We all want to be seen a certain way. To prove this point one only needs to look to the Instagram feed or Facebook profile of someone. Both are filled with the 'highlight reel' of our existence, with 'real life' left somewhere in the dust. In the age of social media we have all learned that what matters is not who we are, but how we shoe ourselves to the world. We put our best foot forward and show the world the person that we want to be. We show the trips we have taken, the adventures we have had, the meals we enjoy, and so on, and so forth. If only there was an app that could show the two feet outside of each picture or what transpired fifteen minuets before each post...
But for so many people, for most I would dare assume, that's not who they are. We try to make every night legendary, but if every night is legendary, no night is. (Pardon the How I Met Your Mother reference.) But we still do it. We still want the world to think that we've made it, wherever 'it' may be. We want our peers to think we have it all together. We want those who are younger than us, or 'under' us to look up to us. We want people to admire the things we do, or the things we abstain from doing. We have a way in which we want to be seen, believing that if people see us this way; we shall become that person.
But when we finally turn off the phone, get of social media, or take a trip away to get away from it all we are left to wrestle with what we know about ourselves. When we are alone, when we remove all other voices we begin to hear our own. The voice that knows us as no other does. And it is the voice in our head, the voice in my head, that is believed above all others.
Growing up we all learned the little rhyme, "Sticks and stones my break my bones, but word will never hurt me." Perhaps you, like me said these words on the playground as a defense. I grew up as a fat kid and said them more than once. But the truth is that words do hurt. Sticks and stones may hurt our bones but words go deeper still. Words go deeper than bones, words hit our heart, words pierce our soul. Words are what shape the person we are, and words are what shape the person that we will become. And far too often we allow words to shape us in all the wrong ways.
I have, over the past two years, come back to words; words that have shaped me. The most damning of them all, words sent by text. Words not even spoken, but words that reached my soul none the less. These words have spoken to me that I am not good enough. These words that have stood to say that if I were better, things would be better. These words have said that I deserve neither love or to love. And more times than not, I have allowed these words to shape me. These have been the words which echoed in my soul as I lay in bed trying to sleep. These have been the words which I have heard each time plans fell through and I spent time alone. These are the words which haunted me like a ghost each time I sat in darkness.
But as damning as these words of others have been, there have been voices that have wounded me deeper still. For in listening to these words I allowed myself to believe them. And in believing them I have began to echo what they have said. I spoke these words to myself. Each time I began to envy where other were, or felt the pain of where life had me, I would tell myself that if I were better than things in my life would be better. Each time I felt the pain of loneliness, I would echo the words said to me and believe that I was not lovable. I would believe that I was not to love or be loved. I would say these things to myself. And I assume that I am not alone in this. I allowed words aimed as arrows to pierce my heart and wound my soul. I allowed these words to shape who I was and how I saw myself.
I have more vises than a Baptist would like. Which might be why I have ended up at a Presbyterian church. Even writing this I have a pipe clenched between my teeth and the aroma of a Virginia cavendish swirling around my room thick enough to see. I have a dry hopped sour next to my computer and an empty can of the same in the trash. But of all my faults I try to be an honest man. Growing up Southern I was taught that a liar was the worst thing a man can be, that and a coward. Perhaps that is why Dante put three lying cowards in the deepest part of hell. Perhaps he would have been a good Southern Gothic had time allowed. But as much as I desire to be an honest man, I must admit I do lie. And my lies are deadly, for I lie to myself. More than I would ever permit myself to lie to others or more than that would allow others to lie to me and stay in my life, I lie to myself. And worse than that, I continue to listen to my voice.
I the middle of these lies I hear the echo of words, words not mine.
In Genesis chapter 3 we see a picture of our first parents. At this point in their story they had also believed the deadly words of a lie. They fell prey to smooth words from a forked tongue and believed that God was holding out on them. But in the middle of this God still entered in. And when He finally got their attention they declared to Him that they were not good enough. A feeling, and a voice, I know all too well. And in this narrative God could have cast them out. He would have been right to do so. But instead He posed a question to their declaration of shame. "Who told you?" Those words have pierced my heart as much as any other words that I have believed in the past. Who told you that you weren't good enough? Who told you that you that you're not good enough to be loved? Who told you to stay away? Who told you?
Words shape our identity. And the words which shape us are the ones we believe. It doesn't matter what's true as much as it matter what we believe. The words we believe are the ones that shape us. And into a life that was shaped by lies I heard the words of Christ bellow out, 'Who told you..?'
For Christ had declared that I am loved. That I was loved before time began, set apart for salvation before the foundations of the world. He speaks words to me that I am beloved, chosen, desired, loved, and lovable. He has told me that I was desired and adopted into a family that loved me. And, if you are in Christ, He bellows out the same to you.
Within the opening words of Ephesians the Holy Spirit declares who I am, and who you are if you have been adopted into the family of Abba through the sacrifice of Christ. In these words, written by the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit speaks words which declare that I am blessed, chosen, holy, blameless, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and united to a family. And all of this was done through the wisdom of God. He didn't bring anyone in, then try for a mulligan.
I often fall back into the lies which I have so often spoken to myself. But into these words I now hear the declaration echoing from a garden long ago, 'Who told you?' We allow our identity to become shaped by what we believe about ourselves. And though we often allow lies to enter in. We all need, I need, to be reminded of the truth. And nothing is more true than the words God speaks over us. What He declares is final. So I invite you to join me in being reminded. I invite you to allow the word of Christ to penetrate the lies that have shaped identity. When the lies of the world, the lies of the enemy, and the most believed lied of our own voice speak. We must allow the word of our Abba Father to declare who we truly are. No matter what me may feel or believe.
So when you begin to think of who you are, join me in first hearing the question, 'Who told you..?'