Student Series: Idol Worship and the Main Thing in High School

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I sat on my knees in the swivel chair in front of our family desktop computer. Over and over I clicked ‘refresh’ until the screen flashed blank and loaded a list of names.

For eleven years, I’d committed myself to the gruesome training it took to be a gymnast, and it shaped me into the girl that I was. It not only strengthened me physically, but it deeply ingrained in me a sense of determination and confidence. I was driven and strong. But most of all, I craved perfection. I thrived in the rigorous structure of gymnastics. And now, I was ready to take that training into cheerleading.

But on that day, sitting on my knees in the swivel chair, my piñata burst.

My name wasn’t on the list and my so-loved structure came tumbling down.

I had not made seventh grade cheerleading.

I now faced everything seventh grade had to offer (both good and bad) alone. From the awkward boys and new girls, to the different school and the stricter teachers, I had no sport to dedicate my soul to and no activity to keep me sane.

But a few months before the start of school, I embarked on a journey to the JH Ranch with a dear childhood friend. Riding on a big yellow bus, we wound through the mountains of Northern California on the way to what we assumed would be a regular summer camp experience.

We were utterly unaware how tangibly we would witness the Lord. We had no idea that we’d be challenged to go far, far beyond our comfort zones and, most importantly, be called to claim ownership of our own faith. At the age of 13, we were not treated as campers, but were referred to as “guests” to be led to learn and experience God alongside our “coaches.”

But it isn’t the Redwood Forest or the courageous jump off of a 60-foot telephone pole that I remember the most. It is one sweet and real cabin conversation that I’ll hold on to forever. I was on my way back from dinner when I heard sobbing. I followed the sound and found my coach.

She was crying.

And I was stunned.

I’d seen adults break down before, but never one that was paid to hold it together.

Despite my minimal age and life experience, she was real with me.

She explained that she’d been in a bad relationship. She explained how she thought she loved a boy and sacrificed a lot to be with him. She explained that she’d turned away from God for this boy who was abusive to her.

And then she explained that actually, she missed him.

Wow.

No adult had ever so willingly given me the truth. Much less the truth of their struggle.

Her honesty strengthened me and the truth of her testimony spoke truth into mine.

From my understanding, she’d treated this boy a lot like I’d idolized cheerleading. He was her passion, motivation, and the controller of her actions. And the same way it was not wrong for me to love gymnastics and cheerleading, it was not wrong of her to love that boy.

Her sin and mine were rooted in the worship of an idol in place of the Lord.

I told her it seemed to me that she was a lot like a kid playing with letter-shaped blocks. Like she was given a puzzle with the letters G-O-D carved out of it and trying to force the letters B-O-Y into the spaces.

She laughed.

And hugged me.

Then we deleted his number from her phone.

The following year, I sat in that same swivel chair and this time my name was on the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d worked incredibly hard and felt wonderful relief, followed by excitement for the fun things I’d get to do as a cheerleader. So sure, my work had paid off, but I wasn’t joyful just because I was on the list. I was joyful because of what God had done in my life between the lists. In my very real struggles, He had given me a year of abundant blessings more rich than I could have imagined.

I’ll leave you with a quote I heard on the first day of my senior year in high school.

The infamous calculus professor, Ms. Wanda Burns stood before a class of high school seniors and explained the one requirement of her class:

“Keep the main thing the main thing.”

Because between the first day of her class and the last, we’d take a test almost every day. If we let those tests and the many mistakes we would make haunt us, we’d never accomplish the main thing. We would grow weary and lose heart. So all that mattered to her (and all that should have mattered to us) was the main thing — which, in Ms. Burns’ case was for us to get a five on the AP exam.

But in God’s case, the main thing is to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). Christ’s encompassing love sets us free from seeking perfection, free from the burden of our idols, and free to receive his abundant blessings.

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