I was being short with Jake as we drove back from the gym. We’d done a chest and core workout at the Tucker Gym on post, where I was one of the few females, and one of the least muscular at that. The insecurities were overwhelming. I’d been struggling lately with not being as in shape as I have in the past, with not having as many opportunities to be sporty, and exercise my athleticism, and this fed into a lack of confidence and positive self-image….it was a vicious cycle, disrupted and defeated only by the truth of God’s Word, and His perspective of me.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:14-15)
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
We went through the chest workout, and while I clearly couldn’t lift as much weight as Jake could, I kept up, and my mind went back to the days of soccer practice, wrestling matches, hurdle jumping, suicides on a basketball court, working out with my cousin and his teammates in the public school gym, swinging kettle bells, sprinting, plate circuits…
As we moved, the lies became louder.
“Everyone thinks you’re weak. Everyone thinks you have no idea what you’re doing in here. They think you’ve probably never seen a dumbbell before, never smelled the inside of a gym, that of sweat, rubber, and metal. You’re just a weak little military wife that needs her husband to hold her hand through a workout.”
Which reinforced the lie of:
“I’ll show them. I am strong. I’ll get stronger. I’ll get back to where I was. I’ll lift more than Jake. I’ll get faster. I do know what I’m doing. I’m not stupid.”
We ended the workout doing laps in the pool, and the lies of comparison followed me there.
“Yes, this is where I can be better than someone.”
And we now come back full circle to when I was being rather curt with Jake in the car on the way home, all the while the defense of “I’m not stupid” reigning as an underlying message behind all of my words.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)
The verses came, and finally the leading:
“You can trust Me. I will protect you. You don’t have to defend yourself. It’s not about what you or others can do. It’s about what I can do.”
This softening led me to apologize to Jake, and just tell him what I was thinking, the stigmas that I was struggling with, the comparisons I was making between the two of us and everyone else, and the defensiveness I was feeling, manifested in my desire to prove myself strong, athletic, hard-working, capable.
Jake pulled the car into the driveway as I finished talking. My face was getting hot. As he cut the engine, he turned to me and confessed the stigma of “girls can’t or don’t lift” floating around in his head, certainly being ignored, but definitely there. And we talked. Jacob hugged me as I cried, frustrated with myself. It all ended with my cooking dinner as Jacob read “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and we both drank French press coffee. We were okay.
The reason I’m telling you this, is because it’s just one example of how an identity crisis has shown itself in my life. In this specific instance, I’m saying “I am an athlete,” and thus defining myself by my physical ability.
I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the differences between “being yourself in Christ” and “being like Christ.” They didn’t seem very different until I started seeing the difference in myself. I’ve lately heard the phrase “being myself” tied in with specific actions and personalities and even spiritual giftings. And so I wondered how I tend to identify myself in conversation with others. This is the list I came up with:
Athlete Gym rat College kid
Young Hunter Reader
ENFJ Feeler Writer
French Runner Housewife
Awkward Incapable Milspouse
Wreck Mess Encourager
So, what is the difference between “being yourself in Christ” and “being like Christ”?
This is what I have found:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, but also v. 1-17)
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)
I am in Christ now, and belong to Him. Therefore, I am virtually meant to disappear. All that I cling to, all of my hobbies, skills, talents, passions are no longer who I am. My identity as an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) to the world and the security and humility that this is meant to bring transcends my personality, passions, gender, self-image, self-understanding, heritage, nationality, physical capability, occupation, familial position, spiritual gift, age, and even my own name (I think)…Not that I have to start introducing myself to people as “the one whom Jesus loves” (John 13:23), though that might be helpful…
Looking specifically at Acts 4:13, to target the lie of “I must prove that I’m not stupid.” Peter and John were perceived as “uneducated, common men.” High school dropouts. Stupid. Incompetent. Without schooling. Even simple-minded. And yet, these things were not the overwhelming factors that defined how the Pharisees saw these men. It was the second half of the verse: “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
I have found myself fighting to “be myself” instead of becoming nothing and genuinely offering everything God has given me back to Him, to be molded, refined, and shifted to be made to look more and more like Christ, who transcends all of these things that seemingly set me apart. I am not meant to be set apart because of my talents or personality, but I am instead meant to be sanctified by the Jesus in me.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE HUMANITY
Two of the things in the list I gave have also brought up another thought about how I tend identify myself. The “Feeler” and “ENFJ.”
If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs personality types, you can check it out here. The third letter (each letter explains a general aspect of someone’s personality) of my own personality type, however, I will explain. The third letter explains how someone tends to make decisions (very, very basic definition, mind you). The two letters are “F” for “Feeler” and “T” for “Thinker” (or “Feeling” and “Thinking”, respectively). A Feeler tends to make decisions based on values and emotions (ex. what’s right or wrong, how will this affect others, what is my gut feeling?), whereas a Thinker tends to make decisions based on logic (ex. what makes sense, what will be most efficient, what is most practical?).
When I feel like (there we go, “feel like”) my “being a feeler” is being discounted or made to seem less than compared to “thinking,” then I immediately become defensive. Just like with the gym incident, I feel like I have to prove that I’m not stupid or a ditz, or an emotionally-charged drama maniac running around like a chicken with my head cut off. The other element revealed here, however, alongside identifying myself so much by my “being a feeler,” is ignoring my own tendencies to be overwhelmed and even being driven by my emotions. This of course does not mean I’m somehow “less than,” but just as “thinkers” have negative tendencies in the extreme, I do have the tendency to struggle against emotionalism.
So, even though I should not define myself by these things, and should instead be defined by Christ, it would be unwise to ignore the Romans 7 principle of my flesh warring against the Spirit in me.
As I consider my own tendencies, I ought not to be defined by them, for my identity in Christ, the more I allow Him to control my life and the more I “work out my own salvation,” i.e., figure out what it looks like in my life and, in a sense, grow into this life that Christ has now given me, then those tendencies and pitfalls will be overwhelmed by the person of Christ shining through the broken cracks of this earthen vessel as I seek to share Him with the world.
“It is not better methods, but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience—men and women who see his vision and feel his passion for the world—men and women who are willing to be nothing so that he might be everything—men and women who want only for Christ to produce his life in and through them according to his own good pleasure.” —Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism