I’m scrolling through Pinterest; it’s been a good 10-15 minutes since I last clicked on something I was intentionally searching for. I can’t even remember why I hopped on here to begin with. A recipe? I’m scrolling past things like Science Experiments for Toddlers, 15 Crafts You Can Do with a Potato, and 25 Things You’re Doing Wrong as a Mom. I pause at an image snipped from someone else’s life, an image I assume represents their every day.
It tugs at me because it’s the life I think I want: the ideal life, the perfect life captured in photos.
But I’ve been around long enough to know the perfect life is a myth, and I’m learning how to expose that myth when it whispers my name.
In my last post, I talked about how the greatest commandment invites you to be whole.
A few words at the beginning of that passage help us expose these “perfect-life myths” and call them what they actually are: idols.
Way back in Moses’ time (when the words of the greatest commandment were first spoken), each community or culture had its own temple with its own god. All kinds of gods were worshiped: a sun god and a moon god, gods of fertility and gods that controlled the weather. People served these gods in order to protect themselves and get what they wanted in life.
So when Moses proclaims to the people of Israel, “The Lord, our God, the Lord is one,” he is saying: don’t be confused, don’t be mislead: there is only one God who rules over the entire creation. The wooden idols that sit in temples are powerless and lies.
These were words of orientation for the people of Israel. These words grounded them, identified them, gave purpose and meaning to their lives.
So. Many. False. gods.
Lest we think that idol worship is long gone, here are a few of the gods from Greek and Roman mythology. Do any of them sound familiar?
Venus, the god of love, fertility, and sex.
Mars, the god of war.
Minerva, the god of the intellect.
Vulcan, the god of fire, a symbol of industry.
We might call them by different names today, but I think we continue to worship some of those false gods.
What is it about idols that is so appealing? I think it’s what they promise. We have these basic needs to feel loved, to feel valuable, to be seen, to feel significant. We look to idols because they promise we’ll experience these things.
But idols are tricky. They promise us so much and ask very little at first. But, as it’s been said, over time, they “demand more and more and provide less and less, until, eventually, they give you nothing and demand everything.”*
Maybe idols will make us happy for a while, but they don’t make us whole. Instead, they feed this whole myth about the perfect life.
The Pinterest posts that grab my attention, the magazine ads that stir something in me, tend to look a bit like this:
It’s evening, the light is fading. On a brick patio sits a long, rustic table adorned with colourful dishes and jars of wildflowers. Above the table decorative light bulbs are strung from the large, beautiful trees, creating a mystical glow. Friends are gathered, drinks in their hands, laughter on their faces. They all look so put together. Children, in neatly pressed clothes, play nearby, happy as can be. This is set against the backdrop of a beautiful home and a perfectly manicured backyard.
My real life doesn’t look like that picture at all. I mean, what kids actually wear neatly pressed clothes? I get my kids to school, go to kiss them goodbye, look at their faces and think, “how did we forget to wash your face this morning...or, apparently, for the past week?”
Our house definitely gives off the “lived in” vibe, rather than the perfect vibe. Our couch looks like my kids covered themselves in yogurt and then rolled around on the cushions. So, it’s easy for me to look at that picture on Pinterest or at advertisements in a magazine and notice how my life doesn’t compare.
What Grabs Your Attention?
The pictures that grab your attention on Pinterest or as you flip through a magazine might look completely different. Maybe they are pictures of exotic travel, a beautiful wedding, or a meticulously organized linen closet. But what they all have in common is that they call to us, they beckon something inside of us, and we can become convinced that they are images of the perfect life.
Or maybe you feel a longing when your friends post pictures of their vacations, their new house, or their ridiculously intelligent 6 year old.
The thing about these magazine pictures, these Pinterest posts, and these social media humble brags is that they aren’t the whole story.
Real life doesn’t happen in the polished, staged photoshoots. Real life happens in the midst of the messy house, as we bump into and trip over all of the people and pieces that make up our stories.
The so-called perfect life doesn’t have room for pain or authenticity.
Wholeness and perfection aren’t the same thing, but we have come to believe that they are. When those magazine pictures stir a longing inside of us, I think what we are truly longing for is a sense of wholeness.
Are You Waiting For Life To Really Begin?
But instead of pursuing wholeness, we pursue the myth of the perfect life, worshiping the idols of our culture, and we start to believe that fulfilment will come when we have the pieces of picture put into place.
Have you ever had these thoughts float through your mind: My life will really start, I’ll finally feel complete when…
I get married
I have children
I have grandchildren
I get a new job
I get that promotion
We finally get a nice house
I lose those 20 pounds
I publish a book, sell a piece of art, or somehow get noticed in my field.
These are all good things, but they become idols when we look to them, instead of Christ, to find wholeness. If you find yourself obsessed with thinking that you only need that one thing in order for your life to be complete, it might be good to ask yourself if there is a deeper desire behind it.
Even The Church Idols Don’t Work
Maybe the most dangerous idols are the religious ones. We try to find what we’re looking for by doing all of the churchy things. We teach Sunday school, we volunteer, we join Bible studies. We do the best we know how to play the role of the good Christian.
And yet. At the end of the day, we feel like all we’ve done is add more noodles to an already full plate.
Here’s the thing: Christ, in his death and resurrection, has already made us whole. Our lives now are about living into that wholeness, about choosing to be more and more who God has created us and redeemed us to be.
The Lord our God the Lord is one, is a bold proclamation against the claims of false gods, against the empty promises of magazine pictures, the myth of the Pinterest-perfect life, the comparisons on social media. It’s a call to worship the one true God.
And it forces us to ask ourselves if we truly believe that God is enough.
Can You Relate? Want to Go A Bit Deeper?
I’ve created a set of journal prompts to accompany this series. Click below to have them emailed to you.
And don’t forget to check back in the coming weeks for the rest of this series.
*Jeffery Satinover, quoted in the fantastic article titled Promises, Promises by Andy Crouch.