As Pastor Muche confessed his own covetousness with us this past Sunday—how badly he desired to have a son—all I could think was, “I know what that feels like.” There was a time where I wanted to play D1 basketball so bad that my family drove 16 hours to drop me off at the University of Connecticut. And there was that time, maybe a time or ten, where I wanted some shoes so bad that I visited the same website every day just to see them—until I could convince myself I was suppose to have them regardless of the price and my uhh insufficient funds. Nothing else mattered as much. But what ran through my mind most vividly was the time all my years of idolatry reached a point that threatened to destroy my soul and kidnap my identity…
All my life I’d felt different. Whether it was being the only girl playing outside with the boys in my neighborhood, being the black girl that “talked white” to my black friends, not wanting to party in high school, and not to mention becoming a believer at a liberal college. While people knew of me, I felt like no one understood me. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. And once I could no longer hide behind year-round basketball, I found myself desperate. I needed something to make me feel like I belonged. I needed approval. I needed love. I needed God. But I’d already boxed him in to only meeting my spiritual needs. Me not having a (female) best friend like all the “normal” girls did growing up couldn’t be assuaged by knowing God now. I needed what I’d never had. So, that’s what my heart set itself on. Meanwhile, I thought I was just sensitive, emotional, or maybe even clingy. But after years of emotional roller coasters that doubled as friendships, ridiculous expectations for people to make up for my years of loneliness, mediations, and more tears than smiles, someone dropped a harsh truth on me. I was codependent. My very existence had been inextricably bound to someone else’s. Alright, let me put that into perspective. Think about how much you need God. Ok. Got it? That’s how much I’d determined I needed this friend, and the next, and the next. Now, that should explain why my emotions were so unstable; unlike God, people change, they disappoint, and they (we) fall short time and time again.
Yet, I was stuck. I felt trapped and approaching Romans 1:21-25 with no way out. I found myself sitting on a couch telling a therapist, in between tears, that I was losing my mind. And then she said some things that gave me the edge in the spiritual battle I’d began fighting. She told me not to ignore those feelings of loneliness and desperation. They come from a real place. I was sad as a kid despite all the happiness that seemed to surround me, and I'd tried to go on like this for years. But I can’t just cover that up by saying Jesus loves me now, nor can I get those years back. But, what I can do (and should) is allow God to heal those wounds and be all I’m looking for now.
Along the way to that end, I read books like When People Are Big and God is Small, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and Life Together. I found lasting encouragement as well in Psalm 139 and The Father’s Love Letter piece. But there was a defining moment along the path to allowing God to be my everything. I came face-to-face with this question: How do you really get God where He belongs in your heart, when something or someone is already positioned there? Yes, part of the solution is to stare at Him in scriptures, in prayer, in psalms, in hymns, and in spiritual songs—to be needy for Him. But there's more. You also have to be willing to mimic Abraham and put your idol on the altar and let God decide its fate.
CLEARING THE STAGE
While it pulled against every fiber of my being, I had to walk away from what I always wanted and felt like I currently had. I’d finally grasped the reality that sin wants to kill us. For some, it literally puts our physical bodies in jeopardy, but for all of us, sin seeks to murder us spiritually. Our idols want to paint us so beautiful a picture of satisfaction that we are willing to ignore the voice of the one who’s loved us from the beginning. The one who didn’t withhold His son for us as proof that He loves us immeasurably and gives us His best. They want us to chase for what is freely given to us by God. And so often they win, because we forfeit in advance of the fight—giving in so easily—or we bow out too soon. Or, as I found myself doing, we downplay how entangled our hearts truly are. But we must resist denial before it becomes destruction. We have to fight for our lives.
This is something we must actively participate in daily, understanding we will have to (to some degree) for the rest of our lives. We have to fight to keep God on the throne of our hearts. And there are extreme times that will call for extreme measures. Walking away from my life-consuming hoop dreams in college meant walking towards Jesus to find my true purpose. And I had to set aside hours of time daily to pray, fast, read, meditate and the like to loosen my grip on self and my heart’s desires for friendship before I could truly hold tight to Christ. I had to get serious about my sin.
I had to let the truths of these words (by Jimmy Needham) sink in…
Anything I put before my God is an idol Anything I want with all my heart is an idol Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol Anything that I give all my love is an idol
In order for God to take His proper place on the platform of my heart, I had to clear the stage.