Grasping for Enough: the Empty Promise of Idols

I admit it. I have harbored the thought that “I am not enough.”

When I do, it’s usually in conjunction with an attached infinitive phrase.

I am not enough to get this work done in time.
I am not enough to complete this task of raising children to be equipped adults.
I am not enough to speak effectively about injustices, bullying, and deceptive leadership.
I am not enough to figure out how to keep my head above water in this new season of life.

And I wallow around for a short time there in that place of frustration and self-pity, but like Shakespeare’s Beatrice, I must have been born under a star that dances, for I am of an optimistic humor and it’s not long before I bound out of that pit.I am not enough, says the defeated soul.
am enough, pronounces the buoyed heart.

The world is inclined to think the first is wrong and the second is always correct. It’s a challenge for many who are sensitive to the doctrines of grace, knowing that it is wrong to boast about being enough, but understanding how important it is to intercept people in despair and defeat. What harm can come from encouraging others not to feel badly about themselves?

Try this perspective: what’s wrong is how the question is being asked. It’s not whether I am enough or not enough. The problem is with the “I”. Answers change when the question is posed properly:

Is God enough? 

John Calvin opined that the heart is an idol-making factory. I know. Mine produces several a day, wrapped in lies and suggestions and slanders to keep them alive. Sometimes the idol bargains for my worship through fear that I haven’t been treated as well as I deserve. Sometimes the idol convinces me I have it in me to come out on top, or be the person I want to be, or achieve my dreams, that I just need to do a little bit more to satisfy the ache for comfort, affirmation, or control of my circumstances. 

Idols come in all shapes and sizes, able to conform neatly to the size and shape of dissatisfaction that we have in our hearts. If God hasn’t done enough to ensure I reach my goals of success, I will find the impetus within me to do so. If God isn’t enough of a comfort for me, surely he will not disapprove of a person snuggling into earthly comfort. It’s just for a while. It’s just until God catches up.

As Christina Fox writes in Idols of a Mother’s Heart, “Often, in our own seasons of waiting on God, we turn to idols to give us hope, comfort, and peace.”

Although the title of Christina’s book gives the impression that its target is mothers only — and in a worthy manner, she writes with authenticity and grace to moms wrestling with momlife in the trenches, there is much for any Christian to learn about evicting idols and surrendering fully to God. With opening chapters that lay a solid confessional foundation regarding God’s nature; man’s insufficiency and bent toward sin; the high calling of worship; the balance of law and grace; the beautiful doctrines of salvation, sanctification, perseverance; and ultimate freedom in sonship, Christina directs us to a clear understanding of how idolatry is the bitter root of all sins. 
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I could immediately identify.

​When I was a child, every morning before I left for school, we would go through a series of rituals to make sure our mom’s aims were not compromised.

Look clean.
Look fed.
Look happy.
Follow the rules, listen to the teachers, pick the right friends.

I got the message. These were principles of life and it was critical that I follow them. There were consequences if I didn’t.

People might think we’re like those other folks, those other kids who come from broken homes. People might think there’s something wrong with the parenting in our household. People might see through the embarrassing social secrets we try to hide. People might think that now we’re a single parent household that we’re going to go the way of the statistics. People might draw conclusions about our financial situation from our attire, our car, our neighborhood.

This idol of appearances seemed necessary in our small, cozy town which had not yet seen the ravages of divorce sweep through families and homes—except for our family. For my mom, of another, more gentle, more genteel generation, it was bad enough that she was now divorced, but it was a very public divorce, and my father was a very public and popular man. She couldn’t hide, so not being like those other broken homes became the aim—and an idol—for her.

I learned the lessons well myself. I indulged in any manner of behavior if I believed it would cast me as better than others, erase the appearance of having problems in my life. Any prideful attitude, any condescension toward others was justified in my mind. No doubt I knew that classmates, coworkers, acquaintances probably looked down on me anyway, but “better” is in the eye of the beholder, and my beholding was better than theirs.

How could I have been so blind as to not see how this appeared?

The solution then—and now—is not to assure myself that I am enough. The solution is fully understanding that God is completely, perfectly, beyond-any-comprehension enough, and I am not even worthy of comparison.

“Our sins [of cultivating and propping up appearances, et al] are acts of defiance against our Creator,” writes Christina in the chapter titled, “What is Idolatry?” “They are statements to God and the world around us, saying, ‘I know better. I can do what I want. God can’t tell me what to do.’ Like the first sin in the Garden, we want to be like God. When we sin, we make a claim that God is not God; rather, we are. In that moment we are not honoring God as God and instead place ourselves on the throne.

. . . Our idolatry stems from our inordinate desires, our desires that are not for God’s glory, but for our own. This idolatry gives birth to sin.”

The tragedy of defying our good and gracious Creator is compounded in our lives because idols will never live up to their promises. “Whatever happiness we do find in our idols is temporary and fleeting,” she writes, “. . . . We will feel a constant dissatisfaction, a lingering discontentment. Until we realize our idols just can’t fill the infinite abyss in our hearts. And until we can see them for what they truly are: counterfeits, false substitutes, cheap imitations, worthless, and powerless.”

Our Adversary, Satan, the Slanderer and Deceiver, holds the record for counterfeiting, substituting, and imitating. He whispers “not enough” in countless shifting shapes and forms—and sometimes it sounds like “you’re enough!”. He does it to weaken us, make us ineffective, diminish our gratitude and worship to God. And he does it to divide us from one another, from God, from the good gifts he gives us (including our children), from the labor we do to his glory, from the beauty of pure worship, and from the truth about ourselves.

​He knows we are free from the bondage of his lies, from the enslavement of his deceptions, from the despair of his accusations—but it is his undying, unholy passion to taunt us, to plant the lies in our minds that God is not enough and that it’s okay to ache for hopes and dreams to be satisfied from elsewhere, to compel us to act like children of Adam, slaves to sin, instead of bought and made free in Christ by his blood.

We need to preach the gospel of freedom in Christ to ourselves. We need to remind ourselves daily, hourly, moment by moment, how merciful and patient the Lord is with us.

“The more we dwell on these truths, the more we realize God’s love for us in Christ, the more our idols will shrink in comparison,” writes Christina Fox.

“Rejoice in this truth, dear friends. God’s mercy is new and fresh every day.”

Christina Fox’s Idols of a Mother’s Heart can be purchased at Christian Focus Publications or at Amazon.

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