Thursday, January 11, 2018

expanding in 2017: a search for identity

Watching The Lion King as an adult requires a few million more tissues than I needed when watching it as a child. The kids and I put it on one morning this past summer while Veda napped. The stampede scene got me as usual. But I didn't really fall apart until this moment later on in the movie:

Mufasa: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba; No! How could I?
Mufasa: You have forgotten who you are and so forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become ...
Simba: ... How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be.
Mufasa: Remember who you are. You are my son.

The Lord has been doing a work in me this past year surrounding the concept of identity. I have sensed it weaving through so many parts of my life.

It all started back in January when I read "The Road Back to You," an introductory book about the Enneagram. I wrote a post about the discovery of my One-ness here. It really blew my mind. I'd never encountered a personality assessment that was so spot on and so specific, yet so fluid. I love that it dives deep to uncover your motivations rather than staying on the surface to describe behavior. It's an extremely unique system because of the way it shows how personality types move to different areas in stress or security, the way a certain subtype or wing can flavor your personality, whether or not we take life in at the body, heart, or mind ... and I could go on.

Ultimately, the Enneagram is not about figuring out our numbers and planting our feet there. It's about figuring out what mask, or number, we've been wearing our entire lives and discovering how to uncover our true selves underneath it. It all truly fascinated me and I jumped right in to all things Enneagram.

I began to see things in myself I'd never known weren't "okay" or "normal." I recognized the critical voice I had in my head. I saw the desire in me to be good, to be liked, and to always be blameless. I saw how I prioritize doing the right thing, following the rules, and working hard and how sometimes, that prioritization can be a detriment to me or the people around me. I realized that the high expectations that I pressure myself with were also expectations I (many times unknowingly) held over others.


Fast forward a few months. From the time I had Veda in March and the months following, I experienced some disconnect. I felt lonely in a left-out-middle-school-girl kind of way. It wasn't a depression or an anxiety. It was something else. There were concrete events or situations that could have been blamed for my feelings, but none of these things were actually the root cause. Because of the helpful tool that the Enneagram was, I saw the way I was channeling a lot of the unhealthy side of a Four. I knew I needed to move through my feelings and get to the real issue at the bottom of all of it.

What I began to see is that my feelings were not a result of any particular circumstance. It was that my identity was not secure. I had put the weight of my identity in certain things, and when those things were taken or changed, I crumbled.

I started to desire a new revelation of God's love to me. Of being his daughter. It's one of those ideas I'd heard all my life, but it didn't do anything to me. And I knew that it should. I wanted to understand how and why it defines me and I wanted to know and feel what it means.

Towards the end of May, our pastor, AT, spoke on this very thing and it really resonated with me. In this sermon, he talked about how there is a difference between godly sorrow and guilt.
2 Cor. 7:10 "For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death."
AT went on to talk about guilt. Guilt makes obedience become compliance instead of obedience out of love. Guilt focuses on ourselves, seeking to be right and good. Guilt prevents love and intimacy. Guilt grows fear and hiddenness. Guilt prevents spiritual and emotional growth.

Yes. Obedience did feel like compliance. I did want to be right and good. I did feel a block in my relationship with the Lord.

Then he said, "You cannot outperform the guilt or inner critic in you. You have to love it out.

I was not allowing the Lord to love me perfectly. I was wanting to work and earn my way out of my own guilt.

(I want to interject here and explain what I mean by "guilt." Because we all see and react to the world differently, there are some of us that are more acquainted with guilt than others. Guilt for me looks like ending the day and thinking about how I wasn't as good of a mom as I should have been. It can mean reviewing all of my faults - got too upset with the kids today, yelled, lost my temper, wasn't attentive, was argumentative with Colt. It can mean feeling bad for not getting enough done. It can mean getting in a mode of comparison and thinking of all of the ways I don't measure up. I just wanted to spell some of that out because sometimes when we think of the word "guilt," we forget that it's not always huge crime-like acts that cause it. Guilt can creep its way into us in small ways and on a daily basis without even realizing it.)

Guilt was blocking me from knowing my identity.


Fast forward to book club in July. We decided to read Jennie Allen's "Nothing to Prove." In chapter 2, she talks about how God is not after our performance. This is another thing I'd heard a lot, mostly in my adulthood. But that whole idea felt stale to me. What does that mean? I wrote in my journal, "If I don't have my performance, then what do I even have?" 

Gulp.

Performance was blocking me from knowing my identity.

There was some work to be done in me. In order for me to hear the Lord and process my thoughts, my hands usually have to be either writing words or playing the piano. So that's what I did.

What I decided is that it wasn't about trying to believe that my performance doesn't matter or working to not to feel guilty. It was about understanding how loved I was by God and receiving it. Right then. That's where I had to start. And in that love, there is no room for any of that other stuff. Being unconditionally and perfectly loved is the path to knowing my identity.

Once the fall rolled around, we began a Bible study at church and, as the Lord would have it, it was all about identity. What I walked away with was a better understanding of the choice that was in front of me. I can either walk in the Spirit or walk in the flesh. I can either walk in the new covenant with Jesus or walk in the old covenant of law and works. I can either walk ruled by love or walk ruled by fear. I can either walk as the righteousness of Christ or in my own self-righteousness. I have the choice to either put my anchor in my human identity or in my identity in Christ. And what I choose affects everything.

There was once a time in Simba's life when he knew his position in his father's kingdom, and he was excited about it. But all of that changed when he began to believe a lie. Scar planted a belief in his mind that he was to blame (there's that guilt again) for his father's death and that he should run away and never return. Everything shifted in Simba. His identity was no longer found in the fact that he was the son of Mufasa. It was found in what he did (there's that performance again). In his mistake.

We all crave a place to give us identity. It's deep in there, and we can walk around eating bugs and singing Hakuna Matata all that we want, but that will leave us feeling empty. Nothing is cured until we know where we belong. Simba was running away from the very thing that gave him his purpose. He was running away from being Mufasa's son, from being King. His position and purpose in life was found in that fact, so in refusing his Father, he refused knowing his true identity and worth.

We can find things to do and jobs to have and titles to hold. We can be celebrated and loved and held in high esteem. We can acheive things and work hard and get raises. But we will keep needing and wanting more until we realize that none of that defines us. None of that actually fills us to the point of needing nothing else. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world that God has given us, but nothing is as good as a relationship with him. Nothing can fulfill the craving we have for identity and belonging except for our position as loved children of God. Nothing else can so clearly define our purpose, give us energy, spur us on, and provide power and rest like knowing we are children of God. Simba on his own held no power, but Simba as a son of the King held all the power.

Self-care is a big deal these days. And the best self-care you can give yourself is to discover your identity in Christ. To discover that you are perfectly loved all of the time. To discover that you are not the things you do. To discover that your mistakes do not define you. To discover that you are offered grace at every single turn. To discover that you are not and will not ever be abandoned. To discover that you are an adopted child of God. It is only in that revelation that we are able to then turn outward to the people around us and offer love, grace, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. This is a picture of Jesus. This is the manifestation of Heaven here on Earth. This is how we change the world.

My word for 2017 was "Expand." And just as I had assumed, it wasn't only about expanding our family or our home. It was about expanding my understanding of who I am in Christ. There is still a lot to figure out and there always will be, but I'm so thankful for what God has revealed to me this year about myself through the people around me, my pastor, my Bible study teacher, and the Enneagram. My motivations, my emotions, the way I think, the way I take in the world around me, the automatic reactions I have to my surroundings, my inner critic, my identity - all of the knowledge I've gained about those things has been life changing.

I've been praying and thinking on my word for 2018. On the morning of the 31st, I felt the Lord highlight the word Wait. I took note, but went on with my morning as usual. It wasn't but maybe an hour later, I was in the kitchen making a bottle for Veda. She was up for the day, fussing in her crib, and ready to eat. I had the thought, If she only knew I was down here getting her bottle ready, she wouldn't be crying. She would be fine waiting.

Right after that thought passed through my mind, I realized that Wait was most certainly the word.

It can be hard for us to trust that even when we're upstairs crying for whatever we think we need or about whatever dream needs fulfilling or about whatever situation needs solving, God is downstairs working things out. It takes faith to wait while God does the doing. It takes faith to wait when you're not really even sure what exactly he is doing. It takes faith to wait when you feel like he's not doing anything.

I don't love the word Wait because it seems too still and too inactive. And maybe that's exactly the point. Maybe God is wanting to pour some stillness into me, a person who loves to do, fix, and accomplish. What I'm sensing is that this year I need to remember that waiting is an option. And even a good option! Maybe I need to wait on God for answers before I hurry up with a YES. Maybe I need to wait on God to change something before I rush in to fix it myself. I don't know how it will play out or what it will mean, but the fact that it rubs me the wrong way just a little bit is a pretty good indication that I could use a little bit of waiting in my life.

So, 2018, I wait. I look forward to seeing what God will do.


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