Lesson 2 - Misplaced Identities
Shame and Blame
Identity is that by which something is defined and from which it receives its value. Where we find our identity is crucial, because it is the place that we are defined and it is the source of our value.
As Cari outlines here, there are several ways that we can be lured into living out a false identity. The first way we misplace our identity is by trying to define ourselves. Although this option seems attractive at the outset, it won’t ultimately work because anytime we try to define ourselves, we unwittingly try to find our value in our accomplishments. This means that, try as we might, we’ll never be able to measure up.
And the end product of a self-defined identity is always shame—I’m not enough. And when we can’t measure up, we turn around and blame the others around us. “Blame is always the birth-child of shame,” as Cari explains it. “It’s an exhausting, exhausting way to live.” If we can’t learn to find our identity somewhere else—in Someone else—we’ll eventually succumb to bitterness and shame, and our vitality and humanity will shrivel up. As Martin Luther once put it, sin makes the human heart incurvatus in se: “curved in on itself.” And when the heart is curved in upon itself, it is unable to flourish, yet alone survive, in the world. It is unable to see the beauty and truth present and available to it.
Before going any further, spend a few minutes to take stock on the state of your identity, and be ruthlessly honest about it. Where do you currently find your identity? Where do you derive your value? What makes you feel really good about yourself but you’ve ultimately found creates a source of hollowness?
Think about your experiences in trying to define yourself, rather than letting God define you. How have you experienced shame through a misplaced identity? How has this caused you to blame others?
Comparison and Competition
When we’re not trying to define ourselves (and failing), we’re trying to define ourselves in comparison to the people around us. Comparison, as Cari wryly notes, is the more socially acceptable way to misplace our identities, but it’s no less toxic. When we feel ashamed, we compare: “The birth-child of feeling unacceptable will always be comparison.”
And so we compete with the people in our lives—our co-workers, our neighbors, and even (especially?) our friends—in all kinds of ways, but Cari summarizes this phenomenon under the “Three O’s”:
–Others: How do I stack up compared to the people around me?
–Ownership: I can prove my worth by accumulating things.
–Occupation: I show that I’m valuable by what I do for a living.
Comparison has been a perennial human problem. After all, comparison is serious enough to be outlawed in the ten commandments:
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.
And that was before Instagram!
But there’s a more sinister side to comparison. When we are constantly measuring ourselves against each other, says Cari, it turns our relationships into transactions and persons into objects. And, if we’re tempted to think of coveting as a victimless crime, we’d do well to listen to James:
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
There are all kinds of ways that we compare ourselves to others, but let’s take a moment to consider the “Three O’s.” Name some of the ways you’ve been tempted to misplace your identity in: 1) your relationship to others 2) the things that you own 3) what you do for your occupation.
Coveting is dangerous, which is why God outlaws it in the ten commandments. Why, in your experience, is coveting so lethal to our spiritual health? If we know it makes us miserable, why do we continue to covet?
Why is it, Cari asks, that people all over the world are buying tabloids to read about English infants—whether its Princess Charlotte or, more recently, Prince Archie? Isn’t it strange, for instance, that a morning show would hold a baby shower for a princess of another country, or that Americans obsess over the christening photos of child who is seventh in line to the throne of a largely ceremonial empire?
Why do we care? Because we know the baby’s bloodlines. It may seem outdated or quaint in this new world of egalitarian politics where monarchies are dying out, but there is still something compelling, even powerful, about the concept of royal blood. Another way of saying it is that Princess Charlotte matters because of who her father is.
And that’s how the Bible sees it when it comes to us, according to Cari: We matter because of who our Father is. According to the New Testament, we have been adopted by God, and adoption changes our bloodlines:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
Because of who our Father is, we are valuable, we are loved, and we are free to become who we’re meant to be because our identity is secure in God.
“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters,” says Paul in Romans 8:15, which entitles us to call God Abba—“Daddy.” Take a moment to reflect on how astonishing it is that, because you’ve been adopted, you can call the Creator of the Universe your father. How might this realization change how you understand your identity and worth?
Royal blood comes with both privileges and responsibilities. Prince George will have to take the throne when his father, William, dies. It’s the same with us who have been adopted by God. This entitles us to rights—love, value, access, freedom—but it obligates us to responsibilities, too. What responsibilities are expected of a child of God?
"I Don't Accept the Opinions of Men"
Perhaps the greatest benefit of adoption as daughters and sons of the Most High King is freedom from the tyranny of others’ opinions. Cari illustrates this freedom by looking at Jesus, who was supremely secure in his relationship to the Father, and, as a result, conducted himself without the anxiety of trying to define his own identity or comparing himself with others.
Even more remarkably, Jesus acted this way not only when people were criticizing him, but when they were trying to praise him. “I do not accept the testimony of men,” Jesus says in John 5:32–34. “There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.”
In other words: It doesn’t matter one way or the other what people say about us, because we have been adopted by the one One whose testimony matters in the end.
It can seem impossible to free ourselves from the tyranny of others’ opinions about us. It goes to our head when we’re praised, and it goes to our heart when we’re criticized. Why are we so liable to root our self-worth in what others say about us?
Jesus lived with an almost incomprehensible indifference to what people said about him, whether positive or negative. What are some practices we can implement to cultivate the wisdom we need to find our identity in God alone and disregard the opinions of others?
No Fear of the Furnace
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