Through my work in individual and marital therapy, I frequently hear many similar complaints from different patients. These complaints include feeling lonely, unexpected bursts of anger, bouts of unexplained sadness, and a general feeling of disconnect. These bothersome feelings puzzle my patients and often leave them drained and frustrated. Sometimes, they understand that their lives are out of balance, but don’t understand exactly how or why. Normally, one or more of the following four idols are present and help cause a relational disorientation or blurriness. These idols cause a shallowness in life. While you might believe that you maintain deep, healthy relationships, I challenge you to read on and reevaluate the way you have structured your life. Have the following idols limited your capacity to truly know others and be known by others?
1. Social Media. NEWS FLASH: 99% of your Facebook and Twitter friends…aren’t really your friends. And don’t believe for a second that Facebook actually helps grow those so called friendships. Looking at someone’s Facebook timeline is like watching a highlight reel of their life. The bad parts are omitted and the good parts are amplified. When’s the last time you saw a status that read, “Acted like a selfish jerk today. Ignored the kids and yelled violently at our family dog. LOL.”
Healthy, face to face interaction with others fulfills a deep need in us-the need to be known and know others. This is doing life with others. By failing to do life with others and allowing them to see all your insecurities and fears, you deprive yourself of something life giving…something deep and sacred. Your highlight reels may entertain and amuse others, but your blooper reels connect and bond you to others.
2. Work. There is nothing more heart wrenching than seeing a man retire, reflect back on his life, and realize that rather than love, support and strengthen those around him, he spent his life slaving away at a career that left him alone to die by himself. His sons and daughters resent him and only visit him sparingly. I’ve seen the dread in men’s eyes as they realize there are few people on the face of the planet who would care if they were rotting in a casket or not. Amassing wealth and power provide many with identity and security, but eventually leave them broken, alone, and hurting.
No one tries to end up this way. It begins by working hard to support a family. Eventually, it turns into disengaging at home by the faint glow of an ipad, ignoring a family that was once treasured. Later nights at the office and working on the weekends follow. It ends by waking up one day and realizing that the career you put so many hours into stole something from you that you can never get back. With terror, you realize the love and companionship you now want most is gone…wasted away…never to return…
3. Your spouse. There are 2 prevailing themes in every romantic Hollywood movie: 1) Love is a feeling. 2) Loving someone will somehow magically and drastically transform your life, your loneliness, and your brokenness. Both are blatant “Bachelor-esque” lies and both create heavy, illusory expectations that couples are crushed by. Just look at our US divorce rate.
Love is a choice…a decision we choose to make day in and day out. It has little to do with a passionate, dramatic kiss in the pouring rain or a magical moment where two soul mates lock eyes and “fall” in love. Finding meaning and contentment has nothing to do with your spouse. That aching need to feel fully accepted and loved will never be filled by your partner. And, the harder you try to place your partner in that role, the more they will resent you and be crushed by the weight of being your “everything.” Jerry Maguire was wrong. You don’t complete me….
4. Your children. While you may never say your child is your god, your actions scream it out loud. When your date nights stop and your weekends are jam packed with sports, recitals, and performances…you send the message to your kids, “You are more important than your mom or dad, and I would rather keep you entertained than develop my own friendships or marriage.”
You do your children a massive disservice by leading them to believe that they are the center of the universe…because no one else outside of your family thinks they are! Children who think they are the center of your world will have trouble forming friendships, yielding to authority, holding a job, and even adapting to marriage. Your children will unsuccessfully spend their entire lives searching for people who think they are as incredibly amazing as you told them they were. They may turn to unhealthy, codependent relationships or live unsatisfied lives full of continual disappointment from never being loved the way they “deserve” to be loved.
Not only does this parenting style alienate your children, but it alienates your spouse. A daughter once asked her wise father, “Daddy, if you were in a raft and me and mommy were drowning, who would you save?” The wise father instantly replied, “Honey, not only would I swim and save your mother first, but I would make sure she was completely dry and comfy before I came back for you.”