The Mercy in Broken Idols
Words by Melissa LaMothe // Image by Dianne Jago
When our little girl came into this world five weeks early at only five pounds, I held her with nervous hands and unspeakable joy in my heart all at once. Overwhelmed with wonder at this new life before me, I thanked God for the gift of our firstborn and for entrusting her to our care. Never before had I experienced this depth of love for another—a love unique to a mother and her child. I knew this was a gift from God to bring me to a deeper understanding of his great love for his children. Yet in those first few weeks when her needs were constant and all-consuming, I somehow began to see only her, instead of seeing the One who created her.
It was not long after I had built motherhood into an idol made up of my daughter’s eyes and smile that God began to strip it down to the false god it truly was. At six weeks old, I took my daughter in for a doctor’s appointment and left with my baby in a hip harness, my heart grieving over the perfect moments of motherhood lost to this diagnosis, to what the doctor called “the best course of treatment.”
Where I had hoped to enjoy a summer of memorable firsts, I found myself at home struggling to console a baby in tremendous discomfort from the brace she wore around the clock. As much as it broke my heart to see my little girl in pain, this diagnosis of hip dysplasia proved to be a severe mercy of our loving God. Through it, God revealed where I had begun to place my hope and seek my deepest joy: in my precious little girl, rather than the love of our Heavenly Father.
The temptation to worship, or idolize, things created rather than the Creator is not unique to motherhood, but it is relevant for us mamas. Idolatry has to do with pursuing lesser loves, when the One who loved us and gave himself for us is the only one worthy of our worship and affection. In his sermon that was later published, entitled The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis spoke on the matter:
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
Idolatry involves worshipping things created rather than seeing in those things the Creator himself and worshipping him, giving thanks to him for the good gifts he has given to us that reveal himself and his love for us more fully. Idolatry breaks our hearts because our hearts were made to love God supremely and enjoy him forever. Lesser loves can never replace the love of the Father—our Abba—in the hearts of his children.
Seeking fullness of joy and love in motherhood or in our children will eventually break our hearts, simply because our hearts were not made to be satisfied by anything or anyone other than God and his great love for us. When I look at my daughter, my heart swells with love for her, and yet this is still not the greatest love—it only points to the greatest love, the love that comes only from our Abba to us as his own children. It is his love that satisfies the soul, that offers fullness of joy.
Your idol might not be your children or motherhood. But it might be your career. It might be money. It might be your image, particularly on social media. It might be success, however you define it. Whatever it is, even if it is something good that God gave you to enjoy, it is a lesser love that will never bring the satisfaction and fullness of joy you are longing for. It was never meant to.
Thankfully, we are not left with broken hearts and broken idols made by our own hands. Jesus Christ came to bind up our broken hearts and free us from the bondage of our sin (Is. 61:1). Jesus came to live the perfect life we never could, and die the death that we sinners deserved, in order to free us from sin and its consequences and restore us to a right relationship with God the Father. This is the gospel, and this is the freedom bought for us with the precious blood of Christ so that we can return to the One who first loved us, our hearts satisfied in his perfect love.
The Apostle Paul wrote words to the Galatians that speak the gospel into our sinful inclination to give our hearts to lesser loves. Paul wrote powerfully, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Addressing Jewish believers who were tempted to add law-keeping to the gospel, Paul proclaimed that God in Christ had set them free from every form of slavery. Is it not also true that Christ’s death purchased us out of every form of slavery—including idolatry? Thanks be to God; this is true for us mamas too.
Now if you are reading this and wondering, Do I need to love my child less in order to prove to God that I love him more? The answer, thankfully, is no! Instead, what I have found to be true—and what I am confident you will find too—is this:
The more I worship God as my rightful Lord and King, the more I love my daughter; in fact, God’s love at work in me enables me to love her more deeply and passionately than I ever dreamed possible.
Our daughter’s first birthday was last weekend, and at the end of the day I still had to put her in that hip harness, listening to her cry as I strapped it around her tiny body. When this moment comes each day, it is a sharp reminder that we live in a world broken by sin where motherhood looks different than I expected and does not fulfill all the longings of my heart. But in God’s mercy, he uses things like hip dysplasia and unmet expectations to expose our sin, break down our idols, and free us once again to look beyond the created and see our Creator and his great love for us.