Category Archives: Identity in Christ

Learning to Boast

I grew up in the Midwest, but I moved to California to attend graduate school. I have to admit that it was quite a culture shock to go from cornfields to concrete, from rolling hills to mountains and beaches, from blue skies to smog, and from 2 lane country roads to 12 lane highways – with traffic stopped in both directions! But there was another more subtle difference, one that I didn’t pick up on right away. Students begin to compete for practicum placements in the second year of my graduate program. During these interviews, I noticed how bold many of the students were in answering questions. They had no hesitation in proclaiming their many accomplishments. It seemed brash at best and arrogant at worst. I was more subtle in my answers and often downplayed my accomplishments. This was what I was taught to do. I’d walk away believing I had interviewed well but would rarely get the placement. Thankfully, one of my professors, who was also a transplant from the Midwest, took note. She pulled me aside and explained that I was experiencing a major cultural difference. In the Midwest, humility is highly valued and appearing proud is avoided at all costs. She explained that this is not so on the West Coast. What I was interpreting as brash, was really students advocating for themselves. She challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and to do the same.

It seems like when it comes to accepting our identity in Christ, it can feel a little like bragging or boasting. It can feel selfish and prideful to even begin to think of ourselves as anything but horribly sinful people. It’s so easy to forget that God created us and called us very good. Therefore, if you do not love and accept yourself, you are actually in disagreement with God because He loves and accepts you! It is so important to accept God’s love and in doing so learn to love yourself, not in a selfish way but in a way that simply affirms God’s creation (you) as good and right and beautiful. Just like my interviewers couldn’t know about my real talents and abilities until I told them, a hurting world can’t know of God’s love until you tell them through the way you love others. And you cannot give away love that you haven’t truly accepted for yourself. See, our confidence does not come from our own abilities or achievements. No, our confidence comes from our identity in Christ and what God does through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And one last thought… anytime we don’t shine as brightly as God intended us to, we are robbing Him of glory due Him. Any shine we have is simply a reflection of His glory. So let’s learn to shine brightly and boast, not about our own abilities, but about God’s grace and goodness. Let’s accept how much God loves each and everyone of us and confident share that love with others!

Hi. My name is Karen. I’m an approval addict.

Well, at least I was. I like to think I’m in recovery now. My addiction began at an early age. As the story goes, as a toddler I would begin to cry if my parents even looked at me wrong. Whether two, or twenty-two, I desperately wanted my parents’ approval and accolades (along with everyone else’s). And I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them or anyone else either.

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If you are like me, at different points in your life, you’ve tried to find self-worth in a multitude of places, all of which left you wanting. Perhaps you tried accomplishment. If I just get straight As, then I’ll have worth as a person. (Until the next assignment.) Or if I make the basketball team or be voted homecoming queen, I’ll finally feel valuable. (Until the season ends and the crown is passed to another.) If I just get that promotion, teach another Sunday school class, or head up the PTA then I’ll finally feel ok. (Except it’s never enough to make the feeling last.) I’ll be the best mom and have the best kids. (Until they become teenagers and make decisions of their own.) Maybe you’ve tried to define yourself by accumulation. If I wear the right clothes, I’ll finally feel good about myself. (Until the trend changes.) The right car or the big house will make life feel complete. (Until you meet someone who has something bigger and better.) The right number of likes on Instagram or followers on Twitter will make me feel significant. (Except it doesn’t.) Or maybe you’ve looked to others to tell you that you matter. Maybe, like me, you’ve longed to hear others affirm your value with words like “great job” and “you’re the best!”

There are many problems with seeking self-worth in accolades, or what others say about you. For one thing, the words never last. You end up needing more and more to feel secure. Seeking the approval and praises of others truly becomes an addiction when you can never have enough. Secondly, it is unrealistic to think that others will always sing your praises. You’ll likely make a bad decision and get in trouble. You’ll do poorly on a school or work project and be spoken to by your teacher or boss. You’ll let an easy grounder go right through your legs and here your teammates and coaches groan. And no matter how hard you try, there will be that one person (if not more) that just doesn’t like you for apparently no reason at all. Seeking approval and fearing disappointment or anger of others can lead to boundary problems and an inability to say no or express your own opinion.

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And finally, what happens when someone spreads a nasty rumor about you? Defining yourself by what others say really doesn’t work when what others say isn’t positive or true. Unfortunately, I think most of people have had this happen. I know I certainly have. I broken friendship led to the other person spreading horrible and untrue rumors about my character among our other friends and community. Had this happened to me in high school (thankfully it did not), I would have been absolutely devastated and would not have known how to handle it. Thankfully, when it did occur, I had a better sense of self and wise advisors to guide me in how to respond, which largely meant not responding at all and allowing my actions and character to speak for me. Yes, I was hurt, but I was devastated like I would have been in the past.

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When we search for self-worth in accomplishment, accumulation, or accolades, we are often left with regret. We are left unsatisfied and longing for more. All we can focus on is all of the ways we aren’t enough and we give power to things and people that do not really deserve to have it – like the grade on that paper or a new gadget we’ve purchased or what some peer says about us. When end up feeling insecure and acting in selfish ways. That’s the problem. Future blogs are going to focus on the solution. But tell me, does this resonate with you? How do you define yourself? Where do you look to find self-worth? Accomplishments? Accumulation? Accolades? Regrets? And when you look in those places, what do you find? Are you satisfied or left longing for more?

Nikes and Nintendos

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As children, my mom always dressed my sister and I in name brand clothes and honestly, we rarely went without any toy or treat our hearts desired. Remember the original Nintendo? It was a big day in the Cleveland household when Dad showed up after work with one! And it wasn’t even Christmas or anyone’s birthday! Now, it wasn’t that we were wealthy, but we weren’t poor either. Plus my mom worked at a department store and is a super shopper. (And bless my mother’s heart, she was somehow able to keep me looking somewhat fashionable despite the fact that I preferred jeans to dresses, sports jerseys to cute tops, and I refused to take off my Iowa Hawkeye jacket, no matter how cold or snowy it became outside.) Now, we weren’t completely spoiled and my parents did say no. There were some fads my mother allowed to pass us by. Remember hypercolor shirts? I wanted one so badly, but she just couldn’t figure out a shirt that started off ugly and only got uglier when exposed to the sun. But my parents loved giving us good gifts.

Things for my family changed when my dad unexpectedly lost his job. I’ll never forget going school shopping during that time. It was the first time my gym shoes were from WalMart instead of Nikes or Asics. I remember being so nervous that kids were going to make fun of me. They didn’t, but I still had a sense that what I had was somehow less than everyone else.

If you’ve been on this journey with me from the beginning, first, I say thank you (if you haven’t – welcome) and if you’ve been reading along, you’ve noticed a theme. I feel passionately that the biggest things that prevent us from finding worth in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter are our own accomplishments, accumulation, and chasing accolades. I think it is easy to acknowledge and own ways that our accomplishment (or lack thereof) begin to define us. I’m not so sure that it is as easy to own the other two. No one wants to be known as materialistic or as an approval addict. But I know I’ve been both.

Whether we use accumulation of things as a way to fit in, impress, or to fill some other need, it never really works well. The second you buy a new car or gadget, an even newer and better model comes out and the guy down the street has it. About the time you purchase the latest fad, the fad has passed and everyone is onto something else. In keeping up with the Jones, we really end up losing ourselves. King Solomon was the wealthiest man of his day. His net worth would have rivaled Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. And after accumulating everything his heart could desire or imagine, he concluded that it was all meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2). And even Jesus had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8).

My WalMart shoes weren’t as expensive or considered as good as my classmates’ Nikes.  And yet, my personal worth had not changed. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but how often do we allow our personal worth to be defined by things we have? For my family, money stayed tight for years to come and it was one of the best things that could have happened. Don’t get me wrong, I love nice things. And I still love shoes! My father frequently teases me about the sheer volume of my shoe collection. The important difference? I don’t need things to feel ok, or accepted, or valued. Things don’t consume me or own me or define me or cause anxiety.

What do you tend to accumulate? Maybe it isn’t anything material at all. Do you accumulate titles? Awards? Friends? Likes on Instagram? Why is it that even though we know that the stuff of this world can’t really give us personal worth (that money can’t really buy us happiness),  we tend to still hope that somehow it will?