A week or so ago, I opened my Jesus Calling devotional and read "Worship Me only. Whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god...Break free from this bondage by affirming your trust in Me and refreshing yourself in My Presence...I rejoice when your mind turns toward Me. Guard your thoughts diligently; good thought-choices will keep you close to Me." I was convicted because I know that there are certain things and people in my life that approach idol status. I don't worship them in the traditional sense, but my mind and time are too often occupied by them. I've often thought that if I meditated on God's word with the same attention to detail that I put into writing or reading emails or Facebook statuses, I would be in a much better place.
The following Sunday, my pastor spoke on something that brought the "idol" thought back to the surface. He told us about a study in which participants were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements "Life is fair" and "many of my friends have a better life than me". The participants then described their Facebook activity. After allowing for certain variables, the study found "the more hours people spent on Facebook, the stronger was their agreement that others were happier".
It was the age-old "grass is greener" issue ramped up by technology. Maybe you don't compare homes, cars or vacation destinations, but you've felt the sting of not being invited to the 'event' everyone's talking about, or no one ever acknowledges your posts or comments, leaving you feeling ostracized and alone. Sometimes Facebook is like high school all over again. For me, the problem stems from that feeling of worth I sometimes get when a lot of people "like" a witty status or funny comment I've posted.
I'm like Sally Field accepting the Oscar "You like me...right now, you like me!" It's not wrong to be encouraged, but if my self worth begins to come from a thumbs up on Facebook instead of from the God who created me and loves me whether or not I'm popular with my friends today...well then, I'm setting up an idol in my life.
Add to all these musings, the feeling that I was losing control over a particular issue. I have struggled with my weight for years, winning small skirmishes, but never the war. Slowly, eventually, it creeps back on. More than a year ago, I started losing again, working out, feeling a little better about myself when a series of things happened. Injuries, family issues, the holidays - there were many excuses for falling out of my good habits and back into old patterns. But the bottom line was, instead of turning to God to fill a void, heal a hurt, calm my nerves, I turned to food when I wasn't filling my time with idle game play and chit chat on the social network.
Then a week ago I had a very clear, very pressing thought. I needed to fast. I needed to spend an elongated time separating myself from things that were beginning to rob me of time spent with God, as well as robbing me of my health and well-being.
I wrote a Facebook status telling friends it was my intent to stay off the site for the month of February with the exception of a few brief moments to post any blogs I might be moved to write. It was immediately met with more than a dozen comments - from good luck, to I should join you, to you'll never make it - my sister's sweet words of encouragement!
I also posted my intent to check personal email just once a day. I think that declaration may have been over zealous. Given the amount of communication I have regarding work, ministry, etc., 2 - 3 times a day is more realistic, and I have to admit, still a huge reduction in the number of times I normally check it.
Lastly, I've purposed to use this fast to go God about feeling out of control with my eating. Sweets are off the table. For a baker like me, this maybe the hardest thing to give up.
So, that's the thought process behind the journey I've put myself on for 29 days - and after just 5 days, I've already learned a lot about myself.
I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it's been to stay away from Facebook. Those who really needed to contact me have texted, emailed or called. When I'm tempted to visit the site, I pray for someone instead. However, I've failed miserably with regard to email - logging on 6-8 times a day. When I shared my struggle in this area with my pastor, he gave me practical advice. "Think of it as regular mail...you don't run out to your mailbox every hour - you check it once it day." So simple, and yet, I haven't given up control just yet.
What I have found is that temptation is greatest when I have nothing to do. But "nothing to do" is really not true. I'm in the middle of half a dozen books I need - and want - to finish. There is a newsletter I need to write, a book I'm working on, but most of all, a God who's waiting on me to take the time to converse with Him. That's really what this fast is all about after all. Surrendering control and giving up idols so that I can concentrate on what's really important in this life. I picked the perfect month too. No, not because it's the shortest, although hey, it IS a leap year - but because my devotional seems to speak to it on every page. The theme for the month is Psalm 105:4 "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always." And just today, the devotional was based on Romans 8:6 and Psalm 46: 1-2...it said "Seek My Face, and you will find not only My Presence, but also My Peace. To receive My Peace, you must change your grasping, controlling stance to one of openness and trust. The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My Hand."
I was shocked to realize how often I look to grab something fast and easy to eat at home. Donuts, brownies, even a cookie had become a 'quick fix' because I wasn't willing to wait for something of substance. It may sound silly, but that's been a big "a ha" for me because I can easily make the connection with how I've been living lately - getting a quick technology fix instead of sitting down with my Bible to dig into something of substance. Facebook status versus devotional...instant message versus time in prayer. Like I quoted my friend Renata saying recently "we make time for the things we want to do and make excuses for everything else."
So do you have any idols taking up residence in your life? As you can see from the ones I've pulled off my shelves and out of my closets, they don't all look like golden calves. Power, money, pride, self image, technology, maybe even something seemingly good like exercise - "whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god." It's my prayer that this 29 day journey will lead to new behaviors, restore some old healthy ones, and will rid me of excuses for not digging deeper with the One who said "you shall have no other gods before Me." I'll let you know what I continue to learn along the way...and just maybe you'll be encouraged to join me.
*photo credit - http://blog.ourchurch.com/2010/01/26/the-10-commandments-of-social-networking/