I like to cook meals for my family, and I think it’s important. In fact, I am called to take care of my family, and this is one of the ways I do it. There are many reasons I like to cook:

  • Physical health: variety of vitamins and minerals, reduced sodium and non-healthy fats, portion control
  • Exposure to new things: kale, turnips, zoodles (noodles made out of zucchini)
  • Family strength: Eating together has psychological benefits for the whole family.
  • Act of service: my love language
  • ‘Me’ time: I put in my headphones and zone out to the rest of the world.

But sometimes that important thing becomes an idol. I can tell when the transition has happened. I get upset when we’re not home in time for me to cook, or I turn down an invitation for something at 5:00pm because I won’t be able to cook dinner that day. (The fact that I’m an introvert makes this one easier, I know.) I search grocery stores all over town and pay whatever it costs to get that special item for a regular Tuesday night dinner. I work on my grocery list before I do my quiet time in the morning.

The things God gives you
to do are important.

Your potential idol probably isn’t cooking, but whatever you consider to be important in your life is important: children’s education, leadership position at church, work, physical fitness, sleep, even Bible study. As a thinking, Jesus-following person, you’ve probably eliminated the habitual sins and most of the unimportant time- and attention-guzzlers from your life. I’ve trimmed down my life over and over so that these days, I feel like most (not all, but most) of what I do is important and/or necessary. We can’t and shouldn’t quit doing those important things. Most are activities to which God has specifically called us. For example, being a parent and being a writer both fall into the God-called category for me. I shouldn’t quit either of them.  At the same time, however, either can become an idol.

Our activity can promise us everything and make us forget God.  -Deitrich Bonhoeffer (I Want to Live These Days with You, trans. By O.C. Dean Jr., 2007)

When I find myself acting like I described above, I know that cooking has become an idol in my life. Again. The key for each of us lies in maintaining our priorities so that the important things don’t lead to idolatry. And yes, my calling as a believer can become my idol. Sad but true.

I’m writing this so that I have something simple to grasp when I find myself in that place again. I pray that it helps you, too. Here goes…

The remedy for this type of idolatry? Retreat from the important thing and Recalibrate my priorities.

Retreat

The first challenge is recognizing the idol. In the habits of our lives, an idol is anything that interferes in our day-to-day relationship with God or that causes us to reject the leading of the Holy Spirit. (That’s not a definition of “idol” so much as an explanation of what happens when we have an idol.) Sometimes God lays a Bible verse out before me; sometimes I stop myself in the middle of a sentence when I really hear what’s coming out of my mouth. Sometimes, I think, “Why am I so stressed?” Then, I need to step back from the situation and confirm what I’m thinking.

At that point, I have to acknowledge my culpability—like a criminal putting his hands up when the police confront him. This is repentance: a “Yes, Lord, I’ve sinned” attitude that demonstrates my desire to change.

God may lead me to fast from the important thing. It is possible to not cook for a weekend. I can shut down social media accounts for a few days. I can leave the kids with their father or a grandparent for an afternoon. I can turn off the computer and spend that time in the Word instead.

Recalibrate

Moving forward, I have to pay closer attention to my thought processes (take every thought captive) and my actions for a while. It’s trite, but the saying, “Let your walk match your talk” applies.  I might…

  • “Own” a verse and declare it frequently over my situation. (Psalm 19:14, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 12:2, etc.)
  • Write myself a note on the mirror.
  • Ask for accountability.
  • Set myself a timer, especially for social media because some is necessary for my work.
  • Spend time meditating on certain, convicting verses. For example, Exodus 20:3 says, You shall have no other gods before me, or John 4:32, But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Every time I need to recalibrate, I pray, and I try to focus my mind more on constant prayer, after the pattern of Brother Lawrence.

Pay attention or your
priorities will replace
your Savior!

It happens over and over. I don’t do laundry for a couple of days, and suddenly the pile of dirty clothes overtakes the laundry room. Oh…we’re talking about priorities. I confess, laundry isn’t a very high priority for me. But the same thing happens in my spiritual life. I quit paying attention, and the important things in my life creep up to replace my Savior. Just like the constancy of laundry piles, I think this replacement of priorities will continue to happen until I’m perfected in heaven (though hopefully less and less as I mature).

With careful attention, with occasional retreats and recalibrations, I can correct myself when I replace the One who Calls with the calling.

What do you struggle to keep in its proper priority placement? How do you cope when it gets out of hand? I would love to hear from you! Just comment below.

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3 thoughts on “When the Important Becomes an Idol

  1. My biggest bugaboo has got to be writing. I’m always thinking about ways to recalibrate as it takes up such an ENORMOUS part of my brain. Almost no other activity does to my mind what thinking about my manuscript does. Ergh.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That makes a lot of sense to me. While I, on the other hand, find writing deeply gratifying and moving because I’m telling stories (hopefully steeped in Truth but human, all the same), I feel a more boldly demarcated line between my Bible time and my Other World time.

        Liked by 1 person

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