Identity, Truth, and Love

By Gwen Sellers

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Unconditional love. It's unnatural, and yet something for which our hearts yearn. But when it is given, are we able to accept it? To truly accept it, in that deep place in our hearts that we so often try to hide or protect or pretend doesn't exist?

The human life is strange. At 29, I thought I would have figured it out by now. Maybe not life as a whole, but at least who I am and what I'm doing here. I might be slower than some in doing the soul-searching work of figuring out who God designed me to be. But I also contend that we continue to get to know ourselves up until the day we die, especially considering God's work of sanctification. There are stable features of who God created us to be, yet He is also continually making us new, growing us, making us more like His Son. There is always a way to go deeper, another layer of the proverbial onion to be peeled, more growth to be had, a finer refinement, application of an old lesson in a new area, etc.

For any readers new on the self-discovery journey, please allow me to share some major mis-steps I've made in the hopes that you can avoid them — namely people-pleasing and self-sufficiency. As is common for me, this represents two opposite ends of a spectrum. In various arenas of my life I seem to try out each extreme before settling to a godlier tension — apparently one of those old lessons I keep being reminded to apply to new spheres.

People-pleasing set my focus completely externally and made my foundation of acceptability dependent on the whims of others. Considering that all humans are fallen and that God is the only ultimate source of Truth, this is a big problem. It leads to anxiety, depression, and a death of who God actually created me to be. Everyone misses out in this scenario: I don't enjoy it, other people don't get the benefit of who God created me to be, and God is not glorified. People-pleasing can appear very Christian. Being a "good Christian girl" was a major part of my people-pleasing. In fact, I thought it was pleasing to God. That's the other thing people-pleasing does, it gives a wrong impression of God and of salvation. When we work to please people so as to earn love, we tend to also do the same with God. But His love is not earned; in fact, it is impossible to earn love from God.

A beautiful truth is that God gives His love freely. He delights to love us. First John 4:7-10 says:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
When we think we have to earn God's love, we actually have a low view of God and a high view of self. Not only do we live with uncertainty and likely a profound sense of shame, we tend to also be prideful and judgmental. All around, people-pleasing is a bad life plan.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we get self-sufficiency. This is where we don't care what anyone thinks, sometimes including God. It's a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps view of life: I'm just going to decide who I am and be that person. But here again, there is anxiety, depression, a neglect of who God actually created me to be, and a profound sense of loneliness. Shame may also come into play. We put on a fiercely independent exterior, but inside know that something big is missing. Personally, though I've tried the self-sufficiency thing, it has never actually worked. All it ever amounted to was trying to talk myself into "getting it together." Rather than people-please, I was enslaved by trying hard not to care, kind of a twisted type of people-pleasing. Once again, bad life plan.

In my reaction against people-pleasing, I have been confused about what that means in terms of pleasing God. I understand that "good Christian girl" isn't what we're after, but that has left me somewhat at a loss. I have needed to divorce myself from others as my source of truth and come to God as the only source of Truth. It is His Word and His Spirit that lead me into truth, not what others say or the construct I've created in my own mind. This is a strange one for me because other people are helpful in discerning God's Truth. Certainly there is no such thing as a "solo Christian" and we should be very leery of anyone who claims some special truth from God. That being said, God's Word is the standard, not what I may perceive from the culture around me. Allowing Him to shape my beliefs and looking to Him for affirmation is what I need. So the heart posture is different. Instead of trying to fit into a preconceived "box" of what it looks like to live the Christian life, I need to simply look to Him and live it.

God doesn't do boxes. Try as I might — oh so many times — to fit God into an understandable box or myself into an understandable box or others into an understandable box, they just won't stay. God is unchanging and also incomprehensible. People are dynamic. We can know some helpful things as frameworks, but pigeon-holing myself or others simply does not work, plus adds a lot of unnecessary heartache. I too often fall for the lie that if I can fit things into a box they will be controllable, and that control is the key to mastering life. Folks, there is no mastering life. Life is meant to be lived, and it's meant to be lived with God. Life is an adventure, not a problem to be solved or a monster to be tamed. It is a love story, a purposeful and meaningful thing, a glimpse of the creativity and beauty of God, a preparation for future glory that actually matters, a gift. Jesus came to live a life on earth. Certainly that validates the significance of our time here.

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Published on 5-2-16