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Our mentor this week is Christy, who has been set free of relational idolatry. Her “near sin” was clinging too tightly to friends, but she feels her deep idol was security (we have it under the category of comfort/security).

christydee-cropped This is a picture of Christy with me at my cabin in Wisconsin. You can see Christy is a beautiful vibrant woman. She has been single all of her life. As she explains, often those who are single are particularly attached to their friends, for their friends are their family. (However — I think nearly all woman can relate to finding a kindred spirit and clinging too tightly, wanting exclusive time with her, and feeling threatened when she gets another very close friend. Or, we may cling too tightly to husbands or children.) I tell Christy’s story in the newest edition of The Friendships of Women. Here is a recap:

When God would give me a friend and there was that wonderful sense of connection, I would cling too closely to her. I would become anxious if she wasn’t free to spend time with me, or wasn’t connecting with me enough through e-mail, or, if she would get another close friend. When one friend got a boyfriend, I felt ignored, replaced, and actually had flu-like symptoms.

A couple of good friends got around me and told me this was an unhealthy pattern in my life and I needed help. I agreed to go for counseling. The day the counselor used the term “relational idolatry,” the light turned on for me. I knew I didn’t want to be an idolater.  I felt such shame. But that was the beginning a journey toward freedom and healthy friendships.

A week ago Christy traveled with me to my retreat in Minnesota and I asked her if she would be willing to fill the mentor role this week — and she agreed! I told her that we were learning how important it is not just to stop running to the false god, but to start running to the true God. I asked her how she did that — she told me several things.

Christy was so convicted by the term “idolatry” that she was very desirous of repenting. She explained to her friend that she had to separate from her, and yet, she also felt anxious about it. (I think each of us can identify with that anxiousness when we are saying no to our idol.) One week her counselor had Christy put her hand on her heart, then she came behind her and placed her hand on top of Christy’s, pressing firmly. She said, “The next time you are anxious over this situation, press on your heart and know that the Lord is with you.”  When we get anxious, we often think we are abandoned, but we never are. Jesus promises He would never leave us or forsake us, but that is a truth we must speak to our souls.

Christy also breathed the truth to her soul through study. Some of the most helpful books and studies she did were:

Jan Silvious’s “Please Don’t Say You Need Me” confirmed to Christy that she indeed,  had a problem with relational idolatry.

Beth Moore’s study “Breaking Free” was helpful. (Beth had a diagram that showed how we put ourselves in a cell of what we think is true, when God has so much more for us.)

Henry Nouwen’s book, “The Inner Voice of Love,” helped her. Nouwen also had to separate himself from a friend, and needed to hear God’s voice of love. She remembers Nouwen saying something like: “If there is a person in your life who is able to make or break your day based on what they say or don’t say, then that person has too much control.”

Christy separated from her friend, studied, and became more dependent on the Lord. Today she has healthy friendships. So often when we are set free of our idol, when that idol was actually intended by God to be a good thing (such as friendship, food, or family) then that can return to being what God intended: good and beautiful and satisfying. When Christy and I were traveling together she got a call from the friend she had separated so long ago — she was going to be in town — and I could tell, as I listened to Christy, how healthy that friendship had become.


1. What are some of the key points you see in Christy’s story that could be helpful to us in our study of being set free from idolatry?

2. How do you personally relate to this?

3. What questions might you have for Christy?

4. It is the start of a new week in Lent. Renew your vision by setting a goal — something to stop doing, and something to start doing. What is your plan?


5. In Isaiah 2:22 — what reason are we given not to put our trust in man?

6. Romans 1 shows us how relational idolatry can actually be the first step on the slippery slope to homosexuality. This didn’t happen for Christy, but it does happen for many — especially because of the success of the gay agenda.

A. According to Romans 1:18, what is the first step in vulnerability towards idolatry?

B. Why is everyone responsible to God for worshiping Him according to Romans 1:19-20?

C. What two things did the unrighteous fail to do and what was the result, according to this key verse in Romans 1:21?

D. Because the above is so key — I’d like us to make a daily practice (hourly, actually) of giving thanks. Could you regularly record what you see throughout the day — from a baby’s smile to the crocus pushing through the snow? Could you also intentionally find ways to honor Him — from giving Him time, singing praise to Him, or reverencing Him in your heart? (I’ll keep looking for these in your postings!)

7. Trace the downward spiral that relational idolatry can lead to through these verses:

A. Romans 1:21

B. Romans 1:22-23

C. Romans 1:24-25

D. Romans 1:26-27

E. Romans 1:28-31

F. Romans 1:32

8. Please don’t limit relational idolatry to friendship. We can cling too tightly to husbands, children. What would be some red flags that this is happening?

9. Remembering the growth cycle of repentance and faith, how did Christy break free? How does her story help you?

10. Did you see any progress with your goal?

11. What is your take-a-way this week?

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  1. I stumbled upon this as I googled looking for help and answers. God is good. 🙂 I have been reading and Bible studying for two hours here, and am now subscribed to future studies.

    I have been convicted of some idols in my life. One main one is a friendship that I have. I’m also reading Pursuit of God by Tozer. There is a great chapter on idols.

    My question is, how much space is needed to get refocused. With this friend I don’t think it is possible to totally step back. We are in the same accountability group of four, we are part of a small church plant, our boys are in play group.

    Is it possible to hold the emotional distance without the physical distance? Or is complete distance needed for healing?

    Since reading Tozer and studying more in God’s Word, I have been literally face down before God in submission to His will as Lord of my life and praying He would be Lord in my heart and no other would be in his place.

    1. welcome! i have that book I will check that chapter out!!

  2. Rebecca, thanks so much for telling us how it went. I agree with Joyce in that I just knew it was going to be wonderful. I prayed a lot for Brandi today. How I pray that she was able to see God’s love for her.

    1. Anne, Thanks so much for praying! In the Van on the way there we talked about how we see God’s majesty and His attributes in creation-how can anyone say there isn’t a God? Then we talked of a lot of stuff..I can’t remember exactly everything, but the very first part of the retreat reiterated most of what we discussed..So, I elbowed her and looked at her and she smiled..God was confirming to us He was there, He heard..He was pressing into us the whole day..Aslan was indeed on the move. I don’t know what He is going to do with our time together, but it was sweet. We also talked on the way home about how God has had His hand on both of us since we were little and that God causes us to long for Him. I clearly see His hand on Brandi. 😉

    1. Dee, you are too sweet! Thank you! It was such a blessing seeing you. I am so looking forward to reading the “God of All Comfort.” Brandi has been reading her bible every day I found out! Then God has her win your study book “A Woman of Beauty”.. He is on the move! 🙂

      1. Rebecca, I can’t say enough about The God of All Comfort! I’ve decided already it’s one of my top favorites–and I’m picky about books 😉

        Dee, even though the loss of my dad was so different, your story, and your daughters’ had a few specifics that were similar and one thing in particular I have struggled with for 12 years. It’s hard to go into here, but when I read it aloud to my husband , he knew and held me and I just wept. God used your words and your openness to heal an old wound so deep in me.

        I read some portions to my husband (he esp. liked your Bonhoeffer quotes) –and I just said “I hate this for her and I don’t want that (pain)!” and I felt in me–would I trust like you? But he pointed out the beauty of your marriage, the love you shared, and that is a GIFT, and yes, we do want that.

        I am savoring the last chapters, not wanting it to end–what a beautiful testimony it is. Thank you for sharing so real with us–He is glorified!

        1. Elizabeth, You are so lovely and your husband held you-what a lovely picture. 🙂 can’t wait to read this and after reading your review I am thinking of reading it with my husband.

      2. God is on the move!

    2. How cute! About Sara’s little girl wanting to turn 4!

  3. OK,I’ve had a major breakthrough. First, I am quick to fully forgive and not re-live when someone sincerely apologizes, but I have always struggled with forgiveness when I see no remorse from the person who has committed an offense. This stems from primarily 2 things—one my mother does not apologize. I would say she never has in my life, but the closest she comes is “I’m sorry you feel that way” type apology. I also had terrible relationship with my alcoholic father who I honestly waited until I was in my early 20’s for him to apologize. I kept telling myself that once he apologizes, I will forgive and welcome him with open arms. Unfortunately, he died before that happened. I have watched my husband who grew up in a far worse family situation, be loving and gracious towards his parents and I have never been able to fathom it. In my mind, they do not deserve forgiveness until there is remorse.
    Don’t give up on me yet—here’s the breakthrough! My 7 yr old has been struggling with her sinful behavior, yet is not ready to fully surrender. She isn’t remorseful, just mad she got caught. This weekend has been rough on all of us—with her spending most of it in her room alone to “think and pray”. But yesterday, in my time of praying earnestly for the Holy Spirit to break through to her—He got through to me instead. He told me to go to her room and just hug her. I hate to admit to y’all, but I did NOT want to. I even told God that out loud. Then I heard myself say, I will embrace her when she’s repentant. And He said, but I died while you were still sinners. So I went. Up the stairs and opened my arms, and she held on so tight and wept. There was no major conversion—yet—but He broke my chains. Can I admit here this is the first time I remember offering free love when there has been no repentance? I told her I love her, and that is not based on her behavior, it cannot change. Unconditional, free, LOVE.

    1. That is a wonderful breakthrough Elizabeth! Praying for her heart.

    2. Elizabeth, This brought tears to my eyes..Oh my, how God just showed your daughter His unconditional love through you..And you were obedient despite your feelings, totally a perfect picture of Christ. I am sure your daughter will treasure that moment in her heart.

      1. Thank you so much Anne & Rebecca for the encouragement–oh I can’t wait to find you in heaven for a good hug! I can’t tell you what a blessing all of you on this blog have been to me in this journey. You all have so much wisdom and I am honored to be among you.

        1. You are amazing, Elizabeth…so proud of you!

        2. oh Joyce, you are too sweet–thank you for your encouragement–I read this this morning and I needed it to “press on”–thank you.
          I have been praying too for Kendra–your unselfish love inspires me! She is so blessed to have the gift of you.

    3. “Can I admit here this is the first time I remember offering free love when there has been no repentance?”
      YES, YOU CAN! Thank you for your transparency and honesty here… I think we’ve all found this to be a safe place to take the masks off and honestly share.
      I can just picture your little girl hugging you; first and foremost she’s a child who needs her mama to hold her; that’s just beautiful how God spoke to your heart and how she responded.

      1. Thank you Susan! I guess to be fair to myself, it’s not really the first time I’ve offered a hug before repentance, at least not with my kids–it’s easier with them, I guess. But as she’s gotten older, and we have had such big struggles with this area lately, I’ve started to harden my heart–and here I am on this journey where He is breaking it down and graciously giving me a heart of flesh. I guess this stone is my struggle to judge others, especially their heart and motive. UGH. I am just thankful that even as I prayed for Him to break her, He broke me 😉

    4. my 7 year old is also dealing with a lot of bitterness for her new sister. she was the center of attention for so long and really is having a hard time. she has also spent a lot of time by herself and I have also had a hard time having a lot of compasion for her.
      she is so needy and no matter how much i give her it just never seems to be enough. but I also just loved on her this week. It amazes me how God is working and how satan is attacking!!!
      so much alike it is scary!!

  4. I happened on this article in Christianity Today that I thought was so interesting. It is about spiritual formation, which is what we are about here. It is a little long (6 pages) but worth it I think. The best part is at the end when it talks about how the initial years of spiritual formation are usually slow mostly bringing about a general detachment from things worldly, but when one moves to the next stage it is one of great love and self sacrifice, naming Mother Teresa, Wilberforce and St. Patrick as examples. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/january/26.29.html

  5. I am so sorry that I don’t get the lessons done, as Kendra is on the computor for her games so much. But I print the lessons out and do them and keep up with all of you on the blog in prayers and in spirit.

    1. My girlfriend and I decided to read “The Friendships of Women” as a tool to enhance our 4 year relationship to another level and to make sure it was align in the way God intended it to be. After reading chapter 4 my girlfriend shared that she identified with the character “Sandy”; she proceeded to tell me that she was going to have to separate from me to get the help she needed to break free of the bondage of “Relational Idolatry”. I was definitely blind-sided by what I was hearing; I never recognize any traits of “Relational Idolatry” in her personality. For the life of me I could not wrap my mind around the fact of how this beautiful woman of God I was so graciously bless to have in my life possessed the characteristic of what she was describing to me.

      It’s funny how the turn of this life changing moment happened prior to the beginning of Lent. I surrendered myself and the relationship to God which allowed me to come to peace with the separation. It has been a month since we parted which involves no type of contact at all. I saw her for the first time on yesterday from a distance and that is when I realize how much missing her had really affected me in so many ways.

      I have drawn more closely to God than I ever had during this time but I am discovering that I actually need support in dealing with missing my girlfriend and the length of the duration before we reunite again. I tried researching for a support group in my surrounding area for this situation but was unsuccessful with my search; I chose not to stop there and scheduled an appointment to meet with a Christian Counselor. How did the women who were told by their girlfriends that they needed to separate from them cope with the transition and the time it took for them to be delivered?

      1. Ruth,
        this is Ellen of the Ellen and ‘Sandy’ friendship situtation! Christy is a dear friend of mine, and she pointed me to your comment as I know well the role of a “Sandy” in a friendship that has gone off course, as well as the place that I had in my friendship with her. Sandy represents one type of needy woman: needy to be needed, a “mini-messiah” or rescuer. I’ve been that 🙁 too. When Sandy and I became friends, she ‘found life’ in my needines of her, and I ‘found life’ in being cared for, ‘mothered’, ‘made much of’. All this in a friendship between two Christian women, and a mentoring context too!. I can tell you that God has sweetly, and richly redeemed my friendship with Sandy, but it came after a long season of us not being in close contact and also of God healing and changing our hearts that needed to learn how to feast most upon Jesus, rather than someone else…including the dynamics of emotional connection and emotional comfort/affection.

        My encouragement to you, is that in “fasting” from this friend, the friendship and the dynamics that created the sense of attachement that became idolatrous, or a “Jesus-replacement”, space will be created for the deeper issues in your soul to be ministered to by Christ.

        I’ve learned, like Christy has too, that when one woman friend begins to take on a role or place in our thoughts, affections or schedules that then leads us to believe the lie that we NEED her, we’ve gotten off track. The Lord is tenderly wooing you to Himself, first of all Ruth: He alone is the True Vine, and our friends are sweet, wonderful branches that we live live alongside of. He is faithful to comfort, correct and re-align our hearts and relational patterns when we try to abide in people/branches, rather than the Vine!

        Press on and through what He is showing you by being apart from her…He is leading you into a spacious place because He delights in you sister! Psalm 18:19

  6. I read this post and I have a question for Christy or Dee.

    I have a friend that I have relied on too deeply for worth and value. She is the closest person to me and I am the closest to her. We have shared much and walked through much together. I have realized that she has taken the place of Lord in my heart. I am graduating soon and will go my separate way.

    I am hesitant to have that “we need to separate for awhile” talk because these are the last few months that I will ever see her (I’m moving overseas). I want these precious last months with her but I realize that I have placed her above the Lord.

    How much time would you advise that we separate?

  7. 1. What are some of the key points you see in Christy’s story that could be helpful to us in our study of being set free from idolatry?

    Well, definitely someone who has “recovered” from having an idol problem has much wisdom to share. Maybe we could read one of the books? Also, we see that someone made it through to the other side of their issue even though it was difficult. She is an encouragement to all of us.

    2. How do you personally relate to this?

    Christy’s story takes me way back to a time in my life that was just like hers. A close friend moved halfway around the world and I was devastated. As I look back, I believe I had made our friendship one of the most important things in my life. I managed to get through without counseling; my young children kept me very busy. However, I replaced my friendship with her with my children and now I have trouble letting that go. I’m still a mess!

    3. What questions might you have for Christy?

    How did you find a counselor that (seems) was good? I have been through so many with my kids over the years that I don’t have much respect for them anymore. The Christian ones don’t usuay take insurance either. I can’t afford the cost right now. Any suggestions?

  8. 4. It is the start of a new week in Lent. Renew your vision by setting a goal — something to stop doing, and something to start doing. What is your plan?

    I want to stop worrying about my children, my family, school, work, etc.

    My plan is that when I get the “anxious” feeling about my children, my husband, money, my masters classes, my job, etc. I start by talking to God; thanking Him for being faithful to my family, and asking Him to help me not worry but trust and obey.

    1. Laura-dancer, your answers are posting to an old blog post from Jan (when Dee first shared Christ’s story–the link was from the current week’s study) If you go back to Dee’s main site, you’ll see this week’s study…see you there 🙂

  9. Hi! Thanks for the relationship idolatry spiral exercise. It has been quite insightful. I am wondering if you can recommend resources on how to avoid/remedy relationship idolatry with your husband? In particular, with romantic desires/emotional “needs”? Thanks so much and God bless!