17 Apr DEATH OF A FALSE IDENTITY
Who am I? Identity. Belonging. Acceptance. They’re at the core of our deepest longings and search in life. It’s how I ended up sitting before a couple, pouring my heart out regarding the pain and confusion surrounding relationships and what they had communicated to me and about me.
I was freshly coming out of a separation that led to divorce, along with the brutal homicide of my only sibling. So many messages had been battering at my heart and my identity.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s all your fault!”
“You deserve this…”
“If only you had done this or that…”
“You shouldn’t have done this or that…”
I’d taken multiple traumatic hits and I was “down and out”. I was most vulnerable to condemnation and accusation. Here, our perception of ourselves and the world can become grossly skewed. I began to question, “Who am I?”
That is how I ended up on this couple’s couch… seeking some kind of insight into the deepest misgivings I had about myself.
Some time earlier, the husband had stood before our retreat group sharing a personal story and the extremes to which the longing for identity and acceptance had led him into. His story was a very literal example of the kinds of hoops we are willing to jump through in order to receive what are often meager crumbs, if not worse. Literally bending over, he was kicked hard in the rear numerous times, just so that he could feel accepted and have a sense of belonging as a child.
That is what the gang had required of him. This example is a picture of where broken hearts lead to. For me, his story was gut wrenching to hear.
Something within his account struck a very deep chord inside of me. Tears streamed down my face. My heart felt as though it would burst. Now, here I was sitting on their sofa.
He reached over to his wife and spoke in a melodic language I couldn’t understand while she passed him pen and paper. He began to sketch a life cycle. Pointing to the drawing, he said, “You’ve been living out of a false identity. Your identity has been, ‘I am a disappointment’. You’ve been figuratively bending over and allowing others to kick you in order to be loved. This identity needs to die.”
He paused, then looking at me, “If you were paralyzed from the neck down, is God enough?”
My world was being shaken to the core while time seemed to stand still all in the same moment. Everything in me rose up with a protested, “No! Can God really be enough?”
Jesus says in Matthew 10:39, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it.”
When a seed is faced with it’s own burial, a caterpillar it’s cocoon, the transformation or metamorphosis is a death of all that it has known up until that point. It’s scary. In yielding up its current state of being, a seed or a caterpillar has to trust that whatever it will become, is worth the devastation. It’s an absolute act of surrender and trust.
This was the “cliff” I found myself teetering on.
If the people responsible for our earliest development teach us that love will be removed when we fail to do what they want or if we disappoint them, lies, inner vows, and false identities begin to develop.
For me it was, “I am a disappointment.”
Much of this is done subconsciously. The message that is often heard is, “Who you are is a problem.” rather than, “You have problems, but they are not who you are.”
This is what is called a shame-based identity. By the time we’ve reached adulthood, these distorted identities masquerade as the “real me.” All my efforts and energies were put into trying to avoid disappointing others. So my performance was geared toward trying to get love and acceptance from a place of not feeling unconditionally loved and accepted.
But that was an impossible feat.
Inevitably, my performance would fail at some level, big or small, and I was going to disappoint people (confirming the false identity). Which led me to trying harder, giving up, or worse. It was a terrible, vicious cycle.
I left the conversation that day with only one thought and one prayer resounding within me, “Father, I want to really know You. I want to know Your unconditional love and acceptance deep down. I want You to be enough.”
“Dewi, are you saying we need to look only to God?”
We’re created for love, intimacy and community. So I am not promoting the life of an independent recluse. But that wasn’t the point being made. What I want to ask is, where is our starting point? What is our foundation? Let me ask you this: if everything in your life disappeared today, what might you discover is “propping” your identity? What or who defines you?
Today, there is so much, both internally and externally, that vie for our identity in a broken, orphaned world far different from that idyllic Garden where humankind walked with Love himself. Our relationships, our titles, our family roles, our jobs, our ministries, our skills, our education, our callings, our possessions, our looks, our sex appeal, our intellect, our degrees, our (fill in the blank) all compete in order to define us. But if in that flawless Garden setting, where man was ultimately named and defined by his Father first, how much more do we need that now? Who am I?
As pastor Tim Keller pointed out, “Trusting in Jesus means that you do have a new identity. You already have it, and you didn’t have to earn it. It can’t be taken from you. And living out of it is the secret to living toward Jesus. Christ is your life. Henri Nouwen has never changed my life more profoundly than when he wrote this sentence: ‘From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are.’”
Beloved, it’s in experiencing the Father’s unconditional love in a way that goes deep down into the very psyche of our being that we are set free from the orphan default of finding identity in anything outside of being in the Son. It’s in hearing Father call me His Beloved, and in daily claiming who He says I am that I become who I already am.
As this reality continues to sink down deep into the core of my being, it sets me free from having to perform and jump through hoops in order to be loved and accepted. Experiencing the love of the Father has provided me with a more unshakeable knowledge that He is ALWAYS for me, always…through the good, the bad and the ugly!
When I fail and when I succeed. When I’m criticized and when I’m praised. I more easily return to the center and the anchor of His love and acceptance.
Experiencing His love is delivering me from both the blatant and more subtle forms of condemnation that try to seep into the foundation of who He says I am. Knowing Father is loving me every moment is freeing me to be more vulnerable with others and to more readily laugh at myself when I make mistakes. Receiving His love is setting me free from the poison of shame and causing me to show compassion toward myself when the “you don’t measure up…” messages try to come. His unconditional love and acceptance is bringing me into a deeper freedom and joy.
The bottom line is this: Only an artist has the right to name and define his or her creation. The Artist who dreamed me up is the One who ultimately defines me.
He calls me Beloved.
Everything else is secondary. And THAT is Good News!
“See how much the Father has loved us!” 1 John 3:1a
***Find more inspiring reads from Dewi over at her blog, Beauty In My Brokenness. Dewi shares her journey back home into the arms of a loving and tender Father. It’s a place where hearts are healed and reawakened to their truest identity as God’s very own, His Beloved.