Every year more books are written with a goal of pointing us to the path of discovering who we are or who we can become. Each one attempts to take us on a journey of self-discovery through one means or another on this quest. The number of volumes written on this subject in one form or another seems to suggest we don’t have a clear understanding of who we are or are becoming.
I quite agree that we take a bit of time to know ourselves. It doesn’t happen all at once.
We begin the discovery process as babes in the arms of our parents who give us a sense of who we are. They name us and respond to us in varied ways that start to let us gain a sense of self and connection based on our style of attachment. They are the beginnings of learning what relationships are – that crucial understanding that defines the quality of our lives according to Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy in their fascinating book, Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do.
It is during these very early weeks of life that we get a sense of what self might be. The messages (even if casually communicated) tend to sink into the malleable developing person we are growing and becoming. Not only do we receive a name, but we learn words and their meanings during these very early years.
“Our earliest relationships are profoundly important. They literally shape the chemical processes in the brain responsible for how we control our impulses, calm our strong emotions, and develop our memories of our early family life.”
Drs. Clinton and Sibcy
Not only do words begin to shape our sense of self, so do facial expressions, and how we are held or touched or not. All of these come together to help form our core beliefs about ourselves and others.
Clinton and Sibcy state the first set of core beliefs center around 2 critical questions:
- Am I worthy of being loved?
- Am I competent to get the love I need?
And they further state the second set of beliefs center on these two questions:
- Are others reliable and trustworthy?
- Are others accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them to be?
Long before we can speak for ourselves a great deal has been communicated and internalized. Dr. Maurice Wagner writes in his powerful book, The Sensation of Being Somebody, that there are three functional aspects to this developing self-concept: appearance (How do I look?), performance (How am I doing?), and status (How important am I?). These are combined with three feelings that blend together: belongingness (Am I wanted, cared for, and enjoyed?), worthiness (Do I count?), and competence (Am I adequate? The “I can” feeling.).
As research has studied the brain, attachments, and relationships more and more deeply, it can feel overwhelming to realize all of this and more. Add to the family we grow up in all the other adults and children that begin to add to or reinforce our beliefs and your head can be swimming.
Nearly all of us have echoes of something said to us on a playground or class by a peer or the words of praise or criticism said by a teacher or coach. Sadly, we are more prone to remember those things that were hurtful or painful, negative or rejecting. Sometimes we take up those very habits that we repeat to ourselves about ourselves.
It is not surprising then that we can be on a life-long journey to try to discover who we really are and who we are meant to be. Sometimes we struggle to confront the lies we believe and too often we still doubt.
As I spend time reflecting and reading about the life of Peter, I am interested in his journey. Until Jesus came along and invited Peter to follow Him, he was a fisherman known as Simon. He appears to tend toward impulsiveness and may have learned to be a bit rough around the edges as he toiled many nights on the sea with his nets fishing.
What encourages my heart and blesses me is that Jesus knew this rowdy fisherman was far more than the smell of fish. He knew who He would be, and He knows that about each one of us.
In Matthew 16:15-18 we can read the interchange where Jesus asks his disciples who they believe He is. Peter is the first to answer and says He is the Messiah, the son of God, but consider what Jesus tells him in response. He changes his name to Peter and tells him he is the rock on which he will build His church and even Hades will not overcome it.
I cannot help but wonder if Peter’s mouth dropped open in shock at that point. He knew himself as a simple uneducated fisherman and he was captivated by the call of Jesus to become his disciple, but to be the rock on which the Lord’s church would be built must have seemed incredulous.
The important part of Peter’s time spent walking with Jesus day-by-day was how time in His presence helped Simon (a.k.a. Peter) become the person Jesus already knew was there.
Eric and Kristen Hill in The First Breakfast describe it this way:
“Simon, with Jesus in him, becomes Peter. Simon, the fisherman, transforms into Peter, the Rock. Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question reveals what had been born deep in his heart. And it causes Jesus to affirm back to Peter exactly who He says Peter is to be. It is the Jesus in him and with him that allows Simon to rise up and step into his new identity as Peter.”
That is the hope for each of us. Transforming grace born from the Lord who lives within us tells us the truth and in so doing helps us become what He has seen all along.
He accomplishes the impossible. He corrects all the messages and beliefs that contradict the truth that God placed in each one of us when we were created by Him, but it happens for us like it did Peter – by spending time in his presence.
When you hear it in the depths of your being from Him, it settles the question of “who am I?”.
Consider how Eric and Kristen Hill remind us of that:
“You will know yourself, as you are already known. And because I am with you, you have a new name, and a new identity, and a new mission. Not because of you, but because I am with you. Because of who I am and what I will do in your life. My Covenant is greater than your commitment. And because I am with you, you are free to know yourself as you are already known and rise up and be who I call you to be.”