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.
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. . .