A picture of us on a hike shortly after we moved to Austin.
I've uncovered a new idol in my life, yet it's so easily disguised as virtue: Be the end-all, be-all, best wife for Nicholas. For his sake, of course. Or, for mine? Do I want me to be known as a really great wife? Sometimes. The lines between taking care of Nicholas for his sake and taking care of him for my sake, can be blurry.
I first identified this dangerous attitude other day when I worked a few days in a row. The pantry was mostly empty, apart from "ingredients," and I was about to be gone for nearly 14 hours. He's an adult and can certainly drive himself to the grocery store or make himself something, yes. But that's not my point. My point is that I carried a heavy self-imposed burden all day. I was concerned that not only was I bad wife for not preparing food for my husband, but I wasn't even a good person. It sounds dramatic (it is), but that dramatic internal dialogue manifested itself as worry, shame, and a bit of self-loathing. For the record, Nicholas survived. He didn't complain at all and ate a lot of pretzels that day. ;) But the only way this lack of preparation could affect me in such a profound way is if it held a huge grip on my identity. I'm Andrea, Nicholas' wife. But perhaps the skewed lens I view myself through spins it a little bit differently: I'm Andrea, Nicholas' wife who takes wonderful care of him.
With this unhealthy preoccupation on not my behavior, but others' perception of my behavior, it was not just my desire but a critical need to be known as a really good wife. The resulting pride steadily encroached into my identity. To be sure, spouses need to care for one another, but this is a tainted, hyperbolized version of that.
Good things become idols just as easily as bad things become idols. Any idolatry distracts us and diverts our affection away from the only One who deserves this worship and attention. Marriage is hugely important. But if improperly viewed, it alienates and distracts our hearts away from Christ.
So my next question is this: What lies do this specific idolatry originate from? I can think of a few:
- My identity is primarily as a wife to Nicholas. Nope, that's a lie. Being Nicholas' wife is awesome, but my identity is first, foremost, and forever as a redeemed child of God. I am nothing without the saving work of His Son on the cross.
- I take better care of Nicholas than anyone else can. Nope, that's a lie. We take good care of each other, but I fail him at times, I will continue to do so. Likewise, he will fail me at times. And yet—Jesus is the ultimate pursuer and romancer of Nicholas' heart. I can rest easy, knowing my husband is in good hands.
There's freedom in first identifying lies and then combatting those lies with truth. And there is freedom in not being bound by the approval hungry nature of my heart. I listened to this Ask Pastor John [Piper] podcast yesterday and it really resonated with me. Here is an excerpt of the transcript:
If we would just give up our hopeless self-preoccupation, we would inherit God as our Treasure and the whole world thrown in for good measure. Self-regard is a hopeless way to live. If we are getting our pleasure from feeling self-sufficient, we will never be satisfied with others seeing and applauding our self-sufficiency. It will never work. [...] Our meaning in life, our joy, our identity, our worth will be constantly dependent on other people. And that is a miserable way to live. [...]
So my counsel to every Christian who struggles with the fear of man’s disapproval and the craving of man’s approval, which is all Christians, more or less, is this: Realize that in Jesus Christ, in a solid, God-chosen relationship with Jesus, man’s disapproval cannot hurt you and man’s approval cannot satisfy you. [...]
And the other truth is that knowing Jesus, looking outside ourselves to the glory of the Son of God in the gospel in the triumph for us over evil, looking to him is all-satisfying. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).
So the itch is satisfied, not with successful self-regard, but with breathtaking Christ-regard.
I recently had a long conversation with one of my dearest friends, Kyra, who had such timely encouragement in the context of marriage. This is the encouragement she gave me. Consequently, these are also some of the best ways for me to be on guard against idolatry in relation to my marriage:
- Pray for Nicholas—for his ministry, for him to have good days, for him to ever grow in his walk with the Lord. Pray, and Jesus will do the rest.
- Acknowledge, with a relieved heart, that Nicholas is already in good hands. Jesus loves Nicholas more than I do.
- Pray that I'd love Nicholas better and better, but also pray for humility and balance in my role as his wife.
- Even before we ask Jesus to come and work, know that He is already working.
And I'll pray one more prayer, a breath prayer I first heard at summer camp well over a decade ago:
Breathe out: Less of me.
Breathe in: More of You.
Again and again, may this be the cry of my heart, for my marriage, for my life. May it be as natural as breathing.