I flipped through the pages of the brand new Seventeen Magazine, whose arrival in the mailbox was greatly anticipated by the likes of every eighth grade girl out there with a monthly subscription. As my eyes took in page after page of style tips, perfect skin and hair, skinny models, and “How to Get a Boyfriend” quizzes, a feeling of dissatisfaction nestled itself into the pit of my stomach. Even though the magazine itself wasn’t designed to make an eighth grade girl feel bad about her own appearance, it tended to happen to me nevertheless. Of course, the moment I closed the magazine, the dissatisfaction didn’t just up and disappear. In fact, it seemed to follow me wherever I went—the bathroom in front of a mirror, on the weight scale, at school, in department stores . . . This dissatisfaction—that stemmed from the pages of magazines, TV shows, and comparing myself to other girls—manifested itself into my mind and became an overwhelming opinion of how I viewed my own personality and looks. I didn’t know who I was, so I began modeling my identity around images and people that I thought I could never compare to.
By the end of middle school I had managed to paint an extremely ugly picture of myself that dwelled in the back of my thoughts at all times. When I looked in a mirror I saw the reflection of an awkward, shy, underdeveloped girl with skin covered in acne, a mouth full of braces, hair that was thin and lacking in style, and a stomach that was more or less “chubby . . .” I felt that boys in general slapped a sticker across my forehead that read “Don’t Acknowledge” in big, bold, red letters, causing my lack of a dating life. I had friends, but I always seemed to stare at the table of popular girls in the lunch room and wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” I hated myself.
By freshman year of high school my self-hatred had reached an all-time high and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I couldn’t stand to look at myself, to the point where I got ready in the dark to avoid the hideous refection in the mirror. I spent, it seemed, every waking moment of my life to try and build my confidence and make myself beautiful. This constant effort led to mental breakdowns almost every day. I was knee deep in makeup tutorials I found on YouTube, tips to make my hair shinier and longer from Seventeen Magazine, and articles on how to get a flatter stomach from my mom’s fitness magazines. I tried so hard to climb out of the pit I was in, but the things I sought help from and confided in only dug the hole deeper and deeper. Since my identity was wrapped up in what I looked like, and I hated what I looked like, I lost myself in it all. I was a crying, desperate, and lost mess that needed help. Help that I wasn’t finding until I heard the words: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” echo deep into my soul, spoken to me by an almighty, all-knowing, forever-loving being who has painted His own picture of me. And let me tell you, I like His version better . . . a lot better.
The fall of my sophomore year of high school I started going to a local church. That following summer I attended a conference called Christ in Youth, and my heart completely changed. I felt the presence of God in my soul and for the first time in a long time I began to look at myself differently. That summer I realized that wrapping my identity in these worldly standards of beauty and trying to satisfy that need for contentment and happiness with worldly answers needed to stop. I realized I needed God. It was then and only then that I allowed my identity to begin to mold around the best model imaginable: Jesus Christ. The fact that there is a God out there, who has designed me with great care and precision, blew my mind! I wasn’t mass-produced on an assembly line where my characteristics are unmistakably similar to the person in front or behind me. Instead I was individually made with characteristics different than the person next to me. My identity that was wrapped around how I looked was gone and I obtained a new identity through Him. And because of this new me with Christ, I was able to finally obtain what I had longed for all along: a love for myself plus more than I could imagine.
The process of changing the painted picture in my head from my own to God’s was just that, a process. It took over a year of reading His word and spending time with Him through prayer that I began to see myself the way He sees me. Even to this day, I struggle with having negative thoughts about my appearance. But, as long as I can hear the words: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made,” I know I am OK.
Looking back, I come to realize that my story isn’t all that uncommon. So many people in this world want to find themselves. They desperately seek answers to the questions: “Who am I,” and “What is my purpose?” Most of all we want to feel contentment and satisfaction. The problem is I and others, as human beings, attempt to answer those questions and find contentment in worldly things. We wrap our identities around so many different things in this world to receive those answers and to feel that contentment, but in all reality those things are only pushing us farther away from what we want. With me it was how I looked. I thought that feeling beautiful was my key to being content in this life. All of the clothes, hair products, and beauty advice in magazines and on TV promised me beauty and I believed them. Instead, the world led me on a never-ending cycle. If I got this hair cut I would feel pretty, I got the hair cut BUT I now need these clothes and I will look beautiful, I bought the clothes BUT if only my acne would clear up . . . You can see how these things lead you on an exhausting, endless and unfulfilling trip. Instead of bringing me closer to what I needed, I moved further and further away from it.
Ask yourself: What are you wrapping your identity around? Are you successfully finding yourself within that? Are you satisfied and content? Are you stuck in a cycle of constantly searching and wanting more? I have found in my own experience with my self-esteem that Christ is the one constant that will break the cycle, fill the holes, and complete the picture of who you are as a person. Are you tired of searching for yourself? Take a deep breath! Ephesians 1:11 says that it’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. There it is! Right there! You’ve been searching? You have been looking for that missing piece of the puzzle? You want to find yourself? Look in Christ. Many can testify that He is in fact the answer and He has helped them find who they are. If any of you are in the place that I was years ago and you are looking in all of the wrong places and failing miserably, I say: give Christ a chance.
So who are we in Christ? With Him what is a general overview of what our identity looks like? Of course where Christ leads each of us individually may be different from one another, but looking across the board there are three things that every Christian’s identity in Christ contains.
To show you these three things I want to start by looking at the life and conversion of the Apostle Paul. Before Paul was Paul, his name was Saul, and let me tell you, this guy was as mean as it gets. He hated Christians and wasn’t afraid to show it. He did all that he could do to stop the spread of the Gospel, and hurt those who lived for that man named Jesus. In Acts chapter 9 we see Saul unfold a plan to get arrest warrants and search out Christians, men or women, and put them in prison. You see, this guy was a pretty evil dude, and he was an enemy of God. As Saul was at his all-time high of evil and wrongdoing, God reached him. He was on the road of Damascus, with this idea in mind that he would be putting Christians in prison while there, when God reached him. Jesus called out to him, blinding him, and demanding him to change his ways, asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul continued to Damascus with this sudden change of heart. You see, God didn’t care what his old identity was. He didn’t care what Saul’s past looked like. Which brings us to the first part of our identity: We are forgiven! When we fall on our knees before Christ, God does one thing first and that is to forgive us; He blots out our past and creates in us a clean slate. We see this truth in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all the wickedness.”
Let’s go back to Paul’s story. So Saul is blind and is in Damascus. A man named Ananias was in Damascus and was instructed by God to go to Saul and touch him, opening up his eyes and freeing him from blindness. Ananias objected at first—I mean, who wouldn’t? He was asked to heal the blindness of a man that not too long ago would have killed him on the spot for his declaration of Jesus Christ. But despite his hesitation Ananias followed instructions and touched Saul, and Saul was freed of his blindness. At that moment he was baptized and obtained the second part of his new identity. He was adopted. Not only adopted by God as a son, but by other Christians as a brother in Christ as it says in Romans 8:15-16. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead you received God’s spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, ‘Abba Father.’ For His spirit joins our spirit to affirm we are God’s children.”
Moving on to the last part of our identity in Christ, we come to see that with Him we are transformed. Here in Acts 9 you see Saul become Paul, and we see transformation of not only of a name but an identity. He transformed from a man whose identity was wrapped in evil and wrongdoing to a man of God, one of Jesus Christ’s own! Paul doesn’t just become any man, either—he becomes a majorly influential character in the New Testament, writing almost half of it himself. He even goes on to lose his life for the name of Christ. I mean, wow! It says in Galatians chapter 2:20: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.”
So I want to tell you guys a little story as I wrap up. When I was younger, my siblings and I would spend a week at a time once a summer at my Grandma Rosie’s house in Clarinda, Iowa. Attention span was pretty short and you can imagine our frustration at being on a farmhouse in Clarinda, Iowa for an entire week during the summer. So my grandma, bless her heart, took a trip to the dollar general and bought us jigsaw puzzles. My sister and I loved them for the first twenty minutes or so, and then we would wander off and find something else to do, but my brother (surprisingly, the one with the shortest attention span of us all) would sit for hours completing these puzzles. I would wander off and make my way back to my brother when the puzzle was almost completed. Then I would annoyingly butt in and out of desperation to finally complete the thing, jam puzzle pieces into places they obviously didn’t fit. My brother would get so mad, telling me that that ruined the whole image and I was only making the process longer of completing the puzzle. As humans, we are made up of a million tiny little pieces that come together to form our identity. When it gets down to almost completing the puzzle, sometimes we anxiously jam pieces that obviously don’t fit into the missing gaps in desperation of completing the whole picture. For me, I was trying to jam “how I looked” into the empty spaces of my puzzles in hopes of completing it. Maybe the puzzle piece you are trying to fit into the empty spaces of your identity is a “boyfriend” or a “girlfriend,” “career,” “alcohol,” “drugs.” There are millions of things that we so desperately cram into our lives to give us the bigger picture. To figure out who we are and what our identity is. Let me tell you that there is a reason those things don’t ever fit. Those things never fit because of the fact that Jesus Christ is the only thing that will. With Him you can look down and see the completed picture. You can see yourself as a forgiven, adopted, and transformed person. Take a deep breath, and finally stop trying to jam those pieces into the wrong places. With Christ you are sure who you are. The road may not be an easy one and at times things can get tough, but with Christ you can be sure of something everlasting. With Him you are completed. With Him you will receive the contentment you have been looking for. Stop trying, and allow Christ to be your missing puzzle piece!
Copyright 2013 Jordan Reese