I found myself in a new context with old problems. I was no longer comparing myself to teens in the various social strata of high school. I was measuring myself against other believers. The characteristics and practices of church folk became the standard to which I anchored my identity. If I could conform to those things well, I would be able to feel good about who I was. And so, I aspired to everything from speaking in tongues to making homemade jam.
To be sure, I wanted to please God, but I assumed my level proficiency in pious practices and churchy activities would basically correlate to the level of pleasure and interest God took in me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at most of them. I didn’t sing, wasn’t extroverted or expressive (suspect in a Pentecostal setting), and was completely unpracticed in church culture and propriety. I didn’t have an impressive prayer life and hadn’t succeeded in converting any of my friends. I certainly couldn’t sew, crochet, or use a crock pot. (I did, however, pick up Christian-eese pretty fast. I had no idea what I was saying, but I could talk a good talk!) All the same, my identity was on as shaky ground as ever.
You know, I’ve discovered that I’m at my meanest when my identity is in crisis. This is because suddenly all of life becomes filtered through what it means about me. I am defensive and I play the comparison game. I look around and there is always someone… Someone who is smarter, more talented. Someone with better hair, cuter clothes. Someone more successful, more ambitious. Someone more disciplined, wise, spiritual. Someone friendlier, more outgoing. Someone kinder, more selfless and hospitable.
And a part of me wishes that those someones were unintelligent and uncoordinated, that their hair was ugly and their clothes were frumpy, that they had a mean streak and a disorganized home, that they were undisciplined, a little less spiritual, and a lot less popular. Why? Because when my identity is in crisis, my main goal in life is to validate myself—and that is very blinding. I’m motivated to glory in the faults of others. I’m not at all pleased that people’s qualities and abilities are a blessing to themselves, to others, or to God. I’m not thankful for the way those gifts benefit the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. All I see is what those gifts (and my lack) mean about me—namely, that I don’t measure up.
I’m not even seeing my own gifts. I’m so busy pouting that I don’t have everyone else’s that I don’t put mine to good use.
Sadly, this is where I was for a long time after I became a follower of Christ—and where I sometimes still am.
In short, I was secure in my destiny, but not in my identity. I knew God had saved me, but I didn’t think he took any pleasure in me. He was likely sighing and shaking his head in disappointment. I wanted to catch his eye but felt so unspectacular.
And that’s all for now. Please come back for part 4 and see what happens when I begin to wrestle with theology and identity.