Before any of us answers that question, I think a long pause is probably best. At first glance most of us may give the answer we think is best or the one we have used for the longest time or even hope is true, but is it the most honest and representative of who we are?
If we are still dealing with brokenness or unhealed wounds, too often they will be what define us. We may wish that were not true, but often it is. That person, ministry, business, or organization that was the cause still overshadows much of who we are. We tend to struggle with relationships, trust, an accurate self-assessment, and more. We have lost track of how to “let go” of what happened and “hang on” to the hope and healing the Lord offers us even if we believe in Him.
If we are in the midst of loss and grief, our sense of how we fit in the world and our relationships is muddy at best. We look through most things in our lives through the veil of the loss. We are not ourselves or at least not the self we were most accustomed to.
If we look to others for our sense of self, belonging, acceptance, etc., we will spend too many minutes exhausting ourselves trying to turn ourselves into a pretzel that may or may not be appreciated by others or reflect what is in our heart. And who are they to be given that much power? Why do we give them that power?
If we have just received a promotion or accomplished something we have worked hard for, we tend to define ourselves now as … you fill in the blank.
Make no mistake. Whatever we choose to define us has power over us.
It’s easy to get disoriented in our self-definition because never before have definitions been so freely and commonly used about us and toward us. Sadly the definitions are commonly one word. They become labels.
How can anyone be summed up in one word?
That one word quickly becomes a label and whether it is positive or negative, it still proves a snare because it doesn’t look at the whole of who we are and it is highly unlikely it looks at our hearts.
To know another person’s heart or even our own requires a considerable length of time listening and observing. Absent that, we too often assign what we hope or believe is true, even if it isn’t.
The truth is that it is still too easy to look at the surface, at the appearance. More and more we look at Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook moments, or the headlines shouting at us from every device. Sometimes we make an instant decision about someone or something without even recognizing that we are doing so. Yet those decisions not only define that person or thing, but begin to define us as well.
When we do so, we do it at our own peril.
We see that clearly repeatedly throughout scripture when God chooses the least likely, the most ordinary, the flawed, the youngest, or the oldest to work out his purposes and plans.
Then in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT) we see the issue identified clearly when Samuel is looking for whom he should anoint as king:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Do we recognize that our choices and decisions grow from what is in our heart?
We may believe we are not so obvious, but those things give us away every time.
As I was reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, I was reminded of the solid truth that points to who defines me:
“If our relationship to Jesus is our defining one, then every decision – big or little – passes through that filter. So instead of saying yes to prove our love and devotion to people or to Jesus, we are allowed to experience the freedom of saying no, based on the fact that we have nothing to prove. We already are beloved.
Our actions in life will always follow our choices. Our first decision is choosing our primary identity. Our calendar is not our primary identity. Our caregiving is not our primary identity. Our productivity is not our primary identity. Being ‘awesome’ is not our primary identity. As daughters (or sons) of God, our primary identity is Jesus. His power, then, extends over us, our work, our priorities, our everything.”