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Who do you trust your identity to?

Because the issue of people believing lies about themselves is so pervasive and because the resulting masks they wear need to be removed, I hope that you’ll read this blog all the way through and start asking yourself a few hard questions like, “Is this who I really am?” and “Is this who God in…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Because the issue of people believing lies about themselves
is so pervasive and because the resulting masks they wear need to be removed, I hope that you’ll read this blog all the way through and start asking yourself
a few hard questions like, “Is this who I really am?” and “Is this who God intended
me to be?”

On the outside you may look great. Your smile and sunny attitude (like my own)
can hide a lot. But the tawdry little
secret you and I often hide is that we are struggling to find our
real selves. The good news is that if your struggle feels
personal and isolating, really your experience is a lot like the experience of others. I estimate that about 95% of the people I meet
are struggling to shed a false identity that was birthed in a batch of lies
that well-intentioned people said about them.

These people love us or at least a certain part of us. They love the fact that you were a cheerleader or a
sports star or a scholar or funny or artistic.

Over time, what they said
about that part of you began to define how you saw yourself. Or maybe some part of you really bothered
them, and they said things like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” not
realizing the insecurity it created.

We need to pay attention to the people in our lives who
have helped define who we are. The
primary way we find our sense of identity is through what people say about us. It
can’t be helped. But what we have to recognize is that, as adults, we can move
beyond the opinions of others to what God first thought about us when he
thought us up.

Unfortunately for some of us, we have little or no control
over what people are telling us about ourselves for the first 18 years of our
lives. Our parents, especially, are
around us all the time – they may have told us many false things about ourselves when we were at our most vulnerable and impressionable stage of life. Or, if Mom and Dad spoke life and confidence
into us, then they positioned us to soar out of the nest.

So, we don’t get to choose Mom and Dad. If they’re wounded, they speak out of that
wounding, and without realizing it they can saddle us with a handicap – baggage
that we either lug around or struggle to shed.
Our identities and spirits are stunted in their growth.

But here’s the good news – our identities, like our minds,
have a plasticity to them. We can move
beyond the lies and labels that someone else hung around our necks and embrace
the identity that God intended for us when he first thought us up and fashioned
us in our mother’s womb.

Many of us need to be re-formed. We need a personal re-formation. We can actually be re-created, becoming new
creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). No one
has been so abused and kicked to the curb that they can’t take on this new
identity. I can’t tell you how many
people I’ve seen transformed in this way:
Jennifer Smith shed her identity as a drug addict and street
walker. Mary Lou Jackson shed her
identity as a witch. Chad Mast shed his
identity as a successful businessman.
Rusty Jackson shed his identity as a sports anchor and playboy.

How did they do it?
Well, they needed help. They all
decided to trust people who spoke life and truth about who they really are and
who God intended them to be. They took a
hard look at where their old, broken identities had come from and said, “Those
people didn’t know the real me. They
didn’t believe in my core, and they weren’t trustworthy. I’m going to exchange what they said about
who I am with what God says.” And then they began to walk through the painful process of identifying the core lies and the wounds they’ve been living with. Not knowing for sure if it would be safe, they chose to trust.

With the help of these people they trusted, they began to erase the old tapes. Every old tape that replayed some sorry,
unquestioned lie they then identified for the bogus death-dealing weapon of the
enemy it was and they said “NO!” to it.
They refused to continue giving credence to the discredited voices that originated the tapes. Instead of living according to some default
setting from childhood, they chose to believe truth and trust the re-formation
of their identity to trustworthy people who could see their real, core self.

This is the essence of spiritual fathering and mothering. We get to peer into the deepest recesses of a
person’s soul and participate with God in a startling and amazing thing – the
re-birth of a human being. Jesus said it
best, “You must be born again.” He wasn’t
talking about saying some trite little sinner’s prayer. The Bible never says that! He was talking about becoming a new person
and taking on a new identity.

Karen and I believe so much in this process that we have
signed up to spend a year coaching a team of 32 twenty-somethings to shed their false
selves and embrace who God says they really are as they go around the world
beginning this July. We have been
earning trust with them since April, praying with them, reading their blogs,
and learning about them. They are the best and the brightest of their
generation. They know that if they are to make it around the world together,
they will have to go through a hard process of moving beyond the painful parts of their formative years to
root out the lies and erase the old tapes. Maybe they have an inkling that on the other side of that process is a measure of non-narcissistic greatness.

If you’re still stuck in an old identity that isn’t the real
you, do yourself a favor and trust yourself to someone who loves you enough to
help you find your true self in all the sparkling glory that God intended when
he first thought you up.

It will not happen overnight. Once you decide to trust them, make an
appointment to talk at length about all these labels and lies that you’ve
acquired. Write down the lies and where
they came from. Then write down what God
says – the biblical truth that invalidates the lie. Then, together with the person you’re
trusting, pray through that list, renouncing each lie (and perhaps any curses
attached to them), and declaring the biblical truth.

Then every time you feel the enemy reaching to hit the
replay button on an old tape, recognize what is going on – it is a fight for
your soul! You must fight back. Get
violent and take authority. Jesus
declares that you are a new creation. Your
enemy was driving you over a cliff, but Jesus is pulling you back from the
edge. His hand is locked into yours and
his grasp is firm. He says you’re worth
it and he will help you exchange your false self for a new one.

If you know you struggle with wearing a false identity and
believing lies about yourself, then working through this issue is the most important thing you can
do. You need to give it your top
priority. Books can help, but I strongly
recommend that you find someone to help you.
If you can get to Gainesville, I will find someone to help you go
through this process or take you through it myself.

Read more blogs on identity issues

Some books:

Victory Over the Darkness

Search for Significance

Inside Out

Comments (15)

  • good, Bro, really good… all four teen-agers are going through the “Warrior Journal” and loving it…

  • My best friend Steen and I have been doing this after we read this verse in psalm 51 (the message) “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” I love the idea of a Genesis Week. Being re-created in the truth and letting go of all the lies we have believed for so long about ourselves. And, there are plenty of lies I have believed that people have spoken over me.

  • katie, WR july 08

    It is an interesting thing for some of us (like me) that our false identities can be grounded in a religious mask and being the good Christian girl. As I go on the world race I feel the Lord calling me OUT and calling me UP to become a WARRIOR not a meek good girl. Because He has given me a “spirit of POWER, of LOVE and of a SOUND MIND.” Shedding ALL identities of this world, including those of the church, and learning to walk as a true princess of the King of the Universe…whew. I’m ready to go.

  • As Thomas Merton says, pray for your discovery, not you will discover yourself, but that God will discover himself in you. Thanks Seth.

  • Seth, your commitment to investing in people is truly laudable and flirts with being counterintuitive, but yetis so life giving. I struggle with that concept because it is nearly impossible to quantify the returns. Moreover, for me to take a “long position” on an individual would require such a rigorous assessment that very people would meet.
    I think the roles we play in society do have a place in defining who we are because to a greater or lesser extent they serve as the end product of an investment we have made and believing that people make investments wisely then they should serve as a decent indicator of who we are. For example, though being a doctor, husband or father do not completely define an individual they do speak to what is found at the core of an individual. From such a bio one could deduce that the individual has a serious commitment to the health of others, believes in the value of having a family which is enunciated through his willful forfeiting of absolute autonomy that comes with bachelorhood, etc.
    My thoughts on this are not as succinct as I would like them to be, but in short, I applaud you and Karen for this endeavor and look forward to hearing why you do it.
    Lastly, I think the Jesuit concept of “detachment” could be valuable in this discussion. What I mean by this is that I do take pride in what I do for a living and the long term goals I have set for myself, however I think it is imperative that one remained partly detached from these defining characteristics because if and when our dreams do not come to fruition (for whatever reason) that we are not crushed. People need to maintain this detachment with money, jobs, titles, etc. Estie has taught me alot about detachment and I am better for it.

  • Kevin,

    thanks for digging deep on this. i’d like to try and clarify a bit more:

    the issue isn’t “is my role helpful in describing who i am?” – the issue is “where do i find my self-worth?” If it’s from my job or what my boss says and i’m unfairly treated on a regular basis, then poor me. If who i am comes from what God says about me and who i am in relationship to him, then i can weather life’s storms.

    ultimately, the Westminster Catechism is wrong, “The chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever.”

    WRONG! The chief end of man is to be beloved of God. He’s the starting point, not us. He created us in his image – that’s the starting point for our identity.

  • hmmm…that’s good.

    and if you like the John Piper take on it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied [complete, defined, identified, etc] in Him.” (brackets mine) Therefore, us allowing the Lord to lavish his love on us is the very thing that brings the Lord the most glory.

  • Great stuff, bro. Especially on the sinner’s prayer and being born again. You’re dead on. That’s great what your wife and you are doing. Keep speaking truth and letting your life resonate with the reality that everything is a gift from God and He is redeeming back His creation(s).

    Good reco on Inside Out, too. Larry Crab is pretty insightful in a lot of things.

  • This is just what I’ve been talking with my good girlfriend about!! I’ve been re-reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning this week too, and I highly recommend it. It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to be confident knowing we are the Father’s belovedand resting in that alone! Good entry Seth!

  • I love this Seth! I love seeing people walking in their new identity, and the impact being around you (and everyone at AIM) has had on me in this matter. I didn’t really realize how much of my identity used to be wrapped up in me as a ‘pageant girl’ until I came to AIM – within this safe community I’ve seen grace, love, and acceptance in a new way. It’s helped me learn to love and embrace ALL of who I am – even the flaws – as God made me, and really come to terms in an even deeper way (though I thought I’d already done all this) with my full identity and acceptance in Christ.

    I went to dinner last friday night with a group of young women I used to compete in the Miss Alabama pageant with. Though I love them, and part of me will always be a ‘pageant girl’ – I walked out feeling (for the first time) like I no longer fit into a place (identity) I used to fit into perfectly. After 19 years of competing, it threw me for a loop! It was a foreign, uncomfortable, but amazing revelation… now I know that was something I did and loved, but it does NOT define me.

    THANK YOU for welcoming me into a safe place where I’ve grown so much the past 9 months!

  • Seth, as always, great blog. We’ve had the discussion before, “Can people REALLY change?” and you’ve proven they can. But the decision is a personal oneyou have to WANT to change, and take the necessary ACTION to change. I also like the thoughts on personal re-formation…

  • Seth – I thank the Lord for you, Karen and other spritual mothers and fathers who are investing in our generation. It reminds me a bit of our latest leadership call – “We need to ask ourselves what ‘fruit’ the Lord wants to leave behind to endure when we are gone”. People who’s identity is rooted in Christ alone is some pretty good fruit:) Steph

  • Take action. What does that mean? I’ve been emotionally abused all my life (although I don’t remember my childhood very much) and also am a survivor of sexual abuse. I am very faithful to the Lord but am having a hard time figuring out and most of all, accepting who I am. Help!

  • Thank you for writing this article. I am greatly moved by what you had said. Thank you again for writing this article because it has changed me. The journey of self discovery and acceptance begins now!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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