Who are you? How do you describe yourself to others? For what do you want to be known? And in the stillness when no one else is around, how do you view yourself?
These are the opening questions of my Ephesians study, By His Wounds You Are Healed. I’m thinking of these questions a lot today after watching my young son struggle again with self worth and self confidence. I can tell that there is something in the stillness that plagues him about himself, and no trite answer from me will still the voice in his head that whispers, “You are stupid, incapable, and ugly.” I wrestle anew with answering these taunts in my own heart as I seek to help him with his insecurities.
I have spent much of my life trying to figure out what purposes and accomplishments would give meaning to my life. Since I was a young child, I have watched others’ responses to things I said and did. Longing for affirmation and approval, their reactions determined how I would act next. As I grew up, I admired from afar those who seemed comfortable in their own skin with the confidence to act as they were convicted rather than react in light of others’ actions toward them. Nowhere was this more obvious than my years of middle and high school. I was classically insecure—constantly tweaking my appearance and personality to conform to the popular people—then withdrawing altogether when I could not figure out the magic formula for changing my image with either my peers or myself.
The problem was that I was trying to conform to the wrong image. God has created me to be conformed to His image, and it’s through that process that He shows me His transcendent purposes that give true meaning to my life. I see my son now struggling similarly, albeit just in kindergarten. It’s painful to watch him stop being the sweet little boy I know when he’s comfortable and start putting on a different personality in an attempt to keep up with older kids. It’s even more painful to watch his despair in the aftermath of his failed attempts to blend in.
Maturity brought a lot of clarity to me, and I wish I had understood this dynamic much younger. It was while preparing for my 20th high school reunion my eyes were truly opened. Despite all the life-lessons learned and maturity gained in the last two decades, I found myself falling back into the same old patterns of insecure thinking as I contemplated what it would take to make me walk confidently back into the small town country club where I experienced my last painful high school dance. I joined a gym months in advance so I could lose the baby fat that clung to me years after the birth of my youngest. If I was going to return to the scene of the crime, I wanted to be svelte when I did so. But after five months of faithful exercise, I had not lost a pound. I searched dress stores for the perfect outfit that would reflect the perfect image—to no avail. My husband finally told me to just be myself and wear the kind of clothes that I normally wear. That really scared me. Wear my usual style of clothes? Do not try to project something about myself that is not true?! But that leaves me exposed! I am a bit heavy and most comfortable in jeans and a black shirt. I’m not going to impress anyone that way!
I started to listen to myself. I sounded like an insecure teenager trying to determine her outfit for her senior prom. Was I really that dependent on my DRESS to prop me up to meet these people I had not seen in twenty years? Did I not have anything better than that on which to rely?
I praise God for my study of Ephesians during that season. Though I had read through Ephesians before and heard several sermon series on it as well, my time of study in this season was different. I was aware of my insecurities in a way I had not been before, and Ephesians’ description of my identity in Christ deeply moved me. Ephesians explains my identity and security in Christ. It tells me in detail of the real benefits I have as a daughter of God. It shows me how these benefits equip me to reclaim my identity in Christ. And it draws a straight line from all those gospel truths to the heart of my insecurities today. It showed me how to walk into my 20th class reunion as a secure (though chubby and not particularly fashionable) woman who knows who she is in Jesus. That evening turned out to be a very sweet time of reconnecting with childhood friends.
I’ve gotten these truths for myself, though God knows how often He has to remind me as I face new and different circumstances that challenge my identity and confidence regularly. Now, I seek to disciple my son in these truths, equipping him to face the mental battles that come with his personality. Perhaps he’ll be good at soccer or excel at math. Maybe one day he’ll be class president or win a scholarship to college. But whatever giftings emerge as he gets older, they won’t quiet the accuser’s voice in the still of the night.
Only Christ can do that.
I John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.