95% of my performance was great, I obsess over that 5% that wasn't good.  Even if my husband does wonderful things for me, I fixate on the small percentage of his flaws.  When listening to my kids play their instruments, I have a hard time recognizing how much they have accomplished and instead focus on how far they have to go before they get to the level that I think they should be.  My idol isolates me from the people I love most and hurts them deeply.

Why do I worship perfection?  What do I think this idol will give me?  I have discovered through this process that what my heart really longs for is true love and acceptance.  I want to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted.  Deep down, I believe that if I can achieve perfection, I will finally be valuable and lovable.  I got this message in subtle and not-so-subtle ways growing up, and it shaped my heart, creating an idol that is core to my being.