Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.
BRENNAN MANNING (ABBA’S CHILD)
From a very young age, my youngest daughter Joy never went anywhere without a journal. In her messy and sincere handwriting she chronicled her days, drew pictures, and wrote stories and poems. Sometimes she would climb into my overstuffed chair and read me her entries. To her, life was a story that she had to tell, and as I read the snippets she shared with me I was struck by how enthusiastically and unabashedly she embraced her little stories and memoirs.
Her narratives reveled in the innocent acceptance of both God’s love and the love of her family. We are all in the business of telling a story with our lives.
However, as we get older, sometimes we let voices other than God’s begin to narrate the stories we have to tell.
For many years I allowed critical voices from family and friends dictate how I viewed myself and my story.
"You have made so many mistakes in your past, you can never make up for it."
"Why do you always think of the craziest things to believe and then follow these crazy ideals? You are going to fail and your children will be injured by your lack of wisdom." (critics and family members)
"You fail so often. What right have you to speak or write? If people really knew how flawed and selfish you are at times, they would never want to listen to what you have to say."
"You are not doing enough as a mom and your children are never going to love God or be educated well, because you never accomplish all that you set out to do."
We all have voices in our heads that speak of flaws, fears, guilt, anger--and these thoughts can sometimes take over and bring darkness to our souls.
Culture also became a significant voice in my life constantly making me feel ostracized and uncertain of my countercultural decisions. Often times our critics are our own family members and "believers" in our own arenas. I call them Job's friends--ready to blame for the things that are going wrong in life when actually God is working at greater purposes.
When we begin to weigh others’ words more heavily than God’s Word, we begin to rehearse narratives about our lives that may not be true. And often, we do not live fruitful or faith-filled Christian lives because instead of looking at God's great capacity to live through us and to accomplish more than we ever could alone, we measure our abilities by our sinful, fallen and flawed self.
Spiritual strength is only found with the Spirit of God living through us--not by us grunting out a works based life that will never measure up. We will never be perfect or adequate on our own, but we are adequate when we walk by faith and live into God's provision for strength, joy, growth and wisdom.
If we are truly to own our lives, we must begin by owning our story and identity spoken to us by our living, loving God.
The secret to owning a new identity is not to try to pretend we are perfect, but to accept our limitations and acknowledge our need for grace.
We all have a mixture of personality traits (good and bad), personal wounds, and sinful habits that make us who we are. Throughout my life, I have often found myself relating to Jesus’s disciple Peter. Like him, I am very sincere, but my mouth often moves faster than my mind. I try very hard to curb my tongue, and then feel incredibly guilty with another slip-up.
It helps me to keep in mind that we live in a fallen world, and try as we might to forget it, we are fallible people; flaws are a part of what it means to be human. Despite my Peter-like personality and weaknesses, I am confident that God is not surprised by my foibles and imperfections, nor even dissuaded from bothering with me because of my failings.
I have long cherished Psalm 103:14, because it reminds me of an important truth that keeps me from giving up: “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
However, beyond simply accepting our limitations, God wants us to delight in who he intends us to be.
One of the greatest pleasures of raising my children was observing how uniquely and differently God created each of them. I have two extraverts who live verbally, sing, and bring laughter wherever they go. I also have two introverts who are introspective, insightful, and sensitive.
It is my great honor to watch God guide and use them all according to the unique ways he created each of them. As He did with my children, God takes great care with the creation of every person. From eyelashes and earlobes, to heights and weights, to temperaments and traits, He delights in every human he creates—including you!
Learning to accept the special person God has crafted you to be is not prideful; it is an act of faith.
When we can accept who we are—the good and the bad, the fun and the foibles, the common and the quirks—then we can be free to deeply thank and worship the One who designed us out of love for a purpose.
The final element of owning our new identity is letting the deep reality of Christ’s work shape and transform our lives. Isaiah 1:18 describes the work God will do through Christ:
“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’”
Jesus’ work on the cross means that all who accept Him as Lord and Savior are redeemed and made clean, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with [Christ], in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6).
Whatever is in the past stays in the past because when you are “in Christ [you are] a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (1 Corinthians 5:17).
We all have many different voices speaking into our lives—spouse, family, friends, church, media, parents, memories. However, too many times the voices we hear speaking to us are our own, narrating opinions and observations that may or may not be true.
Paul seems to understand the nature of those voices inside our heads and hearts when he tells the Christians in Corinth, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, italics mine). He even suggests that wrong thinking can become a “fortress” that needs to be destroyed (see: 10:3-4).
Our spiritual battle is take those negative thoughts captive and give them to Christ, so our new and true identity can grow and take charge. Listening to the voices of others to determine our worth is a pointless task that will end in disappointment. Only God can truly satisfy, and only in Him can we see our real, redeemed selves. In quietness, and strength, we must learn to listen to the voice that truly knows us and loves us, and can tell us who we really are. We are His.