Since moving to El Salvador, marriage hasn’t been easy. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy when we were living in the States with normal jobs, friends close by, and constant air conditioning. But here on the mission field, it seems like the stream of minor frustrations and challenges leave hardly any energy for showing kindness or grace to each other.
So this day wasn’t unlike any other. I sat in my rocking chair looking out over our tiny Salvadoran backyard (I promise I’m not 80 years old), feeling total despair wash over me. Clay and I are so wrong for each other. God, what are you thinking? He is not who I wish he was. What is wrong with our marriage?
And then, like a still-small freight train, it hit me. The problem was me. I had created an idol in my marriage, but not in the way you would expect.
Fake People, Real Idols
Have you ever heard someone talk about how they loved their husband or wife so much that their spouse became an idol for them? We often take the good things in our lives and turn them into the best things, the things we can’t live without, the people we need more than God. God becomes, or always has been, second-fiddle. In this scenario, the gift of a spouse is better than the Giver himself. Can you envision that couple (without turning green)? Okay, so that is NOT what I’m talking about. It’s actually the opposite. I realized that I had formed an image in my mind of who I wanted Clay to be, and then that image became my idol.
I realized that I had formed an image in my mind of who I wanted Clay to be, and then that image became my idol.
This is what my idol of Clay looked like: a suave, diplomatic man who always said the right thing, impressed everyone no matter who they were or the situation, and was sure to be voted most-likable in his class. Furthermore, my idol Mr. Diplomat was quite the empathetic listener, agreed with all my ideas, and thought I was most certainly the best thing since iced vanilla lattes.
Now, my husband Clay is a very likable person. He has many great qualities that make him a natural leader and capable man. One of his strengths is not giving much credence to other people’s opinions of him. He speaks what’s on his mind and isn’t tossed to and fro by waves of popular thinking. But who Clay actually is doesn’t mesh well with the image of him I had somehow created over the years. And I wanted this image more than I wanted who God gave me.
Here’s how I knew I had created an idol…
I often wished that Clay was tactful, diplomatic, and soft-spoken. When he let me down by acting in a way that was more in line with who he actually was, I would get very angry and disappointed with him. Many times, my reaction (or over-reaction) was far more dramatic that what the situation called for. When his responses towards me were more of him speaking truth than being a super-compassionate listener, I couldn’t hide my disappointment and frustration. He wasn’t who I wanted him to be. And to take it even deeper, I realized that who I wanted him to be was rooted in how I wanted others to view ME.
I realized that who I wanted him to be was rooted in how I wanted others to view ME.
It wasn’t even so much about who he was. It was about how he made me look. I suppose that is my real idol, isn’t it? The desire to be admired and celebrated by others instead of pointing them to the One who should be adored over all else.
So, what was I supposed to do
about the idol I had created out of my false Clay? Death to Mr. Diplomat! Too much, I’m sorry. But, the reality is I must let go of these expectations and desires for who I want Clay to be. God chose him to be my husband, and because we are both believers and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, I must choose to trust that God uses our strengths and weaknesses for each other’s benefit.
An example of this – I used to care so very much what other people thought about me. Did they like me, did they think I was smart or godly, did they admire me and want to be around me? I let these questions control how I acted and how I felt. After being married for 10 years to Clay who doesn’t struggle with this sinful preoccupation, I have seen this desire of mine become weaker and I can now recognize when I am acting out of this desire. I have grown in this area because I have a spouse who is strong in this area. He isn’t who I would have chosen him to be (Mr. Diplomat) but God has used him in my life to make me just a little bit more like Jesus in one small corner of my heart.
When I get angry with Clay, which often happens over something small, I’m learning to check myself with this question – am I angry at him because he’s not living up to my idol of him?
I’m learning to check myself with this question – am I angry at him because he’s not living up to my idol of him?
If It becomes apparent through my introspection that I am comparing him to Mr. Diplomat, I must ask the Holy Spirit for help. I need help to see my spouse for who he is, covered in the righteous robes of Jesus our Savior. I need help to forgive my spouse for when he fails to love me perfectly. I need help to put my hope and satisfaction in Jesus, the only perfect spouse. I need help to walk alongside my spouse on this journey as co-heirs of amazing grace and encourage him with truth and joy when things get hard.
A Point of Clarification: Both Spouses Are Believers Being Sanctified
I want to make one clarification in case my personal experience is applied out of context. These principles I’m discussing strictly apply to marriages in which both husband and wife have surrendered their lives to Jesus and these lives show evidence of daily sanctification by his grace. I am NOT referring to a situation where one spouse desires that the other spouse becomes a Christian or quits a sinful behavior.
When I talk about the idol I’ve created out of who Clay isn’t, my idol has more to do with personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, and skills versus sins or sinful habits that would eventually destroy a marriage if left alone. Instead of accepting the sinful patterns of our partner, we should pray without ceasing and desire to see God make our spouses more and more like Him. But, an important note, I haven’t ever found it beneficial or effective to point out the sin of my spouse and try to “help” him change. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, and I am a very pitiful substitute.
I haven’t ever found it beneficial or effective to point out the sin of my spouse and try to “help” him change. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, and I am a very pitiful substitute.
These Idols Are Everywhere
Back to the topic of idols. Whenever I write something to share, like this blog, it is always at the forefront of my mind to share something applicable. I hope and pray (and lay awake at night worrying) that my ramblings make sense and resonate in some way. As I contemplated the application of this idea, I realized that I create idols out of false realities in nearly every area of my life. I have an idea of how something should be, and then that idea becomes the standard, the goal, the only satisfactory outcome.
For example, I think it’s easy to create an image of how we think church should be. This image includes the style of music we most enjoy, the style of preaching that inspires us, and the friendliest, most welcoming group of sinners we’ve ever met. But, then we attend church for a while, and it most certainly doesn’t live up to the sparkling image we hold, the idol we’ve created, and so we leave disappointed, frustrated, and hopeless that we will ever find the right church. I think this scenario could play out in our jobs, with our kids, in our friendships, I could go on.
So I ask myself and you, what false realities have you unconsciously started worshiping?
Do you have a Mr. Diplomat hiding in the back pocket of your heart like me? In what area of your life could God be calling us to see and accept His provision and His plan with a thankful heart?
I find comfort in the truth that “He knows our frame.” He knows we are weak and unable to be the wives, husbands, parents, church members, employees, and friends He has called us to be. But by his grace, he fills us with his Holy Spirit who strengthens us to knock down our idols and humbles us to replace them with the only One who can satisfy – and His name is Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus.