She burst through the kitchen door that early-summer night and plopped herself up on the counter next to my dish-filled sink, overflowing with vivid details of blue hydrangeas. Effervescent with excitement, she stumbled over words, trying to describe the deep green of glossy leaves and the purple-blue of heavy blooms.
She knows I love hydrangeas.
“Mom, you wouldn’t have believed the blue color! The bushes were full of blooms, and there were so many of them! They had them growing all along the back of the yard, and they glowed under the little twinkle lights. It got dark while we were there and, oh, if only you could have seen the color then! Mom, you would have loved it!”
She couldn’t have known her excitement would have a much different effect.
A battle in my kitchen
As she talked, in the span of those mere moments, I suddenly craved a backyard full of vibrant flowering hydrangea bushes. I needed them.
In my new backyard, transformed into a haven of peace by my lush hydrangeas, the weedy grass would disappear and all would be just as the breath-taking loveliness my daughter had described. A row of flourishing blue hydrangeas would cause all to be right in my life.
Hydrangeas lured my heart with the promise to be for me what only God is meant to be.
And so a fierce battle, undetected at first by conscious thought, raged within. Would I, a child of the King, turn to Him for comfort and peace, or would I turn to a blue flower? Would the simple hydrangea, given as a beautiful creation by my Father, become for me an idol? An idol? How could that be? Because an idol is anything I turn to instead of God to bolster me up, or calm me down.
An idol “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (Tim Keller)
“An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone … An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention, and money to it effortlessly.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
And it is our Lord’s kindness to discipline us when we turn to an idol, for turning to an idol is the same as committing spiritual adultery — we seek a counterfeit love to give us what only God should give.
If you are a follower of Jesus, He cares too much for you to allow you to choose false hope. Rather, He plans to lavish upon you never-ending love and care. So He determines to instruct and train and correct you (Heb. 12:5-11), to rebuke you when you bow to false lovers and entangle yourself in the snare of idols.
Your Father knows how deceptive your heart can be, and how quickly you turn away from Him and toward counterfeit idols for validation and fulfillment. For our hearts respond to the lure of idols at unanticipated moments, on the most ordinary of days. There I was, standing at the kitchen sink, elbow deep in dishes, when in the flash of a moment I committed spiritual adultery. I turned from Him to an idol.
Lies, lies and more lies
What was the cause of this, my sudden idolatry? What was I wanting blue hydrangeas to do for me that only God can do? And what to do about it?
Thankfully, God’s Spirit stopped me in my tracks. Standing that night in my kitchen, I realized I was falling for a deceptive, yet prettily-wrapped package of lies. I prayed to understand the scrambled messages of my covetous heart. As the lies began to unscramble, they sounded something like this.
Lie #1 — always happy and comfortable: If I had hydrangeas like the party’s hostess, I would always be happy. In my new kingdom of comfort, gazing out at my panoramic view of blue hydrangeas, personal peace would be mine. I would flourish in my landscaped kingdom of ease and affluence.
Lie #2 — no more pain or fear: My life would be protected from pain if I owned a hedge of flourishing hydrangeas. All would be as a technicolor movie scene in my lovely, controlled world. Suffering would disappear and comfort would reign.
Lie #3 — validation and acclaim made mine: Our home would be approved of by all. Visitors would go back to their houses and describe our vibrant blue hydrangeas in vivid details. And this (really yucky) sub-conscious thought was there in the scramble: I’d have power over all the other women who hadn’t mastered such manicured backyards.
A bubble of acclaim, validation and ease would rest its protective covering over my home and family. A new level of confidence would be mine and no harm would befall us in our lush garden.
In the blink of an eye, I believed hydrangeas would bring me lasting protection and love. I believed flower bushes would give me the care I am meant to know from my Father. I believed the quick-fix lie that a blue-flower purchase would fill my heart with peace and joy. With blinding speed, my heart forsook my Lord and turned to worthless idols.
Truth to trump lies
Thankfully though, God’s Word shook me and warned me. He brought to mind His truth and His truth always trumps the lies. Jesus’ words:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy (and aphids chew up billowy hydrangea blooms) and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:19 – 21 – addition and italics mine)
His Word blared as a warning gong. I was turning to an idol. I was committing spiritual adultery.
A most important point: Fluffy blue flowers are not evil in themselves. But when I turn to them instead of God, I deaden my soul. I circumvent the relationship of sure love I am meant to know with my Father. When I turn to an idol I harden my heart toward God and I satisfy myself with instant, but poisonous substitutes.
Gardening centers and real hope
On that night, I hoped blue hydrangeas would bring control, comfort and approval to my life — I hoped flowers would do for me what only God can do.
Good news though: Even though my strong desire for hydrangeas revealed that I was turning away from God to an idol, my emotions didn’t have the last word. If my covetous desires had been my boss, I’d have followed them to the closest gardening center to buy temporarily satisfying hydrangea bushes. Instead, I cried,
“Yes, Lord! I see the idols and I hate them. Flowers might bring temporary satisfaction and comfort, but in the purchase I’d deaden my love for You! Oh, my heart is so deceitful. Please stop me! I’m turning from you!”
For our emotions don’t have to lead us down a path of obedience to them. I do not have to obey my idol-turning desires. When discerned and laid bare by the Holy Spirit through conviction by the Word, my covetous emotion does not have to guide me. My thoughts and emotions, when sinful and turning away from the Lord, actually act as an alarm, not as a guide I must follow.
The warning gong sounds within to warn me that in that moment I am trusting and loving a false idol instead of the true and living God.
Rescue on that blue-hydrangea night
On that night, alerted by the Spirit through remembrance of scripture, I realized I was seeking security, validation and hope from flowering blooms instead of God. Recognizing the lies of the false love I almost sought, I was rescued — the titillating promise of instant gratification would, in the end, have killed and destroyed. On that blue-hydrangea night, His truth saved me from seductive idols. His Word corrected and rebuked me.
On that night, the love of the real Hope-Giver freed me from false promises.