Random Blog Clay Feet: May 14, 2008
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Getting Closer to Real Identity

A couple nights ago I attended the Monday night young adult group that I have been enjoying for a few months now. The discussion that evening revolved around asking the men (the women left earlier for their own private discussions) about who they perceived themselves to be. The answers that began to emerge also began to trigger more and more memories in my own mind and I decided to write them down to observe what was happening inside.

This issue of discovering my real identity has been very prominent in my life over the past few years as anyone who has read much of my blog might realize. The comments that these young men were making highlighted many of the aspects that I have been working through for some time. I shared briefly some of what I observed but then sensed that the time was not ripe to go too deeply. But I still want to revisit this myself and unpack it a little more thoroughly for my own benefit.

One thing that has become clear to me over the past few years is that there is a significant difference between my perceived identity and my true, God-given identity. Confusion over this matter at the heart level has been the source of possible over 90% of my problems for much of my life. Because I have believed lies about myself imparted to me through many various ways, I have often acted out of those false, assumed perceptions about myself and consequently have lived in defeat and discouragement much of the time. I have been challenging those assumptions far more frequently and aggressively over the past few years and have also sensed an increasing and correlating level of freedom and peace inside.

As I sat there listening to these men speak of who they thought they were and sometimes struggling to know if what they were saying was really true or just performance-based identity, I began writing down key words that resonated distinctly from my own past, words that described how I have often perceived myself or the feelings that swirled around inside of me.

What condensed out of this stimulating discussion were these descriptions:

Rebellious – Bitter – Sarcastic – Cynical. I'm sure I could add a lot more, but that was a pretty accurate assessment of what I have often felt inside and sometimes still do. There were many reasons for this and there were also many incentives to intensify these attitudes, but generally this was my self-perception and was also what many others believed me to be.

Some other interesting things emerged that I had not connected to this issue from some of the comments the men were making. I can remember a number of occasions that internally I would be contemplating the idea that somehow many of my internal problems and feelings of rebellion and resistance would disappear after my father would die. But then my logical mind would immediately kick in and remind me that contrary to setting me free I would more likely feel hopelessly trapped in my ruts of thinking and feeling because there would no longer be any hope of resolving my tensions with my father after he was gone. It was logically very clear that becoming free of one of the main sources of my bitterness and rebellion would do nothing to set me free from the internal chains that tortured my spirit so many years, but still my heart wanted to imagine that this would be true anyway.

What I now realize more clearly is that many of my problems have been because I believed my identity was based on my performance, good and bad. My identity was assumed to be the sum of my actions and attitudes and I'm sure that was directly reinforced by much of the teaching that I received while growing up and even later. This is all very typical in the formation of a counterfeit identity that is founded in the flesh, the part of me that is pride-based and believes that value only comes from achievements. This style of identity and belief about value is the way that all the world operates and so it comes as no surprise that I was caught up in the deceptive strands of this kind of thinking. But it still had its destructive effects on my life as it does for everyone caught in this trap.

This problem became much more clear to me a few years ago when we had some very insightful friends spend a few weeks with us. They specialize in ministering with people to help them get past their emotional and spiritual blocks to begin discovering their true value and bring healing to their dysfunctional relationships. One of the most important insights they shared with me was that they saw me as an image manager. During that time I wrote about this a number of times as God impressed me that indeed this was very true and that I needed to become aware of the damage it was causing my life and how it was inhibiting most of my relationships.

My image management skills were always ready and active to manipulate what others thought about me since my sense of personal value largely came from what others thought. I have always been a rather independent person, a loner of sorts, so this realization came as a bit of a shock to me. But as I was willing to be more honest to see what was at much deeper levels of my heart than I was used to looking, sure enough there was intense concern about keeping a good image and projecting the kind of person that I wanted to be. That also meant withholding information about myself even from close friends because of intense fear of rejection. I also discovered a great amount of shame that I had never been aware of before and realized that I have never learned emotionally how to become free of shame.

I began to work to unlock this problem in my life but have struggled to know how to do that properly. I have many times disclosed myself to people who later used what I shared with them in trust to attack me publicly and sometimes even tried to deliberately discredit me to others. I still wonder how wise it was to open myself to them and need to learn that there is also the issue of maturity that needs to be taken into account when choosing who to trust and who to refrain from disclosure. But neither do I want to adopt the common assumptions that pervade the heavily guarded nature of most relationships for that leads me right back into the image management trap once again.

But enough on my counterfeit identity and problems. What I also wrote down that night was my ongoing pursuit of finding my true identity and beginning to live life in a more positive, fulfilling way as I move into living from the true heart that Jesus has already implanted within me. I still do not know very much about this real identity but interestingly I had just a day or two before this meeting asked God to begin to show me my true identity. And something had happened that I might nearly have forgotten if this discussion had not brought it back to my attention.

I remember sensing something of a communication one morning, a reminder that for many years my heart had admired the stories of Barnabas in the New Testament. It seemed that there was little chance that I would ever be known as a “Son of Encouragement”, which is what his name meant, but I really wanted to be that kind of person. Suddenly, as I was thinking about that it struck me – the bitterness and negativity that has plagued me for so many years is Satan's strategic attempt to attack and block the most important part of my identity. These problems that have been the hallmark of my counterfeit identity are the exact opposite of the characteristics of Barnabas and what he was known for. Maybe God was now beginning to reveal to me that this admiration of Barnabas and longing to be like him that has been inside of me for so many years are indeed strong clues as to my true identity, the part of me that uniquely reflects a certain facet of what God is like.

As I sat there listening to the men continue to discuss this issue my curiosity was aroused. I wanted to know how this fit in with the Scripture that twice had been given to me by small group leaders at the end of some group ministry sessions received during Ancient Paths seminars. I wanted to know if there was a correlation between this new revelation about myself and the verses that had deeply impressed me back then.

And the spirit of the Lord will come on you with power, and you will be acting like a prophet with them, and will be changed into another man. And when these signs come to you, see that you take the chance which is offered you; for God is with you. (1 Samuel 10:6-7 BBE)

I have felt that this was an indication of something that is going to happen to me that will dramatically alter the way I perceive myself as well as my whole life experience. I have no idea of how or when it will take place, but I do believe God is slowly preparing me internally for this outward experience to simply reveal what He has been doing internally for a very long time.

What is also interesting is that Barnabas was apparently the first and only person in Jerusalem who had enough faith and love and boldness to approach Saul of Tarsus and act as an intercessor and mediator to bring him into the fellowship of the other believers who were too bound by fear to think that far outside the box. Saul of Tarsus interestingly, was very likely named after the first king of Israel, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin that the above verses refer to originally. Saul of Tarsus was also of the tribe of Benjamin and soon became the world-famous Paul who ended up writing most of the New Testament and helped to turn the whole world upside down according to the reports of his enemies. But it was Barnabas that had enough courage to be a channel of the grace of God to bring Paul into the confidence of the church.

Barnabas seemed to always being doing those sorts of things. Pretty much every time he shows up in the Bible he is sticking up for an under-dog of some sort and trying to encourage and change the thinking of the more powerful and influential to perceive things differently. This even prompted him to have to stand up to Paul himself with a tenacity that would not allow John-Mark to be marginalized after pulling off a dismal first performance on a missionary trip.

I personally believe that Barnabas was a prayer-warrior that took the instructions of Jesus very literally when He taught us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. I believe that Barnabas had been specifically praying for Saul for some time and had targeted Saul so intently in his prayers of faith that to him Saul's dramatic conversion was almost a given; it was something he was expecting and so he had no problem being the first to embrace Saul and invite him into the fellowship of believers who were also learning to trust the love and grace of God more fully.

Like Barnabas, I have definitely been the type of person to challenge the status quo at times and desire to think outside the box on a regular basis. I do not do this just to be controversial but I feel it is important to challenge beliefs and assumptions if we are ever to grow into more complete truth. I continually challenge myself to find out what words really mean and how they really fit together, not just what people say or have always taught. This has been very rewarding and life-changing for me and I have grown tremendously over the past few years as a result.

In my research on the history of Barnabas I was also surprised to find that Barnabas was only a nickname given to him, it was not his original name. That to me was significant because I too want to have a new name that is not the description that I have too long assumed about myself and my identity. I want to have the name that God has known me by since long before my parents ever thought of me. I think I am starting to get a little clearer picture of the real identity that God implanted in me and wants to foster and mature into full revelation.

My old identity was based on performance, much of it dysfunctional and very performance-based.

My new identity must be found in what my heart was designed to do with passion.

My old identity sought to grasp for recognition and a sense of value by extracting it from others.

My new identity must learn to only look at God's face to know my real value – nowhere else.

My old identity is hopelessly entrenched in doubts and refuses to accept God's words to my heart in faith.

My new identity is a gift of grace and will always trust in the Giver of that grace to finish the work He has begun in me.

My old identity falls short of the grace that I need and consequently fosters roots of bitterness to poison not only my own life but all those around me.

My true identity knows that only grace can save and transform me and that God's faithfulness is the most important part of my salvation and I can only reflect faithfulness as I keep focused on Him.