Identity & Purpose

Idolizing the Ideal

5 Minute Read - By Sarah Kozak

The Young Catholic Woman

I’ve always been a girl with strong opinions about what I want my life to look like and have oftentimes straight up refused to be open to anything outside of them. I knew exactly where I wanted to be living, what I wanted out of a career, and the type of man I wanted to marry someday. If you were to pass me a piece of paper, and say, “Describe your ideal man,” I could easily fill every inch of that journal page with a thorough outline of all of the things I hope to find in a future spouse, right down to the type of music he would play during cross-country road trips (although, let’s be honest, that is a big deal!). Needless to say, I excel at imagining my ideal life.

The definition of the word “ideal” is: “satisfying one's conception of what is perfect; most suitable.” Now I want to pause for a moment and preface the rest of this article by clarifying, ideals are not a bad thing! To quote Louisa May Alcott: “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

Ideals ignite our imaginations and our hearts with hope as to what the future holds. These dreams and desires are a gift from God which prevent us from settling for a life of mediocrity.

But what happens if we allow the obsession with achieving “our ideal” to blind us from recognizing what God might have already placed right in front of us or what He wants to surprise us with?

Ideals are naturally a good thing, but they become dangerous if we begin to idolize and choose them over reality. For example, we all want to marry a man who fits our image of Prince Charming. But a real relationship cannot exist merely within the safety of your own imagination.

It requires the presence of another very real, flawed, and imperfect human being who is striving everyday to learn how to better love a very real, flawed, and imperfect you! Your vocation in marriage is to love your spouse- not the image you hold of who you want him to be.

Obsession with achieving “the ideal” can imprison us when we do not allow ourselves to be open to a possibility that is anything other than what we want. We are often afraid that if we let go of our ideal and choose to be open to something different, that the “something different” will not live up to our expectations and will only result in disappointment. And so, we close ourselves off because we are afraid of our dream being destroyed.

And, dare I say, because we fear the thought of something different and unknown being even more beautiful than our original plan...because the unknown is always outside of our control.

A Scripture passage that Our Lord has continually brought up with me the past few years, is Isaiah 55 which says, “For My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.”(Is. 55:9) This is His gentle, but at the same time firm way of reminding me that no matter what vision I have for my life, He usually has a way of overturning the tables on my plans. I all too often forget that any change He makes is done out of love with my greatest good in mind and that only He knows how to best fulfill my desires.

The rich young man in Mark’s Gospel is a perfect example of this. This man asks Jesus what he is meant to do with his life and how he can obtain Heaven. He wants to know what he is still lacking, hoping that the answer will fall right in line with his current lifestyle. But instead... “Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven, and come, follow me.” At that saying, his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22)

What a loss for this young man! He wanted so badly to find the road which would lead to his happiness and fulfillment, but when the invitation was presented to him, it looked so different from his ideal, that he was too afraid to accept it. His fear of giving up the earthly riches which he found his identity in, prevented him from choosing Christ and a story that would have been more adventurous, rich, and fulfilling than his current lifestyle.

I had a friend in college whose constant reminder to me was, “Let God surprise you.” She said it so simply, but with such trust and faith that it has always stayed with me. Rather than striving to create Heaven here on earth for myself by chasing after the things I want, I’m learning that true fulfillment comes when you focus on bringing a glimpse of Heaven to those around you by the way in which you love and serve them. 

In surrendering the blueprint of my life, I’m watching in awe as my Heavenly Father continues to surprise me with more and more additions, and with a story that is more exciting than any which I could have come up with solely in my own imagination. In discovering the hidden treasures that He is handing me right here in the present moment, I am learning that there’s nothing so precious as the immeasurable wealth of merely being in His presence and allowing Him to use me in whatever way He chooses. As the Psalmist wrote so beautifully: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11)

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