“Lobby, Lobby, Lobby!”
My son was wailing for his stuffed lobster. He had gotten it as a comfort after a particularly hard doctor appointment just days before. But he had been practicing aggression and destruction as ways to deal with disappointment, so he kicked it across the hall when he didn’t get a lollypop like his sister. By the time we had dealt with his other poor behavior, the small lobster was nowhere to be seen.
And he wailed. So much that we couldn’t talk to him and teach him about his behavior. This continued until my husband said, “I can buy you a new lobster. Listen to ME!”
My son was crushed when his toy was gone because he was focusing on the gift rather than the one who can give him more gifts.
We do that, too. We put people and relationships in the places of meeting our needs instead of God. This is relational idolatry.
Idolatry itself is summed up well in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator”.
In relational idolatry, we exchange the truth of God- that He meets all our needs for love and belonging- for a lie- I can get my needs met by this person. We are worshipping created things rather than our Creator.
This is such a deception! Because, especially among Christians, this idolatry is often focused on a relationship God gives us!
For instance, my husband is GREAT at meeting all our financial, emotional, electronic, and problem-solving needs in our family. Several years ago, his health got really bad. My mind started strategizing, worrying about what I would do to meet our needs if he were gone. I tried to take control by worrying about his meds, food, sleep, whatever I needed to do to make sure he wasn’t taken from me.
I’ve seen that a lot. Women imagining scenarios where someone who is meeting their needs- husband, friend, child, family member- was gone. Stressing and worrying and controlling things to make sure that didn’t happen.
This is a form of worship. Focusing on how a created being meets our needs. And doing whatever it takes to make sure they keep meeting them.
Combatting Relational Idolatry
So what do we do instead?
The answer is not isolation. It is not pushing everyone out of our lives or distancing ourselves emotionally so we can’t possibly be thinking of them as meeting our needs.
The answer lies in recognizing the truth.
There is a difference between the gift and the Giver.
God forms our relationships- marriage, family, friendships- to be a conduit of how He meets our needs.
My husband who provides financial and emotional security is a gift.
But he’s not my Giver.
I have found healing and freedom in my relational idolatry toward my husband when I could start to say “if my husband dies, the same Provider Who gave me the gift of him will still do His job as Provider.”
Overcoming relational idolatry involves holding loosely to the gift and tightly to the Giver.
How do we do that?
- Give thanks
While I might regularly thank my husband for being awesome, I do best when I also regularly thank God Who gave me this amazing husband. Practicing gratitude, giving thanks, increases our love and connection to God. Dude, it’s all over the Bible as a solution! Try it out!
- Replace lies with truth
Recognizing and confessing relational idolatry is the start to restoration of relationship, but there are still those lies that must be addressed. And deep lies are best broken when they are repeatedly challenged with the Truth. For me, this looked like repeating Bible verses in my head to combat anxious, idolatrous thoughts. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4:9) was on repeat when I would slip into the “what would I do if” thinking. But I had to be prepared with what weapon I would use in this combat before it started.
- Intentionally worship the Giver
Worship, rather than just singing songs, is focusing on Who God is and what He’s done. So do that! It might mean having more Christian music playing around you. Or maybe adjusting your thought life to think on such things.
Set your mind on things above, not earthly things!
As you focus on God throughout your days, you will grow closer- you will hold Him tighter. And our relationship with our Giver allows us to hold the gifts He’s given more loosely.
We still love them, but we won’t wail when our lobster is gone.
Because our Giver isn’t going anywhere.