“Your identity is in Christ. It’s not in your grades, your performance as a student, it’s not in boys – how many do or don’t like you, it’s not in your friends –or lack thereof, it’s not in how you look. Your identity is in Christ”.
This was something I was told all throughout youth group and as a teenager. And it’s hands-down Biblical truth for sure!
But I think something I had missed, something no one had told me was: 1) what having an identity in Christ really meant or what it really looked like and 2) that my identity was not in my family or my parents either.
Growing up, I was a major people-pleaser. My identity lied in my ability to be able to make others happy – especially my parents. I strived to be the good kid they wouldn’t have to worry about. I hate conflict and avoid it at all costs, and I was always trying to be the best peace-keeper in my family. When it came to a point in my life in gr. 12 where I couldn’t seem to make anyone happy – my parents or my friends no matter what I did – my life came crashing down in a whirl-wind around me.
I had been so caught up in people-pleasing – in trying to make my friends happy and my parents (who really disliked my new friends) happy at the same time – that my vision in seeing how to please God had become blurred. I spiraled down into a dark hole where I was so lost that I cried out to God several times and heard no answer. I was so angry at my parents, at my friends, and most of all at myself for not being to make anyone happy. So I thought that I must deserve the worst.
I blamed myself for everything – for the unhappiness of my parents, for the unhappiness of my friends and most of all, for not being able to be the “perfect girl” that God wanted me to be. After all, if I was perfect, I wouldn’t be feeling this way, right? I became so selfish, incredibly self-centred and extremely depressed. What was really the point in life if I had not only let my parents and friends down, but also the eternal God? I was angry at God too – for not giving me parents who would understand, and for not answering me when I called out to him. Eventually, I had a conversation with my parents which resulted in them booking an appointment with a Christian psychologist because of my behavior that exhibited depression. In complete vulnerability here… my heart had hurt so bad that I had got in my head that the hurt would stop if I could just cut it out. So what did I do? I took a pair of scissors and tried. I was never successful, and to be honest, I hated myself even more that I was too afraid to be successful.
And to be completely honest, even after I saw this Christian psychologist, I still had no idea why I still struggled the way I did with anxiety and depression. My pattern of thinking – of constantly getting down on myself when I didn’t live up to the expectations I put on myself – continued. Talking my feelings out with her helped, and she gave me some tips on breathing when my anxiety seemed overwhelming.
But why was I still suffering? I had Jesus, I grew up in a loving Christian family, I got connected with other youth that became supportive Christian friends… I thought to myself: I should be happy and grateful. What kind of Christian am I?
Something I didn’t realize was that once the enemy has a foothold in the mind, he tries to step in further and does not relent on trying to overtake the mind. I was completely believing the lies he had fed to me during my past experiences both in childhood and high school. And I did not realize it until I read a book in which the author shared some lies she realized she had been believing since childhood about herself and God (Unshaken: Standing Strong in Uncertain Times by Jeanne Nigro). As Nigro suggested, I prayed one day and asked God to reveal to me any lies I had been believing and where they had come from.
And boy, did God come through. Here’s what God showed me:
Lie #1: I’m not good enough.
I always told myself I was good enough because I had Jesus, who is perfect in every way and loves me no matter what, which is true. But I never felt good enough. And this is because of the way I was treated as a child and even as a teenager at school – that everything I did mattered because of how well I could perform. When I made people happy, they were nice to me. When I didn’t make people happy, when I didn’t perform “properly”… cruel things happened.
But God’s love is not determined by our performance – he loves us unconditionally (1 John 4:10, 1 John 3:1, Romans 8:35-39). We don’t have to strive to make Him proud of us, or to make Him love us because He does no matter what. “We can rest assured that even when He disciplines us, He still enjoys us. Far too many Christians mistake divine correction for divine rejection. But the Father’s correction is deeply rooted in His affection for us. Proverbs 3:11-12…” (S.J. Hill, Enjoying God, 90-91).
Lie #2: I am all alone in this.
As the 3rd child out of 4 in our family, I was that middle child who was always forgotten about. I was much quieter than my siblings and always did things on my own, so my parents sometimes forgot about me – forgotten at the mall, forgotten at basketball practice, I went unnoticed by many. Of course, I’m not blaming my parents for the fact that I believed this lie – I know they loved me unconditionally, that no parent is perfect and with the amount of things going in their lives with 3 other children and their own brothers and sisters, I knew it would be hard for my parents to remember everything all the time. But this is how the enemy can get a foothold on our minds: by telling us through these types of experiences that we are forgotten, unnoticed, unforgiveable, unworthy, etc.
But God does remember everything all the time. He has never forgotten us. After the dark moments I had in my gr. 12 year, when I began to hear God’s voice again the following summer, I plead with him to never leave me again like that, to never allow me to go back to that dark place where I couldn’t feel him. I didn’t realize that I was never alone during that situation, that He had never left me – that he had been with me, feeling my pain the entire time I was enduring it (Psalm 139:17-18, Psalm 34:18, Deuteronomy 31: 6, Hebrews 13:5). Because that’s the kind of loving God we serve.
I have to tell myself over and over again: God is not my parents. God is not the cruel things that happened to me in high school. God is love (1 John 4:8-9, 16). And there is a huge difference between knowing God loves you and actually experiencing it.
I cried every time I had alone time with God for probably two months straight as I worked through these lies, and many other lies (including some lies about what a Christian “should” look like). I’m still learning, still meeting with God every day to join Him in this healing process and let him into the deep wounds.
For me, being brave is knowing who I am in Christ: I am more than enough for Christ. I am loved and cherished by Christ. I am not alone because Christ is always with me. This is what it means for me to have my identity in Christ.
Being brave is just being able to stand still during the stormy weather, letting God come into the most tender parts of my life and provide restoration (Isaiah 54:10-17, Psalm 51:17). For me, it’s just being able to say no to the lies that I realize have been fed to me through the world and my past experiences. For me, it’s just being able to sit still in the presence of God and come to Him as my most vulnerable self.
Even if you don’t think you really struggle with anything, I invite you to be vulnerable with God and ask God what lies you are believing about yourself and God today and how you began to believe them. Ask Him to reveal Himself and His truths about you and Him to you through each situation. And then watch and feel and experience his amazing love pour healing into your soul.
Out of all honesty, I’m not really brave at all. It’s God who’s given me the courage to do these things, it’s God who has drawn me closer to Him and revealed His truths. God is the bravest of all and He lives in me! (and you!!)
And that is a truth that I hold dear to my heart and cling to in the stormiest of weathers <3
(Photo credits: Jake Hawley)