Fred Harrell, Senior Pastor of City Church SF, quoted one of my favorite writers recently – Richard Foster. On the idolatry of money, Foster notes, “When we let go of money we are letting go of part of ourselves.” That is interesting language. And it’s helpful language.
One of the assumptions I make with everyone I counsel (and with myself, no less) is that they are an orchestra with competing parts playing inside. Think about it. You’ll often find yourself saying, “A part of me is angry, yet another part is quite content.” Or, “A part of me wants to go, yet another really wants to stay.” The most simple term we use for this internal phenomenon is ambivalence. But, I’d suggest that our internal orchestra is far larger and more complex than two competing parts. We’ve got tubas, trumpets, French horns, and trombones blaring loudly. And we’ve got bassoons, flutes, and third violins just trying to get heard. It’s a war in there. It also begs the question: where is the Conductor? We’ll get to that in a later post.
For now, I think that this orchestra metaphor helps in two main ways. On the one hand, I will not be as prone to over-identify a person with his sin. If Bill is a sex addict, what I need to address is a part of him that has overwhelmed the whole, enslaving him in one sense. Sex does not define Bill. In fact, I’m quite convinced that another part of Bill is quite repulsed by it. There is a war going on inside of him. In this sense, I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the “once-an-addict-always-an-addict” idea. I get it, but in my estimation it gives way to much power to a part of us.
On the other hand, it’s helpful to think of a person as an orchestra so that we do not over-estimate a person’s holiness. The parts we play, or the “masquerade” we engage in, as Spurgeon said, can also look quite appealing, at first. Ben became an elder because he knew more Scripture than anyone else, and because he seemed about as pure and spotless as Christ. But Ben’s lead part (who we later called Mr. Clean) lived to keep many other parts of himself at bay and away. Those parts, later called Failure, Sex Obsession, Scared Little Ben, propelled him to live out a false self, a masquerade that convinced many in his church that he was holy, not a sinner in need of grace.
Perhaps, then, this business of “an orchestra” and “parts” is something of what John Calvin meant when he called us “idol factories.” I’m just making our idols a bit more personal. I’m giving them names, even personalities. And I see this as helpful not merely in a pedagogical sense, but because these parts are personal. Indeed, if you listen in, you’ll hear them.
So, here’s today’s exercise for you. Take a listen inside. What parts play the dominant roles and the loudest instruments? What parts hide in the background, barely able to whisper a note? If Richard Foster is right and money is, indeed, a security-and-identity craving part of us, then what is it speaking to you? Are there any other voices that dissent?
Is there a loud internal Critic who speaks against your dignity as a son or daughter of God?
Is there a lost and young part of you that needs to play, but feels crowded out by a hyper-achiever or a duty-bound part of you?
Is there a sex-obsessed part that craves connection, or an approval-addicted part that doesn’t allow for any rest?
You see, I’m convinced that idolatry is not merely an attempt to seek justification elsewhere, requiring immediate repentance and belief. That’s theologically satisfying, perhaps, but psychologically simplistic. No, I’m convinced we need to listen underneath, to give voice to those parts of us that crave and ultimately enslave. So, I’ve often told my clients to do this: Take a pen, and give a voice to that idol or that part of you, for example, that finds security through money. What’s it saying? Is a part of what it is saying legitimate? (I suspect some of it is, because normally our idols are perversions of things that God created good).
If so, do something else (…and this part will really make you think I’m a nut). Write or speak back to that part of you. Thank it for desiring something good, and ask if it would be willing to let go of some of its power (repentance), to play its instrument a little lower and in tune with the rest of the orchestra, or perhaps even a little louder and in greater harmony if need be. Tell it to re-focus its eyes on the Conductor, who wants it to join in the chorus of faith, hope, and love, of an un-divided heart, of shalom.
We’re just getting started. There’s much more to come.