Welcome back to this second of three blogs on how to embrace the truth of your identity in Christ.
In my first blog I said since the fall of mankind (Genesis 3), we've all gone into some form of hiding. As God came seeking relationship with Adam and Eve, Adam replied, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself (verses 8-10)." Adam's hiding was driven by more than his physical nakedness. He knew he had sinned. He knew something was wrong with him. So he fled and hid from God.
Like Adam and Eve, we too live with a core fear that our core "nakedness" will be seen. Therefore, we hide from each other by being passive, always needing to be right, never apologizing, being critical, being hard-hearted, talking too much, blame-shifting, always being the clown, being shy, being domineering, never saying no to people's demands. The list keeps going. Like our first parents, three dynamics define how mankind relates: We are afraid. Why? Because we are naked. Therefore, we hide.
Moreover, many hold secrets. Shame over past abuse or current sexual struggles can cause us to hide from others. When I was in grade school, I lived in fear of others knowing one of my secrets.
Bob and I were close friends. We sat in the back row of Mrs. Horsewell‘s third grade class. I had a secret. I wasn‘t a good student. Cs, Ds, and an F or two always showed up on my report card. Bob knew it, and I feared others would know it too.
One day, Bob‘s mom went shopping and she took us along. As we waited in the check-out lane of a local department store I, for reasons I couldn‘t explain at the time, tried to impress Bob‘s mom. I planned my words and spoke up. "I‘m coming to realize how important it is to learn to read well," I said with a reflective tone. "Learning to read well is the doorway to learning all other subjects." Something inside me swelled with excitement as I watched Bob‘s mom come alive.
"Gary," she said, "that‘s insightful!" I savored the moment of my significance. It lasted for about five seconds.
Then Bob spoke up, "Yea, Gary, you sound real smart, but when it comes to school, you‘re pretty dumb." My moment of glory turned to shame. The secret of my incompetence was exposed for all to see. My shame turned to rage. The next morning I was waiting for Bob behind school. I knocked him down and beat him up.
Yep. We all struggle with the fear of being seen and so we hide. Truth is, we must come out of hiding if we're to be the men and women God intends us to be. James says, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16). We cannot be free, whole-hearted followers of Jesus while cowering and hiding in fear and shame. We can only be loved to the degree we are known. Therefore, God lovingly calls to to us like he called to Adam, "Gary, where are you?" Will you come out of hiding? Will you trust me and be fully known? I love you. I want to heal you with my embrace.
So in this blog and the next we'll offer a way of thinking through our life stories that can enable us to be known with a few trusted people. As we share our stories with those people we can begin the journey of relinquishing the lies we believe about ourselves as we embrace the truth of who God says we really are. As we think through this process of writing our stories I invite you to do two things:
First, face the lies you believe about yourself. Why? So you can turn from them. I will show you how to do that in this blog.
Second, face and believe the truth about who God says you are. Why? So you can intentionally walk in the freedom of loving God and loving others. I will walk through that process in my next/last blog.
How to face the lies you believe
Think over your life story. Reflect back as early as you can remember. This may be painful to think about but try to recall some of the disappointments you experienced in your early years. We’ve all been rejected, hurt, or wounded by someone’s words or actions. And we've all experienced the pain of failure.
My wife Lisa had to wear corrective shoes when she was in grade school. One day several of the more popular girls surrounded Lisa on the playground. They pointed to her feet. One of them asked, "Are those corrective shoes?" They all laughed and ran away. That was one of many wounds that went deep for Lisa. The message she heard from that experience was "I am undesirable." That was the lie she believed.
I've been a counselor for over thirty years. Everyone I talk to can remember being hurt or wounded by the words and actions of someone. Some people bristle at the idea of being wounded. It sounds weak so they resist the idea. But if we're willing to give this honest thought, we'll all come to admit we've experienced the pain of rejection and failure.
A friend of mine recalled a time when he was in middle school. He had a birth mark on his neck. While he was getting dressed for gym class in the locker room, some of the kids noticed the mark on Mike's neck. "Hey Mike! Ya been makin' out with your girlfriend?" They howled with laughter. Other kids came running over to see what was going on. All the boys started laughing and pointing at the birthmark. They all chimed in and sang, "Mike and Susie sittin' in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G." That was a life-changing event for Mike. He told me he learned something that day. "For the fist time in my life I realized I had to always be on my guard, not knowing when someone might see something about me that was flawed." Flawed. That's the lie Mike believed about his identity. Hiding his birthmark, and anything else he feared would bring rejection, became his way of life for many years.
Hurts come from friends, parents, teachers, coaches, priests and pastors, girlfriends, boyfriends and siblings. And no little kid thinks, “I feel unwanted, but I’m turning to you, Jesus. You are my refuge and strength!” In fact, Proverbs tells us that “foolishness [living as if there is no God] is bound up in the heart of a child” (22:15 nasb). We didn’t turn to God. We faced our childhood disappointments, hurts, and wounds alone. Most of us didn’t have the words or ability to talk about them with our parents or teachers, and most of those adults—preoccupied with fighting their own wounds and lies—never thought to ask about ours. But in the pain of childhood rejection, abuse, and failure, we all make life-changing decisions like Mike did that day in the locker room. Without realizing it, we decide what kind of person we have to become in order to avoid further rejection. We pretend and pose. We grasp for acceptance. No one’s exempt whether we're aware of it or not.
This is not about blaming others or avoiding responsibility for our actions or choices in life. But if we don’t face our disappointments and wounds and the lies they’ve fostered, they will influence the way we see God, ourselves, and others. We will sin by going south into self-protective behavior just like Adam and Eve. Moreover, our insecurities will take us south into grasping for control of situations that feel similar and threaten to expose or reject us. We’ll live for something other than loving God and loving others.
For example, when I played softball at recess, I usually struck out. I was always picked last. Team captains fought over me.
“You can have Heim.”
“Nope. I don’t need him. I’ve got the guys I want. He’s yours.”
The message was clear: no one wants a "strikeout" on their team. And so the shame of striking out and being picked last fostered and fueled a lie in me. Without realizing it, I began to define life as getting people to pick me. I defined death as having others see my inadequacies and reject me. People’s approval, based on my performance, became the false god I worshiped and served. I succumbed to the daily pressure of performance and the nagging anxiety of being seen as a failure. In those days I had no category for understanding how Jesus’ love could be my security. I needed to impress people by "getting a hit" if I had any chance of being anyone to anybody.
Moreover, because I believed that “strikeout” was my name or true identity, I made a vow without even realizing it. I determined to avoid anything that could make me feel like a strikeout again. Instead of dealing with problems, I avoided them through passivity; I pursued what I was good at and avoided whatever threatened to expose my inadequacies. I was committed to my own safety and survival. I was living a self-centered life.
Wounds and disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you were hurt by something someone said to you on the playground. Maybe it was when someone you trusted betrayed you. Maybe it was when your father or mother walked out on your family. Maybe you were hurt by a comment from a teacher. Don't disregard a memory because it seems small. If you remember it, it's likely because it had an impact.
Face the wounds that fuel the lies
Take some time and reflect on one of the first disappointing or wounding events you can remember in your life. Complete the following statement: “A painful event in my life story is . . .” As you reflect on that snapshot in time, what do you think you felt? What did you believe about yourself as a result of that experience?
Note: Some people say they are not aware of being hurt or wounded in life. There are several reasons for this. Some think only in terms of big tragedies instead of common events like those mentioned earlier. The event itself isn’t as important as the lie you believed as a result of it. Infectious bacteria can enter a very small paper cut. And some people may not be aware of hurts because it sounds weak or needy. Therefore, they resist thinking about this. Truth is, we are weak and needy. God designed us that way so we would need him. Moreover, some may not be aware of past hurts because they’ve never been invited to think about their lives in this way. Without putting undue pressure on yourself, write down anything that comes to mind.
Reflect on two or three other wounding events in your life. Write them down:
What did you feel and come to believe about yourself as a result of these hurts or wounds?
Now, if you took all those disappointments, hurts, or wounds you’ve written down, along with others you can remember, and boiled them down to a word or phrase about how you see yourself, what might that word or phrase be? Some people have said things like: Unlovable. Unwanted. Failure. Loser. Idiot. I’m on my own. Slut. Whore. Worthless. Tainted. I’ll always screw it up. I’ll never be good enough. Undesirable. Never chosen. Mediocre.
As you boil down your wounding events to a word or phrase, what would you say your false name or identity is? Write it down:
Look at it. Give yourself permission to grieve the pain and the weight of all the sorrow that lie has brought you. Talk honestly with God about those painful memories. It’s not selfish to feel and lament the sorrow of this fallen world. It’s in those deep and tender places of our hearts that God longs to speak to us and meet with us. He longs to be a Father to the fatherless, a husband to the widow. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you. He is the Comforter. Listen for his still, small, and gentle voice.
As we experience the pain of life, our Enemy comes to us in order to twist the knife. He accuses us and tries to name us. He says, “You’re such a loser! You’re all alone. You’ll never succeed at anything. You’re just an idiot. You gave in again! You lost control again? God could never delight in someone like you!” Sadly, we choose to believe these lies and hide from God and each other instead of embracing the truth of God’s forgiveness and unwavering love for us.
When we believe the lies about our false identity, they will influence the way we relate to God and others.
Finish the following two statements:
1. When I believe the lie (false name/identity), it tells me I must always
in order to be wanted, loved, or seen as competent and respectable.
2. When I believe the lie it tells me I must never
in order to avoid rejection or the shame of failure.
My false name or identity as a “strikeout” tells me I must always impress people if I’m to be wanted, loved, or seen as competent and respectable. That lie breeds a lot of fear of failure and a lot of pressure to perform. The lie also tells me I must never be less than someone else if I’m to avoid rejection or the shame of failure. Those are devilish lies. These falsehoods have stirred up a lot of jealousy and envy toward others more gifted than me. I’ve harbored anger and resentment toward those who are chosen. When Lisa and others have not affirmed me or when they have treated me in ways that have caused me to feel like a strikeout, I’ve either lashed out in anger or withdrawn into self-pitying silence.
What do you think it’s like for people to be around you when you’re choosing to believe the lies and grasp for control?
How often do you consider what others long for from you?
Facing the lies we believe is only half the battle. We must embrace the truth of who we really are in Christ because the truth sets us free to live as whole-hearted followers of Jesus.
In my next blog I'll explain how you can write the next and most important part of your story so you can know your true identity as God's dearly loved son or daughter.