On the day track season officially began, my wife Heidi often felt like wearing black because she was going into mourning. For the next three months, as the high school varsity track coach, I was basically non-existent at home. I had a state-ranked team that needed training, and I had a reputation to keep up. That meant time, work and preparation. I also needed larger teams to insure more victories to keep placing high in the state, and larger teams meant even more time, more work, and more preparation. I think you see where all of this is going. On the outside, I looked like a very successful coach, but that’s not what I felt on the inside. I was driven to succeed because that was where I found the affirmation I had failed to find in high school. In short, coaching track had become my identity and my idol. There was simply no way I could ever think about stopping. But after eight years of year-round coaching, I was drained, empty, and exhausted. On top of that, my family was suffering, and my classroom teaching was deteriorating. I knew I had to stop. But could I let it go?
A somewhat parallel scenario (see Mark 10:17-22) happened when a young man approached Jesus with a question about his own salvation: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Yet the question was fundamentally misguided, for behind it lurked the assumption that it was ultimately something that the young man could do. Jesus’ response was basically this: You want to know what is good. Look at God’s will in His commandments. Only by doing these will you live. And then the man revealed his blindness: he quickly replied that he had kept the whole law from his youth. Yet the initial question he posed revealed the lurking insecurity inside: Have I been good enough? Am I missing something?
It is the story of our hearts clinging to something besides God and discovering that what we cling to for life is killing us instead.
Then Jesus exposed the man’s real issue, his greed, by asking him to let go of his wealth. The text states that Jesus looked at him and loved him as he said this. Why is this love? Because the misguided faith this man had in himself was going to destroy him. His real problem wasn’t a deluded understanding of his goodness; it was his idolatry and attachment to wealth. The answer to the man’s initial question about eternal life was really this: Follow Me. To do this, he would have to detach from his riches so that he could attach to Jesus. But he couldn’t let his wealth go, walking away sad.
The story of this rich, young man is the story of every man. It is the story of our hearts clinging to something besides God and discovering that what we cling to for life is killing us instead. This is the tragedy of idolatry. In modern day psychological terms, we call it addiction.
What exactly do our idols do to us?
- They deceive us: they promise life, happiness, and fullness, but never deliver.
- They enslave us: we choose them only to find out that we now must have them. We become slaves, in bondage to them.
- They destroy us: What happens to the substance abuser is an outward visual for how idols destroy. They harden our hearts so that we become blind to our sin, destroying others and eventually ourselves.
But unlike the rich man in the gospels, I was given the grace to detach from track a number of years ago and find more of my identity as a man with Jesus. It’s how He loved me so well years ago. And He will continue to love us relentlessly, asking us to let go of everything that keeps us from attaching to Him. He knows it’s the death that will truly lead to life. This is how we keep following Him.
Where do you need the grace to detach today?
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served as a pastor and a high school Bible teacher. Presently, he leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and author of Divided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree and Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God. Bill and his wife have two grown daughters and reside in Franklin, TN. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillDelvaux.