We stood in line, baby on my hip, toddler holding my hand, pre-schooler velcroed to my leg. We were a one-unit mob as I placed my order, asking for a coffee, and placing several juice bottles on the counter. I handed the attendant, a familiar face, a $10 bill, took the change and trotted back to the van. Fifteen minutes later, I was feeding the baby and reading to the toddler in a tiny waiting area: 4 chairs and a few ancient children’s books in the beige basement of the state university.
This disability has such a dramatic, and expensive, educational impact that the responsibility for treatment has frequently been shirked by insurance companies, on one hand, and school districts, on the other. Neither party would do even a part of their share providing services for our kids without legal battle. As a result, we took matters into our own hands, and wallets, and had called upon the interning speech students to provide treatment for our kids. It worked, praise God, for all three kids! But we paid a high price as a family.
I knew, and my kids knew, and my friends knew, that the coffee I picked up on the way was my sedative, my treat, for every appointment. It was my “payment” for the rigamarole of parking my van in an obscure designated area of the university and schlepping the little ones between architecturally-varied classroom structures. Rain, hail, sleet or snow, 100 degrees or 20 degrees, we were there, at least twice a week. As the years passed, I grew to view the ritual as more than burdensome. It consumed those years in many ways.
I knew, and my kids knew, and my friends knew, that the coffee I picked up on the way was my sedative, my treat, for every appointment.
We stood in line, as I irritably appeased at least one on-the-verge pre-crier who didn’t like leaving our home any more than I did. “Stay-at-home-mother?” Not this mom. I dragged these poor little ones everywhere, so they could learn to talk. I grabbed our beverages, sped on campus, parking pass on the van window, and waltzed into the treatment room with my oldest child, a little late. They didn’t like tardiness. Because the student therapists needed a minimum documented amount of clinical hours, our tardiness could impact them. They were strict and used negative reinforcement: scowls. This was all too much for me.
A few minutes later, I sat in that dark and dank basement corner with my other two children, shoulders slumped over the toddler in my lap, baby in carrier on the floor, demoralized. This was our lives for that long season. Nobody I knew had such a chore. I was saturated with self-pity. I reassessed the burden. As the drudgery of the routine overwhelmed me, I sipped on luke warm coffee in the luke warm room. I realized the coffee lost its charm before I had pulled onto campus. Why did I get it? Why did I leave 15 minutes earlier to secure it? Why did I extend this ordeal every time, even by 15 minutes? It suddenly made no sense.
I did the math; my coffee routine cost me, because of my entourage, roughly $20, at least a half hour of precious sleep, and no small supply of energy, every week. It had once been a treat. Now it owned a small but significant part of me. I had lost track of its benefits.
That was the last day that I made that stop. It amazed me that the elimination of that simple routine left me feeling free. I left the house later, the commute was simpler, and the kids seemed fresher, all by eliminating a simple 15 minute routine stop.
God doesn’t want anything to own us.
Idolatry is so offensive to God that He dedicated the first two commandments to preventing it. The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The second is, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below, You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:4).
God is intolerant of idolatry. He is up front and clear that it has serious consequences, while obedience to His commandments carries long-lasting blessings. Exodus 20:5-6 says,
“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
In the end idols steal our resources and consume our energy and devotion, but profit (us) nothing.
Exodus 34:14 tells us, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” One definition of jealous is vigilant to guard. God loves us with an everlasting love (see Jeremiah 31:3). He wants, and is worthy of, our devotion. He watches over us, wanting what’s best for us. He is best for us. When we become consumed by other things, they are idols.
The enemy doesn’t mind if our idols are undetected. Our devotion to them takes away from our spiritual fruitfulness for God, and from our relationship with God. When we don’t realize that we have them, we don’t care, and we don’t act to eliminate them. We should be jealous for our God, as He is jealous for us. We need to be vigilant about the objects that elicit our affection.
Idols enslave us. They are enemies to our freedom in Christ.
1. How we spend our time. Do you participate in any activities that demand large chunks of your busy schedule, and displace things that God would have you do? How about habits or distractions that add up throughout the week and keep you from doing what you otherwise should do?
In Romans 710-20, Paul says, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” We all struggle at times with not doing what we want to do, and sinning instead.
An activity, for example, going to the gym, may not be sinful, in itself. It becomes sinful, however, when it becomes a priority that may displace something you should do. James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.” Idols steal our time and reduce our Kingdom productivity.
2. How we use our money. In Matthew 6:20-21, Jesus explains, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Does your budget show that you spend more on clothing or jewelry or sports equipment than you would openly admit? Consider that these things may have grown to own you, rather than the other way around.
It is also important to be honest with yourself if you have spent money earmarked by God for another purpose. I admit that I have felt led by God to buy things for other people, and changed my mind. I decided I "needed" or wanted the item. Sometimes I remembered to replace it. Other times I didn't. Looking back, it was all just plain wrong. We should be willing to let all that we have flow through us, not stop with us. Placing even one item ahead of God's intent is idolatry.
3. What we enjoy enough to make a priority. Jeremiah 39:13 promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” If there is no joy in your relationship with God, with spending time with Him and in His Word, then press into Him! Ecclesiastes 2:1 tells of Solomon’s frustration with finding meaning and satisfaction outside of God. He says, “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.”
Consider that these things may have grown to own you, rather than the other way around.
It’s always interesting to see what people are watching, reading, listening to or talking about. Our faith and love for God should weave through all of these areas in our lives. When secular pursuits top our lists in any of these categories, we should beware that they haven’t become distractions, standing before God and us. Our interests and pastimes should encourage our walk with God, not steal from it.
Jonah 2:8 says that, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” It’s incredible, but we can turn away from God’s love of us! I pray that God opens each of our eyes to show us any worthless idols that we cling to. May we all find our deepest satisfaction and purpose in His perfect will for us! May we turn toward, not away from His love!