The winner takes it all

ABBA, weight loss and meaning—and discovering the truth about idols.

Andrew Ebrahim—Unsplash

I had an obsession with ABBA as a child. When “Dancing Queen” came on the radio, my world would transform as I sang into my hairbrush mic, inviting my toys to join in with my uncoordinated dance party. At my peak ABBA fervour period (insert eight-year-old me), I entered a competition where I had to “finish the ABBA lyric” to win the prize. Not to gloat, but I incinerated the competition, clinching my success with the song “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)”. To celebrate, I victoriously took home a Finding Nemo lunchbox, mortifying my parents (one a church minister), who had to explain to their friends why I knew those song lyrics (yet was blissfully unaware as to their meaning).

I could say I am embarrassed by my ABBA history, but even now, I take great joy in belting out “Mamma Mia” when it comes through my car stereo, and if you challenge me to a “finish the ABBA lyric” battle, I’ll undertake it with the same gusto and competitiveness as I did in 2005.

We all have idols—people we look to who provide us with inspiration, hope, happiness and (in the case of my very important competition), purpose. These idols inspire us to action, affect our decisions and can impact our relationships with others.

As we get older, these idols often shift from people to things. We begin to look to our families, our careers or our financial status, to provide us with meaning, and something to live for as we go throughout life. These idols provide us with a sense of security and direction, and the knowledge that we “have” something to hold onto when times get hard.

But there’s a problem with idols: they let us down.

At the end of Year 10, I decided I wanted to lose weight. I had always been the bigger one out of my group of friends, and my size was a cause of insecurity for me. I hated getting piggybacks or being picked up (for fear of being viewed as too heavy or being dropped), and swimsuits were something I didn’t like wearing in front of others. I figured that in losing weight, I would become happier, my sense of identity would improve and all my previously mentioned fears would be eradicated.

So, I did it. Over the summer I exercised, ate smaller portions, cried while eating kale and lost nearly 10 kilograms. I had achieved what I had set out to do, had a healthy BMI and I lived for when people would make comments about my weight loss or how good I looked.

imageBut something strange happened. I still hated being picked up. I didn’t enjoy wearing swimsuits and I never felt like I’d lost enough weight to be considered “thin”. My weight loss, while doing wonders for my health, had done very little for my self-esteem. I could not understand why after successfully doing something I had set out to achieve, I still felt so empty. I had placed my identity and happiness in my weight loss, and it had failed to deliver.

Idols: a biblical perspective

When we look in the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, idols don’t get a positive review. In Exodus 20, when God provides Moses the Ten Commandments to give to His people after leading them from Egypt, the Israelites, He tells them that they are to have no other gods—idols—ahead of Him. When they started worshipping the graven image of a golden calf, God’s anger at this false idol was shown. At another time, God commands a man called Gideon to smash his family’s cherished idol (see Judges 6). God has a very clear perspective of false gods and idol worship, but why?

Author Timothy Keller, in his book Romans for You, offers one reason: “We must worship something. We were created to worship the Creator, so if we reject him, we will worship something else . . . . There has to be something which captures our imagination and our allegiance, which is the resting place of our deepest hopes and which we look to calm our deepest fears. Whatever that thing is, we worship it, and so we serve it. It becomes our bottom line, the thing we cannot live without, defining and validating everything we do . . . the human heart loves to make a good thing into its god thing. This exchange in our worship and service undoes the creative order.”

God tells us to not have anything else before Him because He knows that when we place a god or idol as our first love, no matter what form of idolatry or idol worship it may be, it will inevitably lead lead to disappointment and despair. When we rely on our families, divorce and tension can majorly shake our foundations. When we rely on our careers, job loss, illness or work drama can make life unbearable. When we rely on our health, ageing, weight gain/loss and injury can all leave us feeling worthless. When we rely on our social media networks or invest our identity in the way others perceive us, negative opinions or comments can be disastrous for our wellbeing. That is not to say that we shouldn’t value these things—indeed our families are of great importance, our careers are often necessary and can provide great feelings of accomplishment, our health allows us to have an abundant, meaningful life, and relationships can give us a sense of community and fulfilment. But when we start to look at these things as our primary source of meaning, we are setting ourselves up to fail.

“I the Lord do not change,” God says in Malachi 3:6. In a world of confusion, where nothing is certain, God promises a constant purpose and love that we don’t have to do anything to earn. He tells us constantly of our value in the Bible, and describes us as “fearfully, and wonderfully made”, designed for a life that is abundant. Similarly, Genesis notes that human beings are made in God’s image. When we have that promise upon which to lay our foundation, it changes our lives. It means that we don’t have to fear the future, because we know God – the true God – is for us, even if everything else is against us. It means that we can love our families and our jobs, and look after our health, without letting any of them define us.

But it’s also much more than that. God also tells us that we are not only loved but loved enough to die for. The much-quoted John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Sacrificing oneself for an undeserving humanity is certainly not a common action of a god, and yet, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the most important part of the Christian faith. What’s more, Christianity is arguably the only major religion where we don’t have to do anything to be given this rescue. Through His Word and His Son, God is offering a free gift and a new focus without having to win a competition, and without having to be perfect. It’s truly good news.

I have a regular fight with myself about whether I need to exercise more often, and my competitiveness for ABBA is still alive and well. But it’s different now, because that’s not where I get my meaning from anymore. So, when “The Winner Takes It All” comes on the radio, and I proceed to perform it for the surrounding drivers, I find myself reminded of the fact that if I place the right Winner at the centre of my life, it’s going to be better than any prize, including a lunchbox.

Jessica Krause is currently completing a law/media degree at Newcastle University in NSW.

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