I’ve always been afraid of what people think of me. I mean, if you don’t like me, then there must be something wrong with me! Thus, I have done everything in my control to put up a good image and be likeable. Looking good for the approval of others has been a Love Idol for me.
I have handed other people the right to define me, and give me my self-worth. Not being a ‘natural’, I have worked extra hard to earn approval and love. Growing up, I studied long hours to ensure straight ‘A’s’, ran extra miles to make sure I was a top runner, and tried so hard to ‘fix’ my broken family and make everyone happy. I learned early on how to ‘not feel’, put on a smile, and pretend that all is well. If I let people see the real me with my hurts and flaws, I believed they would reject and abandon me.
No matter how hard I tried, NOTHING was ever ‘good enough’. I didn’t feel loved at all. I struggled on the inside while looking ‘together’ on the outside. But, life went on.
In college, I was bombarded by the idea that God expects us to ‘live free from sin.’ Perfect! That’s exactly what I want to be: PERFECT! The verse, “be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect” fit the bill. So, I added more restrictions to my life and tried extra hard to make God happy with me. I followed the rules of what men said God wanted, and even went beyond to ensure God’s approval.
However, I knew that sin lurked inside of me and I thought that if God hated sin, then surely God hated me. I hated myself as well so I worked hard to ‘put myself to death.’ The teaching in the church just fueled the self-hatred inside.
If only I could ‘do well’ for God, then maybe He would accept me. However, I had developed some bad habits early on that I just couldn’t shake and I didn’t think God would accept me until I did better. But, all my efforts always ended in failure so I would resolve to do better by being harsher with myself, all the while thinking this is what God wanted.
In High School, I was told that extra weight would slow me down, so I ran many miles and tried to eat very little to stay extra lean. Meanwhile, I was burdened by so much shame for what had been done to me, and blamed myself for having a broken home - that I turned to food for comfort and relief. I hated myself for this and was afraid to be fat so I made myself throw up. I tried to stop doing this on my own, buried in shame for 14 years.
I believed that I was an utter disappointment to God, and feared rejection from people if they really knew my hurts and struggles.
As I got older, I tried to find approval in being the best wife, mom, church-going, Bible-reading, praying, serving kinda girl. But, fear ruled my heart. I lived to please man, thinking I was pleasing God. The burden to be approved got heavier and heavier. I had to be so careful to do everything ‘right’, never showing any weakness.
By God’s grace, I failed. God nudged me to speak up in the unhealthy church we were a part of, which was totally inappropriate for a woman - to speak! But, I followed my heart and chose to follow God rather than man. He was the approval my heart longed for. I was scolded harshly and ‘marked’ as an insecure, fearful, carnal, emotional woman who lacked a sound mind - the very labels I spent my life trying to disprove. Those words pierced my heart, and I hurt. With no one by my side, I felt abandoned, rejected, unloved, and utterly alone. I felt like I had obeyed God, and He failed me.
I lost my ability to perform and even function. I sunk into depression and my past haunted me. I was desperately afraid that I would never be ‘good enough’ for God or people. PTSD kept me hypervigilant and fearful of more rejection. I hid for a long time.
In the pit of despair, I was finally honest to God about my life, my hurt, my anger towards Him and those who hurt me. Those who were supposed to love me, hurt me, again and again no matter how hard I tried to please them. How can I trust You, God? Why did You allow such pain and heartache in my life? What is Love anyways? I can’t comprehend it. God, please help me!
Though I wanted Him to rescue me, I was angry and afraid. I ran - He pursued.
He sent me a stranger on-line to share the Good News with me. I confessed, “I am the lost sheep,” but the stranger told me, “Paula, it sounds to me like Jesus found you.” I thought about that, and I reckoned He did. “The Gospel is not what you do for Christ, it isn’t ‘do more, try harder’, but it’s what Jesus did for you.” “God loves you as you are, not as you ‘should’ be.” The Holy Spirit used the words on the screen to pierce my wounded, hard heart.
The scary thing about love is that we have to open up our hearts to receive it. Well, I had promised myself to never open up my heart again when I was 13. I had been hurt too many times and I was never going to trust another soul in my life. But, God is near the brokenhearted and saves those with a contrite heart. He understands me completely - even my difficulty with trusting Him.
He captured my heart with His love. At my ugliest, worst moments, God accepted me and I felt His love for the first time that I can remember. I gave Him my heart.
He gently leads me out of hiding and covers my shame.
Carefully, my Chief Surgeon, reveals the Love Idols I have worshiped that have occupied my heart. Like a cancer, they take up His love space. He never scolds me, just asks me if I want Him to remove them. It’s scary, but I know it’s for my good. Those idols only hurt me and keep me from His love that heals.
Even though He has given me a new heart, the habits I formed to earn love and the lies I have believed of what makes me ‘worthy’ try to occupy my heart again. I have to remind myself daily that I am ‘preapproved’ and loved as I am. I am learning to trust my Savior with all my heart and let Him inhabit more and more.
As I receive His love, I no longer need to turn to food! He is healing that for me. I can accept the way He made me as good and appreciate my body. I can let myself feel realizing that my feelings are not ‘bad’, they make me real.
Though I still struggle with the lies that I am ‘not enough’ - feeling everything but approved, wanted, accepted, and loved as I am, He says I am enough, and that’s the truth!
The concept of the Gospel can be so hard to wrap my mind around, but the Holy Spirit continues to pierce my heart and show me His love that He proved for me through Jesus. God loves me enough to give His only Son - for ME! I don’t deserve His love. I can’t earn it, but it’s Mine. I am His, and He is mine, and His banner over me is love. I can rest. I am preapproved! That truth makes me a Believer.
The more God’s love fills my heart, the freer I become from all the idols that kept me bound.