This week’s post comes from my sweet graduate school mentor. She’s an amazing mom, wise counsel, great cook, and an all-around awesome person. I am blessed to have her in my life in such a real way – and thankful that you get to hear some of her story. Candice Craig, y’all. (:
It donned on me slowly, not all at once, but over the course of about a month. I was an identity thief. I’d like to soften the scandal of that statement by changing it to “identity borrower”, but let’s be honest, shall we? It’s more like theft.
You see, as I look back over the ages of about 13 to 35, I finally see the pattern of choices that leads me to the above conclusion. It all started with my favorite color. For years, it had been purple (but then again, that was my oldest sister’s favorite color….maybe I stole that too!). Then the chain-smoking, hip pastor’s wife, who was in cosmetology school and just seemed so cool to the teenage me, came along, and she loved red. Everything red looked so glamorous on her, especially if she was holding a cigarette (I smoked as a young teenager too…gasp!). I am ashamed and a little embarrassed to admit that I also loved listening to soft rock, especially on Saturday nights when it was all love songs, and the song “Lady in Red” came out during that time. What young teenage girl did not swoon at the thought of a handsome man sweeping her off onto the dance floor in her sexy red gown? But I digress. Before long, I was telling people my favorite color was red.
But my favorite color was just the beginning. I have aspired to be an English teacher, a missionary, a retreat speaker, a counselor, and a spiritual director—not because of any specific calling on my own heart, or out of the passion or personality God had placed in me, but because I knew people who had a significant impact on my life through these roles. I wanted to be like them. I admired them and looked up to them, and to this day I am so thankful for how my life has been shaped by their involvement and influence. But I don’t need to adopt their God-given paths. Thankfully, God has closed each of these doors to me at one time or another, sometimes by my discerning I was on the wrong track, and other times by life circumstances or the decisions of others.
This recent discovery led me to look more deeply at the question of why. I don’t have all the answers to that question right now, but a few came to mind, and at the core of them all was the belief that I was not enough the way I was. I was flawed and awkward. Like the “Island of Misfit Toys,” I believed I was relegated to a category of things that were not made to fit their mold, and so labeled “poorly made” and sent off. I had no hope of being something special in my own way, so I wanted to borrow (to put it nicely again) from the special qualities I saw in others. To me, these women were talented, distinguished, and their lives had significant impacts on those they helped and served. I couldn’t be them, so maybe I could do what they did in hopes of at least appearing to be special or made useful. Part of this logic comes from the culture in which we live, which tends to elevate those in certain positions of leadership and influence as somehow more worthy of God’s love or deserving of accolades. After all, God chose them for these great works, so there must be something innately “better” about them, something I must emulate if I want to be significant as well. So I continued to dream of being in the spotlight, having my name on the cover of a book, being that retreat speaker who could make everyone laugh, cry, and reflect deeply on their lives, going away forever changed by my powerful message. Prestige. Maybe this was the answer or remedy for that painful and raw belief that I wasn’t enough?
Well, God surprised me this past year with the gradual and yet overwhelmingly powerful realization that I am enough! It came right alongside that sweet experience of His love for me. Not the generic “Smile, God loves you” type of knowledge that usually floats around in the background of our Christian culture, but the deeper knowing. The kind that comes when I have felt His nearness and His personal love for me; when I have believed that His feelings for me are unchangeable and solid, and there’s nothing I did or can do to either earn them or remove them. Right alongside that, this other awareness of my identity; my realidentity. The one He saw at the beginning while I was being formed and said, “It is good”. The one that is now so buried under pretense and striving and masks of false selves I have tried on, that it’s like trying to determine which paint color came first on an old wall with 5 coats of paint. Thankfully, HE knows. And with His help, I will flush it out and “find myself”, and reclaim the un-repeatable “ME” that He desires to use for His purposes in this world. You see, each of us bears the image of God, but no two of us bear His image in exactly the same way. He is that incredibly un-knowable, that it takes billions of people in all of the world to express even a portion of the vastness of who He is. So, the way I am wired and the experiences I have had? They will never be repeated. And what all of it says about God our creator and lover can only be communicated in this way by me—by my life, words, and interactions with others.
Christ lives in me. My life comes from Him. My identity as God’s beloved is secured by my belief in and submission to Him. This is true of all of us who belong to God through faith in Christ Jesus. But it’s not a generic identity. Do you believe that God has a unique way in which He wants to speak His love to the world through you? Do you know without a doubt that you are enough in Christ Jesus? If not, it’s time to start asking yourself some questions. I’ll leave it to you and God to figure out what needs to be asked. As for me, I’m off to explore my true identity and return the ones I’ve…um…borrowed!