The Problems with a Misplaced Identity

All I can say is it’s been one heck of a five months.

Just to update you quickly, we had a baby on November 15th (I’m sure most of you know this by now..wink wink), and I’ve found motherhood to be shockingly more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. Thankfully, our little guy is a pretty easy, and his little smiles have a special way of keeping me going whenever I find myself exhausted. Some days are hard, but I continually feel blessed by the Lord and am incredibly thankful that He has given me the gift of being our little guy’s mom.

Okay…now on to why I am really posting. 

For the past 3 months or so I’ve really been wrestling with – and at times deeply struggling with – the concept of identity.

If you have read past posts, you know this is an area that I tend to tread on quite frequently, but it seems that every season of life presents new challenges for me in the areas of understanding who I am, how I was created, and what it all means in light of how I am called to live my life. My identity struggles in middle school looked differently than my identity struggles in high school. Some of my struggles in high school fell off by the time I got to college, and many of the things I struggled with in college have completely dissolved by now. But now that I’m 30, I have found myself with a whole new box of them.

That’s life, huh?

Today, if you were to ask me, I would tell you that I struggle most with wanting to be accepted. If I wanted to be super analytical, I would tell you that this struggle has probably been at the root of most of the identity struggles throughout my entire life – starting from the time I was five (when I can really remember things) – but I’ll spare you all of the analysis and just get to the point.

Recently, I have been reminded of an old conclusion: Regardless of where one seeks to place their identity their placed identity controls almost everything about them whether they are aware of it or not.

Let me paint it out this way.

When I was head-deep in my addiction to exercise and restrictive eating (a nine year battle you can read more fully about in earlier posts), all I could think about was what I had eaten, what I was going to eat, when I was going to exercise, and what could potentially get in the way of me doing both of these things the way I wanted to do them. I thought my worth was found in being fit – it was where I placed my identity.

How do I know I placed it there?

Because the minute these things were threatened, I would completely flip out. (Like the one time I was home for a weekend from college and it started hailing so I couldn’t run. I cried, got angry, and threw a shoe across the room because my addiction – my identity – was being threatened.) Another indicator of my misplaced identity was how I talked about eating and exercise. I mean, I could tell you anything you wanted to know about calorie, fat and carbohydrate content in food and which exercises you should do if you wanted to work on your triceps – AND I talked about it ALL of THE time. Most of the time doing so in order to prove to myself and others that I was the person I wanted to be – the “fit one.” (Check out Matthew 6:21 here.)

I needed to prove that I was worthy of placing my identity there.

But here’s the funny thing (and the fact that is resonating most with me currently) – when you’re wrapped up in your misplaced identity you are not being who you are truly meant to be – the most effective, most stunning, most fruitful you.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that misplaced identities are one of the biggest distractions Christians can face. 

Instead of listening to others, you’re talking or thinking about yourself. Instead of being flexible with your time so that you can serve others, you control how much you serve others so that you can feed the thing you place your identity in – your social calendar, your exercise, your money, or whatever it is for you.

You basically live your life trying to prove that you are worthy of being defined by the thing you are placing your identity in. Once your misplaced identity is threatened – or, in some cases, taken away – you will no longer feel okay about yourself. You’ll feel crushed and you’ll work really hard to defend what you feel like you once had. You will fight to prove that you are worthy of receiving the praise you used to get from people. 

We’ve all seen this play out before. You know, it’s like the uncle in Napoleon Dynamite that can’t stop talking about how good he was at high school football or the women on some TV shows that continually talk about the super rad party they threw over a month ago.

Or, in my case, like the young woman at coffee who has a difficult time allowing others to be praised for their physical fitness and feels like they have to continually one-up the other person.

Yep. That was me five years ago.

It’s all ugly, but I think these are intentional plays on the enemy’s part.

You see, when we are busy defending ourselves – when we are busy trying to prove to others that we are worthy of being defined in the way we want to be defined – we aren’t really present. More than that, we aren’t really loving. We are wrapped up in ourselves, not in our purpose of glorifying God.

I see this in my new struggle, too. (You know, the one where I just generally want to be accepted.) You see, I feel like in order to be accepted, I have to be cool, and for people to know that I’m cool, I have to talk about myself. So, I talk about myself when I really shouldn’t. Sometimes, I’m so distracted by my need to talk about myself, I can’t even listen to the person I am talking to. (You know, those moments when you are fighting to get a word in because what you have to say is more important than what the other person has to say?) In these cases, my motive for talking is selfish and is caused by my misplaced identity (in believing my worth is found in being accepted by the human across the table from me). Instead of loving others, I’m only loving myself.

Ok. So why the rant?

Because I don’t want to be this way. I want to be the secure person who listens first and speaks last. I want to be a woman who delights in the Lord and, because of that, the Lord’s acceptance of me is my true delight.

Yesterday, I read this verse and it resonated with me…

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

The incredibly relieving truth is, I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I’m already accepted. AND, if you’re a Christian, you are, too. 

As the verse above reads, the Lord has clothed me with salvation (the Lord has chosen me to be his and to walk with him here on earth and into eternity) and has covered me with a robe of righteousness (he has declared me to be righteous – declared me to be “good enough” because of his grace not because of my works (Ephesians 2:8&9)). He has accepted me eternally and unconditionally.

And that, my friends, is freeing. It frees me up to think about the Gospel and how I might radiate that to others instead of wondering how I might steer the conversation toward myself. It frees me up to listen to and think about others instead of being all wrapped up in “me.”

Hallelujah!

I don’t know where you struggle with misplacing your identity. It could be in success, money, popularity, the attention you get from others, or HECK it could be in how good your home looks or in how good of a parent you think are. There are a multitude of options. Just know, you don’t have to fight to prove yourself in these areas. You’re already accepted.

Exhale, and take that in.

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