learning

the day i made an idol

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I have been reading the book of Isaiah, a longtime favorite with its arching Hebraic poetry and vivid imagery and bold, universal themes of self-sufficiency and transformation and wholeness. Isaiah also talks a lot about idols and every time he does, I am a little bit jealous of Israel’s idols because they are so concrete. They were pieces of wood or stone. You could see them. You knew what it meant to worship them. You knew what you wanted from them.

My idols are far more abstract. They are ghost-like, at once there and suddenly disappeared and I can’t quite make them out. I wish I could read the New Interactive Version that has a drop down menu from which I could select which of the commonly worshiped idols I was currently bowing to. (Youth group discussions were no help; money and popularity and fashion and a nice car were so far from my grasp, they seemed as foreign as a statue of Baal.)

I just feel like if I could give my idols a face and some names then maybe it would be easier to decide whether or not to worship them.

And today this wish came true; I made my idol.

I took a personal improvement day today, like I do every so often, just to relax and give myself some time to process the inside things that are very quiet and small and easy to ignore, but that I’m finding are very important to sit and wait and listen for. Mostly I wanted to figure out why I’m happy in Hawaii and not here and also make a plan for how not to be stressed anymore. At the time it seemed like a reasonable goal.

I started with a Core Values exercise a friend had recently sent to me. I wrote about a time in my professional life that I felt fully alive and happy and a time in my personal life that I felt the same. Then I identified the values from those times. After that I wrote about a time that was awful in both my professional and personal life and what values that pointed to as well. Then we synthesize the lists and ta-dah! I have a list of core values to pursue.

And my life will magically be 97% better! Hooray!

Except for that as I was developing my list and going back to these passages in Isaiah I suddenly realized that some of my values weren’t values: they were idols.

Balance was one of my value idols. There have been a handful of times in my life when I felt totally balanced: I was taking care of my body, my emotions, my soul, I was communicating well and setting healthy expectations, I was doing all the good things and none of the bad things. It was amazing.

It was also very short lived.

And so I try, every day, to get back to this state of perfect balance. I come up with systems that will fix all my chaos: there’s a writing schedule and a devotional practice solution and new commitments to spend time engaging with the kids. Also, I will eat less sugar and more vegetables and less in general. I will walk. I will call a friend. So I wake up and try to implement my new and improved solution. And everyday, except a few, I fail.

This does wonders for my self-esteem and stress levels.

I believe that when I am perfectly balanced, then I will feel fulfilled and satisfied, and I can finally let my breath out because (gasp!) I made it!

Sister to balance, is the idol of trying to meet my own high expectations. I know how things should be and I know I can be all I should be if I try a little bit harder. I can be more perfecter.

The problem with this whole notion is that, historically, perfection has not been one of my qualities. Perfectionist at times, yes, but being perfect? No. As a rule, I am not perfect and I don’t produce perfect things. I think once I made a perfect batch of chocolate chip cookies, but I forgot what I did and haven’t done it since. (I don’t know if this type of accidental perfection counts anyway.)

I ran across a verse today, Isaiah 46.9:

For I am God, and there is no other,
I am God and there is none like me.

What I heard was:

I am Perfect, and you are not,
I am Perfect, and to reiterate, you are not.

I would have been offended at this Holy Spirit Interactive Version, except that I never claimed to be perfect, I was just secretly training for it.

And the reason I want to be perfect and to be balanced is because I believe that they will save me from a lack of fulfillment. When I want to feel fulfilled, I ask “What do I need to do better?”

It sounds as silly as a god made from a tree stump that is supposed to give you a good harvest, but there you have it. That’s my god and what s/he is supposed to do for me.

And so I decided that Balance and Perfect are my idols. And now that they had names, it was time to give them faces, or at least a shape. Ultimately I want to smash my idols, but right now I want to see them. I want their ghost-like elusiveness to grow sharp edges and lose their transparency. And I want to see what God’s Spirit will do in me as this happens.

Since my wooden idol carving skills are not up to par right now, I went with an already formed object I could break. A mug from Hawaii. Since it could be easily argued that Hawaii is an idol — and since a mug longs for filling — it seemed wholly appropriate.

So I decorated my idol and now it sits on my desk. Whether I worship it or destroy it awaits to be known.

 

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