Everyday Faith

A Treacherous Idol

I loved my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Harris was funny and kind and so smart. She was tall and beautiful and always wore trendy clothes – always looked, to me, more like a model than the teacher of multiplication tables and the scientific method.

So when word got back to me that Mrs. Harris had said that I “always look(ed) so nice,” I was over the moon. You see, my clothes weren’t from the trendy stores. No, rather than frequenting The Limited and GAP stores in the mall, my family more often stayed inside K-Mart or, if we were lucky, J.C. Penney. Our shoes did not bear the blue Keds tags on the backs, but instead came from the abysmally uncool Payless. Add to that my unfortunate beige plastic-rimmed glasses and my pre-straightening iron era hair, and to my mind I was not a picture of trendiness.

Far from it. I was always self-conscious about the way I had to dress and yes, I resented my parents for making me so tragically uncool. (Fast forward two decades and I’m the mom shopping for her daughter’s clothes on bargain store clearance racks. And if you tell my own glasses-wearing daughter that I hated my glasses when I was little, I’ll deny it. I digress.) I did what I could with what I had, but I always felt behind the curve. I never felt like one of the pretty girls with the nice clothes and the popularity status that seemed to inevitably follow.

A compliment from Mrs. Harris, though, meant not only that it was working, but that it was noticed. And with the comment that she probably didn’t give a second thought, I was hooked on the shallow praise for my appearance that has haunted me every day since then. With those words from my fourth grade teacher, a long history began of trying to at least look good on the outside, regardless of whatever is going on inside. I have always seen my appearance – my clothes and my hair and my shoes and my perfectly matched accessories – as a way to physically fit into a world that I so often feel excludes me.

If I look good, no one has to know that I’m a mess.
If I look good, no one will suspect that it’s an act.
If I look good, no one will know how completely alien I feel….how uncomfortable I am in my own skin….that I am desperately craving their approval of how I look and, therefore, of who I am.

Over the years, I’ve gotten more compliments like that one from Mrs. Harris. Rather than taking the comments in stride, though, life has become about chasing after them, making the daily ritual of getting dressed an arduous battle. I look into my closet and my mind begins reeling. I think of other girls and young women: what would they wear? I think of certain people I might see that day: will they like this ensemble? Or this one? I think of what I wore yesterday or the day before: what image am I creating this week? I think of people I don’t even know: what kind of person might they assume I am if they saw me wearing this? I think of people I know and may run into: will I look the kind of effortlessly beautiful that I long to be?

This is a confession. This is an unveiling. This is the opening up of my heart and my closet door to show the world where I have been hiding: behind the treacherous idol of the approval of others. And friends, it stops here.

As a part of the Lenten journey (which I introduced here) I have made God and myself a promise: when Easter morning dawns, it will bring with it a new experience of who Jesus is to me. And for that to happen, I have to change the way I see myself. I have to reconstruct the deep trenches in my thinking and reroute the thoughts I have always had about myself. Because as long as I am caught in the distracting web of lies about myself, I cannot see the truth of who Jesus is and why that matters.

Usually, it is the custom in the church to “give up” something – a fasting, of sorts – in preparation for Easter. Because the idol I am tearing down is an abstract one, it was challenging to determine what should be sacrificed on the alter of truth. Finally, though, after prayerful consideration, I know what I have to do.

This, friends, is my closet as it stands this morning, after five or six trips up and down the stairs and more than a few wide-eyed, lip-biting stares in the mirror. For the next 40 days or so, I will wear nothing that is not shown here. White shirts and jeans, with a significantly pared down assortment of scarves and jackets necessary to the season. (Really. You should see the whole collection. It’s more than a little shameful.)

I realize this sounds strange to anyone who doesn’t struggle with something similar. But isn’t that the thing with idols? Don’t they all seem strange to those not caught in their snares?

I’ll be sharing more and more of my journey as I go through this, and I am grateful to be a part of the Love Idol Movement. Hundreds of women are joining hands to collectively smash the idol of love that we have created. It promises to be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, belief-challenging, and ultimately life-changing. I could not be more excited.

Join the Love Idol Movement here.
Preorder the book inspiring the movement – Love Idol: Letting Go Of Your Need For Approval and Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes – here.
Get to know the book’s author, Jennifer Lee, here.

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11 replies »

  1. Your last question about idols…got me. I so understand the being behind the curve fashion wise, at times I try and others I don’t…I figure I probably won’t measure up anyway…and when people say I look good I’m not sure I believe them, unless I’ve thought the same thing when I looked in the mirror. Seems I’ve got my own love idols to look at eh? love you girl

  2. Oh, my heart is singing! Not because of your particular journey and fight against your Love Idol; though I will be praying you through; but because this post and some recent others so closely mirror my own struggles. With depression, with pain, with searching for that validating acceptance that has nothing to do with who I really am. It’s only been 6 months since I’ve been able to see what God has been trying to teach me and I can’t begin to describe the joy in the journey, the exhilarating liberation from things that have long bound me. I get a big kick out of God and the means with which He reaches out to lead and guide. My depression ceasing to hold me hostage began with something as simple as counting my own ‘1000 Gifts’ and Ann Voskamp’s website lead me to this incredible community of like-minded souls, one website leading to another – in this case Ann to Jennifer to you, in my search for a Lent with meaning beyond a bit of self deprivation. Your clothing idol helped me to see that I had made an idol of jewelry. I grew up working in a jewelry store and I have many pretty things – things for which I am known and noticed. Like you, I will now set these idols aside for a season and perhaps longer. I enjoy the beauty they bring to my life, these stones and jewels and rocks from God’s hand, from His earth, but there is way too much of self in the wearing. I am subscribing and am looking forward to more from your heart and pen (okay, keyboard) and know that God will use your story to impact mine. Blessings dear Sister and thanks for walking transparently before us.

  3. you go girl. you’ve got this!! there’s a trap, a pressure to step up and dress for approval in our culture and I too for the past several years have put my foot down and refuse to let it consume me. its been hard, my husband doesn’t always agree, but God has shown me how phony my heart is when I’m dressed up, and how much more approachable i am to others in jeans and boots. love this.

  4. “If I look good, no one has to know that I’m a mess.” <– I felt a little twinge when I read that!! Uncomfortably close to the truth for me!

    It also made me think of my best friend- she is one who is open & honest, comfortable with a destroyed kitchen and a bad day and wearing the same outfit several days in a row. That's one thing I appreciate about her the most, that I totally feel ok with being real with her!

    I was so the same, growing up.. wore a LOT of hand me downs from my cousins, so even though I didn't do much of my growing up in the 80's, in a way I did, b/c of the clothes! lol. At that time I was blissfully unaware. Then jr high came along and yep, clothes & appearance started to matter sooo much. Far too much time got wasted on that.

    Strangely, church is one of the places I am distracted the MOST.. looking around at what everyone is wearing, comparing, etc. lots of the women are very stylish all the time. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but it's a distraction for me.

    This turned into a long comment! Obviously your post was thought-provoking!! You are brave and really cool to do this! I'm cheering for you! 🙂
    Frances

  5. This is going to be an amazing journey for you. After reading both “Radical” & “7”, I thought I would refrain from buying anything which was not a necessity. Can I just admit, I went way longer than a year!! Talk about a lesson in having excess. Although our journeys differ, we are all in this together. May we each be more like Him at the end of our journey! Blessings!

  6. Can you hear the applause around you? We will cheer each other on as Jesus walks beside each of us, with a whisper louder than our cheers — for truly it is His voice alone that we all need to hear!

  7. I’ve worn the same little black dress to my husband’s black tie functions for the last–I don’t know–three or four years. Because it’s got these ruffle things that hide my muffin top. Every year I look for something new, but come back to the tried and true. And every year I cringe when they show the PowerPoint of the past party–because there I am in the. same. dress. And just the other day I thought, I can’t post of picture of me in this purple sweater. There are already pictures posted of me in this purple sweater. Girlfriend, I’m cheering you on today… and taking a second look at my closet.

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