Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel

When we consider the things that can be idolized, we likely think of people or material things. A common view that I grew up with held that anyone or anything that becomes the usually unintentional object of our worship is an idol.

Money, for instance, can become the object of our worship and easily push God off of His throne, as if He could be pushed off. Popular Christian leaders can also become the objects of our over-affection, which seems quite common these days. And affirmation can also become the thing that we strive after instead of passionately running after God and His immeasurable grace. These examples are what we might call subtle idolatries. Good things — provision, good teachers, and encouragement for a job well done — can turn into the very things that distract us from their Provider.

But another idolatry exists, perhaps even in your own heart, that has not been traditionally spoken of as such, because it is something far too easy to hold onto. What I speak of here is the idolatry of hard emotions.

We can all likely point back to a time when someone important to us harmed us and yet, years later, we still hang tightly onto the anger or hurt (insert any other difficult emotional reaction here) that was perpetrated upon us. Rather than pursue reconciliation, restoration, or healing, we choose to harbor our feelings against this person because it gives us a morbid sense of status.

We think frequently about this difficult emotion. We talk about it with others. We don’t let it go because it gives us a twisted way to get our needs met with illusory attention from others. We hold it tightly to the point where it becomes the object of our worship.

Because we’ve been hurt by someone else, people should thus take sympathy on us and coddle us in our festering bitterness. Rather than seek true healing from the True Healer, we repeatedly apply a dirty, tattered bandage to the wound of our heart in order to appear injured to others through rather extreme emotional means.

In the end, we create an idol that replaces God as the object of our worship and true healing evades us.

In the trendy move towards authenticity, some leaders leverage their own brokenness as a means of drawing others towards Christ. This can be good. But it can also be a way of expressing deeply ingrained bitterness that has not been resolved. In my involvements with numerous pastoral leaders over the years, my sense is that more than a few are working out their own unresolved and idolatrous hard emotions from past traumas. So then, how do we confront this idolatry head on to experience God’s healing in our lives rather than placing deep past hurts above God and His people?

I encourage awareness and accountability. What is unresolved in your life that is being harmfully “incarnated” in your ministry? Where is it you need to make amends, in the language of recovery, with those you’ve hurt or those you’ve been hurt by? What hard story in your life are you using to maintain your broken status as opposed to it pointing to the healing power of Jesus?

Additionally, what types of people are attracted to your ministry? I know of one pastor that attracted single young men that were the products of divorced families. Rather than diffusing healing throughout the community, he generally enabled unhealthy relational dynamics that stifled movement of maturing disciples.

These questions might lead you to great insight about yourself, but only when steeped in prayer. They will especially yield great fruit if you work them through with a mentor you trust. In the end, your hard work should be to feel your feelings; express them with a caring mentor, counselor, or coach; and ask for your true needs of forgiveness and healing to be met through your Creator. Through this very relational process, enacted in community, you may just find the idolatry of hard emotions lurking in your heart, corroding your life and ministry. And with God’s courage, you’ll experience healing.

If you find yourself struggling with unresolved emotional reactions from past traumas that are breeding bitterness in your heart and spilling out in your ministry, we’d consider a privilege to work with you on discovering healing in your life. Please let us know how we can join with you on your journey of discovery.


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