Random Blog Clay Feet: March 25, 2008
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Searching for Identity

This morning I was wondering why so many things about identity have been coming to my attention over the past day or so. Last night I attended a youth-oriented Bible study group for the second time where we discussed the story of David and Goliath. I really enjoy the spirit of these young people who are hungry for God and for getting into the Word. That is truly refreshing for me. As we read the story what jumped out at me was how intense and deliberate were many verses in addressing the issue of identity, especially concerning David. Almost everyone around him was trying to put him down, shame him and belittle his identity until after he took out Goliath. Then suddenly he was someone to take notice of. But even then his identity was tied to what he had apparently accomplished and he was considered a hero because of his actions, not because of what was on the inside.

This morning both of my devotional books presented thoughts that had to do with identity. The first talked about our need to embrace our uniqueness and not allow ourselves to be squeezed into the mold of others in the expression of our unique gifts and talents. This reminded me of something that was part of a dream last night just before I woke up. It seemed for a brief moment that some spiritually mature person that I admired offered me the chance to spend time with them and be mentored. My heart jumped at the chance with great enthusiasm and I was very disappointed when I realized it was only a dream. But then I began to question, how does mentoring develop uniqueness? Isn't that somewhat the opposite in some ways? Unless the person mentoring is more keen to bring out your uniqueness instead of trying to clone you in their own image.

The second devotional book talked about the problem of Laodicea being blinded to their true condition of wretchedness. They think they are rich, fat and happy when inside they are really the opposite. That is so much the description of our churches today that it is frightening. And I also realize that I am included in that problem though it is always difficult to see it the closer to one's self we look.

Then I remembered the likely reason why all of these thoughts about identity are coalescing so close together. I recently asked God to show me much more plainly what my true identity is in heaven's eyes, from God's viewpoint. He is simply beginning to answer my prayer. That is great. I really feel blessed when I realize just a little how much God cares about me by noticing and responding to my requests like this. But I am sure this is just the bare beginning.

My heart questions whether I should even share these thoughts in public posts as I am usually prone to do. It is like sharing private conversations with an intimate friend by immediately publishing them for the rest of the uncaring world to gawk at. In a strong sense that feels like a betrayal of the intimacy of my friendship and many times I wonder about the appropriateness of many of my posts. I remember something I read from Oswald Chambers that warned against sharing with others the intimate conversations we have with God. On the other hand I also wonder what Jesus meant when He said that what we hear from Him in the secret chambers we should publish on the housetop. (Matt. 10:27) I have never had a satisfactory explanation for that passage.

I sense that part of the process of coming into awareness of my true identity implanted in me at conception by God must include the unmasking of all the false ideas of my identity wrapped around my heart and mind like many layers applied by many people throughout my life. These are often rooted in deeply hidden lie-based beliefs about myself implanted at different times and accepted by me as being true about me because they came from people representing God to me in some way. All of us struggle with this problem and I seem to have a heavy maze of these issues that keeps me staring through fuzzy glasses trying to see what is real. They are like layers of cobwebs sticking to the lenses in front of my perceptions distorting both the picture of God and my perceptions of who I am. I need release from these confusing distortions so that I can more clearly reflect the true image of God to others who also need their lenses liberated.

Now that I think of it, this is the primary issue being addressed in Romans 12:1, 2 where I am returning to pick up my previous journey through the book of Romans on my other blog. I always liked the Phillips translation – Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold. That is so descriptive of the constant pressure that we all experience throughout all of our lives, to be squeezed into the ideals of those around us instead of discovering what God has designed already inside of our hearts. The renewal of our minds spoken of in this text I believe at least partly involves the liberation of our hearts from the tyranny of our intellectual minds sometimes. It also means becoming freed from the many emotional escape addictions that we employ to cover up the pain that we are afraid to face deep in our memories.

As I allow my mind to drift around my surroundings to see what I often use to describe or support my usual perceptions of my identity, I notice many things that I realize are props that are typically used to define who I am, both to myself and/or to others. What my house looks like is a factor in what people think about me and what I think about myself. The many books that line the shelves and fill the boxes in my house are also indicators of the kind of person I am perceived to be. The food that I choose to eat is often a big factor in how I am perceived. The various musical instruments in my home speak of a previous time in my life when music was a much larger part of my passion. When I was a teenager I couldn't imagine a future that was not predominantly filled with activities revolving around music. How very different my actual life ended up working out from what I had imagined and hoped.

I remember when I was much younger how much my looks and clothes were considered an important part of defining who I really was. Now I am doing good to just look presentable as my value-basis has changed over the years. I don't put much stock into outward appearances nearly as much as most people do when they are young which puts me at odds with those who still insist on such measurements of worth or identity. The way my children act and my relationship with my wife is often a measurement of who I am perceived to be. That is oftentimes a source of pain or shame as I see all the ways I have failed to be the father and husband that they needed.

I think of the many prejudices that are used to define identity. Fortunately I was raised by parents who intentionally tried to teach me that racial prejudices were not something to subscribe to as accurate measurements of identity, though on occasions some of my Dad's prejudices sometimes flashed through in a comment or two. I came to realize that there was a difference between the color of a person's skin and the results of the culture they grew up in and that people need to be allowed the freedom to reveal their own personality apart from preconceptions based on their looks. But I also find the same problems when I sense that my own appearance many times may negatively influence other people's opinions of me before they allow time to get to know my real, inner self better.

I recently have pondered my own inner dissonance between how I perceive myself, the person I think I am acquainted with internally, and the person that stares back at me from a mirror. For some strange reason the person that claims to be me that I see in a mirror does not look anything at all like the person that I am so sure I know on the inside. I am almost frightened and intimidated many times by the looks and features of the person looking back at me and hold out little hope of ever being able to get that person to look like what I feel. And yet I argue repeatedly with my children and wife who insist that I really am the intimidating person that is seen in the mirror and that I need to change the way I look and speak so I do frighten people away so easily. That is another ongoing issue that is always affecting my pursuit of finding my real identity.

One thing that has emerged lately that creates mixed feelings about my identity is my recent and growing obsession with writing. I have found it recently an effective outlet for my inner feelings and ideas that I have never accessed very much before and it has at times almost turned into an overwhelming flood of inner feelings and ideas clamoring to get out for recognition. This sense of relief for the inner pressure that has built up for many years has been tainted by my uneasiness of the realization that this is something I do very much alone. It is not helping me connect in a community of fellow traveler's sharing my journey and as a result I do not feel any bonding going on which should be an important part of real expression. Because people can read my posts and remain distant and unresponsive so easily I still feel very isolated and even vulnerable many times. There is the gnawing fear lurking in the shadows that someday all of the things I have so freely expressed and shared from the sensitive places of my heart will be used viciously against me in some other context. And my heart also wonders at the distress of the disconnectedness of the whole arrangement. But then I realize that many other people likely feel the same frustrations, not only with the internet but even in writing books or articles for magazines. They may have a much wider audience but the feed-back mechanisms that cultivate true community and bonded relationships are still largely missing.

Beyond that I struggle with how much my mind is using other's perceptions of what I write (or my assumptions about what their perceptions might be) to create my own sense of identity and value. Our culture has often places greater value on those who can write eloquently and attract larger and more appreciative audiences. This has been another means of creating a false sense of heightened value for many apart from their true worth in God's eyes that can be a hindrance to sensing their true value and identity. How much am I being affected by this distortion? On the other hand, how much of my writing is a means for me of encouraging my process of discovering my true identity in God? I sense many times that in the midst of writing things down as they come to my mind that it makes way for many more insights that sometimes almost seem like a gusher that I can hardly record fast enough. That does not mean they are all divinely inspired – there are plenty of prolific writers around who are clearly inspired but often by more spirits than that which comes from God. But it does seem many times that I sense the promptings of the sweet Spirit of God trying to reveal to me new and exciting things as I immerse myself in His Word. This does not really have to be a method to directly create value and identity for me but a way to discover God's true identity through which I will better find my own.

Another question that arises around this particular topic as I ponder it is how to deal with the lack of interaction in my choice to post my inner thoughts and feelings on the internet. Is it in some ways a good thing that I don't hear much from any readers? Sometimes I suspect that if I knew the nature and interests of those who might be reading my posts that over time my writing my evolve into a direction of trying to be targeted toward the readers instead of being simple, unaffected expressions of what is inside of me. Sometimes I wonder if God shields me from knowing what effect my writings have (if any) on others so that I will not become contaminated with false pride or self-conceit or conversely fear and intimidation. That is a very real possibility. (I can think of at least one or two people that I would be afraid to have them see my writings) I know that already too often in the midst of writing something that the way I word things at times is framed in the context of thinking about someone who may end up reading it and what I think they might need to hear. But I try to contain myself within the context of just a dialog between my own heart and God and not allow myself to indulge in writing as a means of convincing or admonishing others of what I think they should hear. But would the pressure increase in that direction if I knew that many people were really interested in what I have to say and were actively responding to what I have written? I direct these questions to God who knows my heart much better than I do and I believe wants to guide me in the best way to discover my true identity and feel my true worth as He feels about me more importantly than what anyone else thinks.

Perception of identity is also strongly linked with what we do for work as well as the efficiency or tension that we have in our relationships with others. Since I have not had much work to support myself for some time now that has been an increasing pressure to distort my sense of value in my own eyes and others around me. My many difficulties in having healthy, love-bonded relationships with others is also a constant source of distortion to properly perceiving the true identity that is so camouflaged inside of me. And of course what other people think and say about me has far too easy access to my heart that often greatly distresses and confuses me about my true value, worth and real identity. I have been trained since earliest years to discount compliments as flattery that is dangerous to my soul and have also been very defensive and sensitive to attacks and accusations against me by those who want me to be seen as a danger to others and one who is not safe to get very close to.

All of these things are mingled together – and many more that I cannot think of right now – to create the artificial image of the person that I perceive myself, or others perceive me to be. But very little of this mix, I suspect, comes from God's thoughts about me, His perceptions of who I really am and the real personality and character that He hard-wired into my DNA (or wherever it resides) from before I was ever thought of by others. But God's original plan for my identity, although it is so masked and camouflaged by all the false ideas and feelings that seem so much more real to me, is the identity that I am becoming more and more hungry to discover and engage.

Not yet knowing what that true identity is I feel like I am looking for someone that is currently a complete stranger to me. But I also sense that when I begin to get acquainted with that stranger that something inside of me will begin to resonate with excitement and recognition that this is indeed the real me and I will be overwhelmed with excitement and emotion as I begin to grow into the true image that God pre-planned for me to thrive in as I reflect His own beauty and perfection.

Another important part of this discovery process came to my attention a few minutes ago as I was pondering all of this. There are many programs and gimmicks in the world purporting to help people “find themselves” or some such variation on that theme. I do not want to discount the deep hunger that all of us have in our desire to do this that feeds the proliferation of all of these ideas and programs. This hunger really reflects an important aspect of the real plan of salvation that God has put in place for all of us. Salvation really means a healing, a restoration process whereby we can be restored to the true image of God that we were each designed to reflect. The closer we come to engaging in our true destiny as pre-designed by God the more satisfaction and joy we will experience in our hearts. This is one of the main purposes for Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to us.

But the most important aspect of discovering ourselves, myself, is to not miss the most important ingredient of all – discovering who God really is and how He feels about me. This is not just a disconnected religious notion but is the most fundamental basis for our existence and self-awareness. To the extent that our perceptions of God are warped and skewed will be our inability to properly discover the real truth about our own identity and feel secure in our infinite worth to Him. Because we are designed to only be reflectors, our beliefs about God will pretty much parallel our beliefs about ourselves.

My perception about my own worth and identity will always be distorted to the extent that my perceptions about God are distorted. Satan, the greatest accuser of God ever known, has filled our minds and hearts will lies about Him that have grotesquely distorted God's image in our minds to actually look more like Satan's image than like the truth about what God is really like in many ways. As a mirror of my perceptions of what God is like I will inevitably project to others and to my own inner image the beliefs that I carry about how God thinks about me, how much He values or scorns me, how much anger or love He has toward me, how much He cherishes or shames me, etc.

By the same token, my perceptions about my own identity that are determined by other people's opinions about me will also be contaminated by their skewed and distorted perceptions about God and my feelings will be confused not only from my own mis-perceptions about God but also by other's. I not only have to contend with my own life-long struggle to discover the real truth about God but also have to be aware when other's false ideas about Him are re-infecting my heart with lies that I am working to become free from myself.

I think that possibly many people involved in religion assume that we will not find our true identity until Jesus returns and we can find it in heaven. That sounds very discouraging and I don't buy that notion completely at least. I do find from my study of the Bible that we likely will not experience our full potential that we were created to enjoy until the final day of revelation at the end of the millenium. But I believe it is very much God's purpose and desire for us to immediately begin to enter into and bring out in the open the true identity that He created us to be right now and as quickly as possible shed off the false ideas about ourselves that have defined us for all of our life up to this point.

I have been learning some very important things lately about the true nature of judgment. In essence, one of the most important things I have learned is that real judgment is the reactions of people when exposed to the presence of God and they are confronted with the truth about what He is really like. The one question that is predominant in judgment is, “Who do you say that I am?” This may take many forms but the essence of the question is always the same. What do we really believe God is like – deep in our hearts, not so much our intellectual theological pronouncements?

Judgment is not something imposed on people but is induced from people as they reveal the true beliefs of their hearts about what God is like. That is always reflective of their perceptions of what constitutes reality. Judgment always produces separation and discernment between those who reveal from their deepest heart some level of trust in the real goodness of God and those who choose to cling to their dark opinions about God's nature and reject the love and kindness that is necessary to lead them to repentance. In judging God – which is really what judgment is all about – they judge themselves and expose what they have come to believe is their true identity. Because our own sense of identity is inevitably linked to our perception of God's identity (because we are really only mirrors by nature) what we come to believe about God will be reflected in what we ultimately believe about ourselves. Those who are ultimately lost will be those who insist on rejecting the beauty and loveliness and the ever-lasting nature of the mercy of God in favor of beliefs that He is sometimes angry, vengeful and arbitrary. We will all in essence get the effects of the God we believe in at the deepest levels of our hearts whether it is true or not. That picture of God may not be the same as the one we mentally profess to follow, but judgment reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart far more explicitly than the assumptions of the intellect.

Those who choose to go beforehand to judgment may be those spoken of the this text. The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. (1 Timothy 5:24) If in our desire to find our true identity we are willing to allow our sins to become evident, we can then bring them to Jesus and receive the healing that we need and the heart-truth implants that will replace the lies we have lived by for so long. When we do this ahead of time, before the final times of judgment, then when the days of exposure come upon us we will not be vulnerable to fear and collapse like those who's sins are suppressed and follow (chase) after them. The more I study and contemplate these things the more clearly I see how they are all inter-related.

Jesus, please bring me into judgment early and show me the lies that I still believe are true, the lies about you and about myself that have been a part of my emotional makeup since before my birth. Continue to reveal to me the value and identity that You see when You think about me. Grow me into a more accurate reflection of Your own perfect beauty and integrity and maturity. Show me much more about Yourself so that I can know much more about myself and become a more efficient channel of Your light and grace to others.