Last week, one of my step-sons had a parent teacher conference at his school. My husband was tied up with an unexpected scheduling conflict, so my step-son, his mom, and I picked up his report card in the school lobby and walked around the building visiting each classroom. Throughout the evening, one after the other, the teachers offered compliments about his work and his behavior. By the end, we were all smiling.
On the way home, my step-son asked me, “So, are you happy about what the teachers said?”
My answer was easy. Of course I was happy. And I wanted him to know that. But I also sensed there was a question he wasn’t asking, a worry that may have tugging at his heart all day. Would we have been unhappy if they hadn’t been so positive?
“We love you so much and that wouldn’t have changed regardless of what the teachers said,” I replied carefully, recognizing the murky waters of self-worth I was swimming in. I didn’t want him in any way to think that he had to earn our approval or measure up for our love. In fact, I was in the middle of reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book, Love Idol, and I had been fighting back those same desires for recognition and validation from others in my own heart.
“But for your sake,” I continued, coming up for air, “it’s good when you are doing well in school, and we are proud of you.”
We talked a little more about the teachers’ comments as we drove out of the parking lot, but soon after, we moved on to other subjects, like the X-Box One gaming system he wants, and then shortly after that, we had picked up his brothers and were heading to the local Subway Restaurant for sandwiches. The moment was gone.
The conversation stuck with me for days, though, especially as I made my way through the last few chapters of Love Idol. I was 100 percent sure that what I had said was true: that our love for our son would not have changed if the teachers had said only bad things about his work or behavior. But it was also true that other things would have changed. We might have had to hire a tutor; we might have had to take away his iPod; we might have been bruised a little by a bad attitude. Though it didn’t change our love, we actually were really happy that our son had the approval of his teachers. And we wanted him to be happy about it, too.
That’s the pernicious thing about Love Idols, the kind that Jennifer writes about in her book. All these things that we so desperately want for ourselves and our children are actually good things. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job, with having a great reputation, with being loved by others, and even with hearing “well done” from time to time. It’s nice to feel important in a board meeting, to look in the mirror and like what you see, to recognize a pleased look on a guest’s face when we unveil the chocolate cake we worked hard on all day.
But when that approval, that recognition, becomes the most important thing, more important, even, than the love of Jesus, we’ve fallen into the trap of idolatry.
“Until you are convinced of God’s incredible love for you, you will continue looking for replacement love everywhere but in the heart of Christ,” Jennifer writes. And her’s was a hard-fought battle to come to that truth.
“For much of my life, I have lived like that,” she confesses in the introduction. “I have wanted people’s approval. I have wanted to be a real somebody but have felt like a nobody. I’m not proud to say that I’ve been a people pleaser and a perfectionist and a prisoner to popular opinion. I had hoped that others might think I had it all together, which was more important to me than actually having it all together.”
Jennifer didn’t put down her love idol by settling for mediocre, though. She didn’t stop pursuing excellence in her work or lovingly serving her family or doing things she knew would make other people happy. The change wasn’t in what she did at all. Not really. Putting down Love Idols has almost nothing to do with a shift in our actions and everything to do with a shift in our heart. And it happens when we turn our desperation to please others into a humble acceptance that God couldn’t be more pleased with us than he already is, in Christ.
“You are God’s favorite,” Jennifer writes. “He loves you best, because you are His friend. Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for a friend (see John 15:13). And Jesus did. For you, whose name coursed through the beating heart of a dying Savior who now lives and reigns in heaven.”
I don’t know for sure if my step-son struggles the way I do for approval and recognition and love from others. Though if I had to guess, I would say that’s probably true of most middle school students. (And most adults, too. Here I am confessing, after all.) And I do want him to always do his best, to earn a good reputation, to find success in following his dreams. The Lord knows I’m trying to do that, too.
But most of all, what I want for him–and me– is to experience the joy that comes from truly knowing he is accepted by God and loved more than he could ever imagine.
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to order it from Amazon, or to help celebrate Jennifer’s book launch, I have purchased a copy of her book, Love Idol, to give away in the next few days. Everyone who leaves a comment on this post or signs up to receive my blog in their email inbox through noon on Monday, March 31, will be registered to win. The winner will be posted on the Word of the Week post next Tuesday, April 1, (no kidding!) and I will contact the winner as soon as possible for shipping information. Currently, the book is sold out on Amazon, so sign up today for a chance to get your own copy!
Photo by Caryn Christensen, used with permission.
*This website uses “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Also, I received a complimentary preview copy of Jennifer’s book, but any endorsements, reviews, or comments about the book are my own opinion and were not influenced by the author. The book I am giving away was purchased by me.