67. Our Hearts Are Idol Factories: Where Are We Finding Our Value? With Sylvia Siu
Laura: Hi Sylvia. Welcome to unsung stories. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks Laura. Just so that our listeners could get to know you a bit more. Could you tell us about you, your family life and just what everyday life looks like for you?
Sylvia: Yeah, so I'm married to Sylvester. He's the ministry, our church in OI, we have three beautiful girls four and a half, seven and nine, my dad lives with us as well. He's been with us for four years now. So these days I'm a wife and a mom and a carer every day. And I run a women's Bible study once a week and I do kids church on Sundays and I work one day a week doing women's ministry for my denomination.
Laura:Yeah, that's beautiful. I, out of all of those amazing things you've said, I didn't realize your husband's name was Sylvester. And so I think that's really cool. Your name match together
Sylvia: almost said no. When he, me out. Cause this is gonna be weird.
Laura: Oh, that's so funny. Lucky you looked past that. So that all sounds really beautiful. And I'm wondering, could you jump straight in and just give our listeners an overview of your story so far? What's your background? What's the last few years look like
Sylvia: Yeah. So my parents migrated from Egypt about 15 years before I was born. And so I grew up in two cultures the Australian culture that was all around me and my parents, Egyptian culture.
I'm the youngest of five kids. There's 15 years between me and my eldest brother. So they had me a lot later in life and we were raised in a Christian family. But as a kid, I spent a lot of time trying to work out what values were shaped by mum and dad's Egyptian culture and the ones that were shaped by their love for Jesus or the Bible.
Laura: That'd be really hard tension to live in.
Sylvia: Definitely, especially cuz they. That everything they were doing was because it's what the Bible said. And like other Christians from other cultures, not doing the same things. And so a lot of work to assess that. Yeah. I didn't a kid though. I did that much later in life.
Yes. Yeah. Gotcha. But when I was 10 my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she did go into remission for a little while, but it was really six long years of her being unwell. And she passed away when I was 16. And so we went from all all of us together, the five siblings rallying around mom and caring for her.
To then rallying around dad and caring for him. He really didn't cope well with the loss. He was so sure that God would heal her. And so her death hit him really hard. And so my sisters and I were teenagers and we had to grow up really quickly. . So when I was in year 12, it was the year after mum died.
I was doing my HSC. We had a cleaning roster and a cooking roster. My dad was an army man, and so every day we would have to do what was, on that roster. And sometimes some days I'd come home from school and I would cook dinner for the family. My brothers who are much older, had a bunch of kids by then.
And so there was a lot of babysitting. And I just, I really wanted to get. Kids and family felt like such an imposition, and I really didn't wanna have kids or be a mother. I really didn't even wanna be tied to my family. I met Sylvester when I was in my early twenties. He's also a child of migrants.
He moved to Australia with his parents from Hong Kong when he was five. And when he met, he was doing a ministry apprenticeship and was about to go to Bible college. I'd already dabbled in a few subjects at Bible college and had visions of being a missionary overseas. So the life of a minister's wife, wasn't what I'd envisioned.
It's been a delight. And then I went from growing up between two cultures to now hopping in and out of three cultures. Yeah. So that's been a learning process as well. Yes. Yeah. We moved to wa when he finished Bible college and we've been here for almost 10 years That was another culture shock movie.
Yes. Sydney in a west Sydney for all my life. Yes. When we had our first daughter, dad actually moved in with me for the six weeks before the birth. And he tried to do all the things that a mother would do and even offered to be when I was in labor. And I was like, oh, isn't that beautiful? It was beautiful.
And those first few years in motherhood we talked every single day and sometimes several times a day. I went back to Bible college when our eldest daughter was one and dad came every day. I was in class and he'd take her out, look after her. Oh, that's so beautiful. Yeah. By the time I was pregnant with our second child, though, he'd begun to show some signs of dementia.
So he'd call me from Burwood and say, I've lost my car. I can't find where I parked it while he was at the shops. Or a couple of times he'd call me and say, Is mom alive. I'm waiting outside the lady's bathroom. And I don't know if she's coming out. Oh. And so that was really agonizing being so far away and having to talk him through those things.
And it, yeah, just the dementia was becoming really apparent. And within 12 months of his diagnosis, we had our third baby and a few months after that, we moved him up to OI to live with us. And so it's a little bit ironic, but I found myself doing exactly what yes. When I was younger, I'm tied to a family.
I'm raising children and I'm caring for my elderly father.
Laura: Yeah. Wow. That sounds quite a journey you've been on. I noticed that you said that motherhood, wasn't something that you've desired. So I'm wondering, what did you desire? And if not something physical, like a job, was there any heart things that you were hoping for in your life?
Like what kind of person did you wanna be? How did you want people to see you?
Sylvia: I think what I desired was just freedom. When I look back, I can see that the trauma of having a parent so sick for so long meant that I really lost my childhood. Mom and dad understandably were absent parenting for a lot of that time while she was in treatment and getting therapy.
And so my sisters and I had to grow up really quickly and learn. Not just to care for ourselves, but to care for the family and to care for her. So when I was in year 10 and 11, every few days, it had been my job to help mom change the dressing on she'd had a mastectomy and the wound just wouldn't heal for two years.
Oh, it was an open sore. And so it was my job twice a week to help her change the GOs. And even talking about it. Transported right back to the memory. It's been more than 20 years, but I can smell the wound and the Gores and the feeling of it and that feeling and the pit of my tummy when I had to face the open wound and try to control my reaction so that I wouldn't embarrass her.
You know that cuz I was a bit grossed out. And so I spent a lot of time looking at my friends and thinking I wanna have younger, healthy parents like them, or I want the freedom of being raised in an Australian culture and doing what I want when I wanted I saw my friends who could come and go as they pleased.
They didn't have to worry about cooking meals for their family or going to church on Sundays. They weren't caring for anything besides their own interests at most maybe a pet that they had to take for walks. So my heart desired to be free. I wanted to do what I wanted when I wanted, I didn't wanna live a life of service to anyone.
I didn't want kids or a church family, or even a husband. I envisioned this life of singleness, living this independent woman life like London or New York, far away from my family. I did really well in school. I loved English. I'm an articulate speaker. Good at writing. And I thought maybe I'll become a journalist.
Do my thing, not be tied to anyone. I even imagined myself leaving the faith. I just wanted people to see me as evolved and successful and competent, independent kind of as far away from my family as I could imagine. But then I went to uni and that was such a shock to the system. I was still grieving the loss of my mom.
The loss of my childhood dad was in a really deep depression. And the grief really froze me and I sank into depression. It was suicidal ideation, feelings of hopelessness. I really hated that time of my life. Looking back, it was probably the worst three to five years. But I can see that it was a gift of grace from God.
It was a protective barrier because it meant I couldn't go study overseas. Like I'd hoped and run away from my family. I didn't get the, get outta jail free card. I was stuck. I was stuck with my family. I was stuck at home and I was stuck in this life that I couldn't improve. And in that really hard season, I learned to really depend on and trust God as my source of hope and comfort.
I really leaned into God. And, since then I've been to therapy, but in those days I didn't have an access to things like that. All I had was God. And I took my depression to him and my grief to him. And so I grew in my faith. I grew in really loving and trusting Jesus with everything, all the details of my life and that desire to escape gradually faded.
I began to consider that maybe I'd be happy to get married. And then after we got married, I thought, okay, maybe we could have a couple of kids. And with each child that came, my heart grew more and more, and I just can't imagine myself living a different life to what I have now. So God did the work on my heart really slowly, only giving me what I could handle in that moment.
We were really blessed. Being mom to these three little girls has been such a joy and a delight. It's the best thing I've ever done with my life, but it's so funny how quickly those idols creep back in and just replace the old idols.
I created an idol in the identity of being mum, the best mom ever, the most compassionate and caring mum. I wanted to be seen that way. I wanted to be that kind of mum. When I was finishing up my studies, it actually took me eight years to finish at bubble college. Cuz I did that part-time while having kids.
And on the last day of my last exam, one of my favorite lecturers asked me, so what's next Sylvia? And I just felt my stomach churn. I was so embarrassed to say, dad's moving in with us and I'm gonna be his carer. It was really hard cuz I'd replaced that vision of successful journalism career with a successful mothering role.
And then maybe I'd have a successful career in ministry. , but that was gonna be interrupted. It was so clear to my husband and I, that this is what God wanted for us next. For as long as we can to provide the care for dad, that he. and then that quickly became another vehicle for an idol. I was gonna be the best, most able, competent carer.
And I wanted everybody to see that. Yeah. And so I just kept creating these idols of value. I've keep trying to find my value in my work or career or the role that God's given me in that season. I'm. I'm desiring that people will affirm it and celebrate it and see that I'm the best ever, at doing this job.
I wanted to be celebrated for what I do, whatever it is I wanna be seen and acknowledged and applauded for that. When I know what God really wants for me is to live a quiet life in faithful service to him.
Laura: Yeah, that's great. So when you notice these idols in your heart, how did it make you feel? And then what did you do with them?
Sylvia: It's so hard to confront the desires of my heart or the idols. I think my instinct is always to glorify my intentions. I'm such a kind person. But then God holds up that mirror and shows me the deficit and it's really hard to take in. And the idol of being that strong, independent woman, It's really hard for me to say this and acknowledge that as an idol, because I went to a public girls high school.
I was taught by feminists. I'm a mother of three incredible girls, and this goes against everything I was raised to believe and what I've been trained to want for my girls. But when I read the Bible, I don't see independent women. I see the strength of women as helper or a in the Hebrew that's who God has made us women to be.
Whether we've been blessed with marriage and motherhood or singleness and a career we're meant to be helpers. That was a really hard idol to identify that idol of independence and lay it. It's been slow work to demolish it too. It still flares up every now and then this desire to be free of caring from dad, for dad to live my life as a wife, a mother and a worker to not be tied to dad's care and needs, but I was created to be a helper.
So I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the word either or helper in the Bible. Looking at the heroic models of women in the Bible, like Deborah and JL in judges or the faithful women like Sarah and Hannah. The model of the Shunammite woman who extended hospitality in two Kings, who are the prophetess, all the Marys in the gospels, Joanna, Lydia, and Priscilla.
And that's really helped expand my view of women and what it means to be a helper, but it's also helped to break down these idol of independence. I wasn't created to be independent. I was created to be a help. And I
Laura: think that's true for both men and women. It's not as if our men are going out and having these roles that we're only designed to help our men.
I think it's where all coeds in Christ ambassadors. We are partnering with him to do his work, not God partnering with us. To do our work. Yeah. Which is so countercultural to our culture. Like our culture tells you, you can have everything you want, but it's all about building this life here and now.
Yeah. Whereas all of us, no, no matter our gender is to be a helper to, to partner with Christ.
Sylvia: And it's such a lie that we can have it all. That's been probably the most confronting thing is it's not possible to have the career be a mom and be involved in a church ministry and be a member of your community and have time for yourself.
It is such a lie, just impossible. And so having the freedom to have to pursue all of those things has is such a blessing. I think rest in this is who God has made me to.
Laura: Enough. And I think that needs to be our driver. That is our identity of we are in Christ. We are partnering with him. That's where we find our value in our worth of who Jesus says we are not this world.
Sylvia: . Yeah. And so these other idols of where I find my value and my desire for others to value me, this is ongoing daily work. I have to continually ask the Lord to search at my heart, show me any ways that I've replaced Jesus as the source of my value, purpose and pride.
Laura: And so what truths of the Bible have comforted you through this whole process?
Sylvia: So much a scripture compels us to joyfully wholeheartedly serve. And so beginning with serving dad the fifth commandment honor, your father and mother, so that it may go well with you. One Timothy five 16, if any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them.
That one's been really foundational for me. I think living between cultures, I wanted to make sure that I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do, not conforming to my Egyptian culture.
And what I was trained to do is right there and not conforming to the Australian culture because a lot of well, meaning people even Christ. Shake their heads at me. Like I'm giving up my best cheese. Like I'm harming myself by caring for dad, and there's a lot of guilt that comes with that. But I think there's a really clear directive there in scripture. But there are also these beautiful scriptures written by Paul in the new Testament about the way in which we are to serve Philippians two versus three to seven, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit. Rather in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interest of the others in your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ.
Jesus who made himself nothing. By taking the very nature of a servant, Romans 12 one offer your body as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God for this is your act of spiritual worship. Galatians five 13, you were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh rather serve one another humbly in love.
That's beautiful. Yeah. And these really beautiful verses have compelled me to sacrificially serve my dad, my kids in my church. Over the last four years, we've really had to count the price of what it means to care for dad. We've had to give up a lot of our social life. We can't just get a babysitter for the kids.
We have lots of people who would be willing to do that, but we also have that at home and our family are a couple of hours away. We've. Had to sacrifice our productivity and financial security. This isn't a Marty and cry, but it's just one of those things we had to sit down and talk through and really calculate the cost of what it means for me not to be working.
We had to have had to give up the better holidays, the dream of owning a house. The after school activities for our kids, not just the cost of those, but I can't drag dad around to gymnastics and swimming and music every afternoon. And so it's impacted not just me as a carer and my ability to work, but also our kids.
And sometimes a bit of anxiety creeps in with that of I've lost a career or I've lost social status. We've lost financial security. We've lost the ability to make good friends behind my peers. When I look around at what other women are doing and even are my kids going to struggle because they don't get to do all the after school activities.
And when that anxiety creeps in, I turn to one Peter five seven cast, all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. He cares for me. The Lord is concerned with the tiny details he's here through it all. It's such a profound thought that the God who created the universe intimately cares for me. And, with being a carer, there comes a level of invisibility.
We become invisible in our communities. As carers, we spend a lot of time indoors because the person we're care caring for can't safely be left alone and can't cope very well with being dragged around, outside. And so we lose our place in society, our place in the workforce, our place in the school community, we become invisible and living in this tiny contained home all the time.
And then the name that Hagar gives to God in Genesis 16, 13 really comforts me. She calls him Elroy. He's the God who sees me. God sees me scrubbing up the mess, clipping nails, shaving my dad's face, folding another load of laundry. He sees it all. I'm not invisible to him, but God of the universe sees me.
And that's all the being seen that I need.
Laura: That's so beautiful and so encouraging. Caring for your dad is also a lot like caring for kids and it feels very overlooked and very unvaluable. It makes me think of to Corinthians where paul is going through great suffering, but he says for our light and momentary troubles are achieving us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Yeah. So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but what is unseen since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. Amen. And, yeah, and just as Paul's talking in those chapters and he's fixing his eyes on eternity, and he's talking about how the things that we are going through in this life will, they are light and momentary, which we know from full story.
They're not, but that they're achieving things in heaven and it's a pleasing to God. And it's such a helpful reminder to fix our eyes, not what is seen, but what is unseen. Yeah. I'm wondering how this, realignment of your thinking focusing on pleasing God, how has this helped you as you battle with your sin and your heart idols?
Sylvia: I think all of this has really helped me have a bit of perspective about the futility of the idols I've built. It's helped me to see that Jesus is literally all that I need. I came across these verses from Jonah chapter two, verse eight to nine, a few years ago for kids church.
And I've now hung them up on my wall. . Those who clinging to worthless idols, forfeit the grace. That could be theirs, but I, with a song of Thanksgiving will sacrifice to you what I have vowed. I will make good salvation comes from the Lord.
Laura: Oh, that's amazing. Go Jonah. Yeah.
Sylvia: Don't read the rest of the story.
Let's just . We came
Laura: from the end and I feel like a lot of us are like, Jonah, no way. I'm not doing what you want me to do. I'm gonna do my own thing.
Sylvia: That's right. Those versus have been my anchor when facing these idols, what grace am I for by clinging to idols? Not just the grace of knowing Jesus.
When it comes to this idol of independence, I F I forfeit the grace of knowing what it is to serve and join Jesus in his servant ministry. I forfeit the grace of being part of a family of knowing what it is to love others. As I love myself, I forfeit the grace of salvation. When I think God is impressed by my good works.
I forfeit the grace of being renewed each day by Jesus. His promise is that his grace is sufficient. It's enough. Jesus promises in two Corinthians 12 nine. My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness. And so even in the weakness, the failures, the invisibility, the desire to be seen the desire to be independent, the desire to be valued because of what I do.
God's power is made perfect, even in my weakness. And so when I see the weakness and these idols, I need to bring them to God. I want him in his power to destroy the idols, cuz I'm not strong enough. I want him to prove his honor by showing how worthless and hopeless they are and how worthy and wonderful he is.
I wanna depend on his grace so that when I build more worthless idols, I think it was Calvin who said our hearts are an idol factory. he'll expose my folly and take them away so that I can cl only to him.
Laura: That's beautiful. Have you noticed as you just said, our hearts are idle factories.
That's not ever gonna go away. And you know how we say, I'm not where I want to be in terms of putting us into death, but I can look back and by the grace of God, I'm not where I was. Can you see growth in these areas of your life?
Sylvia: It's a constant battle, but I think the really helpful thing about preparing for this podcast is reflecting and being able do that. And so one of the, my things lately is just before I close my eyes at night before I go to bed, my, and my first thoughts each morning are from Lamentations three and I usually sing it in Colin Buchanan's voice.
If you know his,
Laura: no, it's not coming to me. So
Sylvia: please sing away. No I'll spare you, but I'll read it. Because of the Lord's great love. We are not consumed for his compassions. Never fail. They are new every morning. Great. Is your faithfulness? I say to myself, the Lord is my portion.
Therefore, I will wait for him. God's been so kind to renew me each morning. I'm not so consumed by the stress or the burden, even the financial sacrifice we've had to make. He gives me just enough energy to get through each day, but most importantly, I've seen this shift in my heart. I'm finding more and more that the Lord is my portion.
He's enough. I don't need to be seen by the world. Because the Lord sees me. I don't need to place my value in what I do. My value is in what Christ has done. The Lord is my portion. The Lord is enough. Jesus is enough for me. And I think what's happened as a result is this joy has crept in, as I care for dad.
I'm still human. I still need respite. My siblings help with that. I still take an hour every morning to go to Pilates or go for a walk and do something for myself away from dad and the family. But I have this deep joy I'm really delighting in serving my dad and kids. And I know that God is delighting in me as I serve them.
I know that my service for them is done as unto Jesus. Jesus has given me so much joy in this work.
Laura: Yeah, that's beautiful. Just thinking through everything that you have learned as you've been going through this refinement, what encouragement or hope would you want other women to learn from your story?
What would you want them to remember?
Sylvia: I think the desire to be independent and free from responsibility even being applauded for what we do on earth, that all goes back to the garden. Doesn't it Eve doesn't want the responsibility of her being God's command. She wants the freedom to do what she wanted when she wanted Eve wanted to be like, God, she wanted to have the knowledge of God.
All of creation was glorifying the creator. Gosh, I can't help, but think that she wants to be glorified too. And so it's normal, right? It's part of our human nature, our sin nature to crave freedom and to crave glory. So if there are other moms listening who think, oh yeah, that's me. That's one of my heart idols.
You are just being human. And one of the beautiful things that Jesus has done for us is give us freedom from the slavery of sin. Freedom from having to pursue power and status and career and value in the things of this world. Like we see in Philippians too, Jesus has shown us what it is to be free and secure enough to not grasp at status or. But to lay it down in service of others, there is such freedom in laying your life down for others. And it's such a beautiful way to draw close to Jesus imaging him.
And depending on him, Jesus has already laid down his life for us. That is the true measure of our value. So whatever we're doing, may we do it well and to the best of our ability, but also to bring glory to God, not to ourselves. I would hope that together as moms struggling with these idols and as we serve our family, we would remember that God sees us.
He cares for us and he's our portion. He's all we need.
Laura: Amen. Thank you so much, Sylvia, for all your encouragement today, I've really appreciated. I think just even the, that, someone else wrestles with what I wrestle with and I'm sure everyone else does too, but just that reorientating our thoughts in our minds, what is the successful life?
And just even just so we are idle factories, we keep creating these idols. We keep wanting to be seen as X, Y, and Z. Yeah. And just the reminder. To be challenging ourselves, where are we getting our value? And I think just to keep coming back to God that yeah It's him that we're serving it's him that identifies us or that who our IDs in.
I've just been really thankful for the way that you've stepped through your story to share with us today. So thank you. I'm wondering, would you mind praying for the moms who might be struggling with the same things as us?
And that yes, they. Choose to turn and seek Jesus instead of themselves.
Sylvia: sure. Father God, we just thank you so much. Because in your kindness, you have created us and loved us from the beginning of the world. We thank you so much that even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and we praise you Jesus, because you have lived the perfect example and you bind us to you through your.
Lord we ask that you will continue to expose to us the idols that our hearts keep creating. That we will see them and not be consumed by them and not be consumed by guilt, but that we will bring them to you and allow you to prove to us just how worthless these idols are and just how worthy you are.
Father. When we struggle with the desire to be seen. When we struggle with the desires to place our value of the things of this world, when we lose our identity and think it is tied to the role that we do, or the work that we do, father, please strip those idols away from us. And please help us to see that our value is in the blood of Jesus on the cross, that our worth is what he has already paid, that we are made in your image.
And we will return to you one day and that all the things we do in this life are building up treasures for us in heaven. So may we do them for you? May we do them for your glory and for your honor, and maybe we may, we be freed from the slavery of sin and the slavery of trying to prove our worth or value here on earth.
You thank you so much for your kindness to us, that your spirit is in us. Transforming us. And we ask that you help us to rest in him to rest in your grace, to us, that we might that our sacrifice might be a worthy aroma pleasing to you. Amen.