Today we are going to have a very vulnerable discussion with the hopes that anyone reading this walks away encouraged, empowered, and aware. I’d like to kick us off with a short questionnaire:
- Are you a person who feels uncomfortable at the concept of being known completely? Whether it comes down to the fact that you don’t always remember to brush your teeth every night, you tend to leave the trash in the trash can way too long, or you have internal scars you refuse to relive in order to let others see, are there parts of you that you would hate for others to really see?
- Do you find it much easier to develop relationships, romantically or platonically, with people who don’t really challenge you? People who don’t really see you for all that you are? People that need you to fit into their mold of who you should be in order for the relationship to continue?
- Do you find that deep down, you don’t really know who you are? That you don’t like what you see? Are you someone who is in a perpetual struggle with identity?
- Are you someone who may fit many places, but never really feels a sense of true belonging anywhere?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, this post is for you. And don’t feel alone if it is because I could scream “yes” at the top of my lungs to every single one of those. I am absolutely here with you.
Mo Isom, an author and speaker, talks a lot about identity and belonging with her platform. I began reading her first book, Wreck My Life, yesterday evening and found myself very captivated by this concept of a “house of mirrors” that she mentions. In essence, it is similar to those fun houses at the fair where you are surrounded by warped, inaccurate versions of yourself staring back at you. Some mirrors make you look wide, some slim, some bottom heavy, some top heavy.
It seems like fun and games in a scenario like that until you really think about it. Or at least, that is how it felt for me. I remember being five or so years old, looking in the mirror and pulling my face back so that my eyes would be thinner and my cheeks wouldn’t be so pudgy. I thought that my face was fat, that I was fat, that there was nothing beautiful about me. I see pictures of me as a child now and I am astounded by how utterly and completely normal I looked. I was perfect, beautiful, and healthy. But I never saw it.
I don’t think I’ve ever truly gone a day in my life where I was happy with how I looked. In fact, at the end of nearly every semester of college, I would have a flare up in my lower stomach. In essence, it was a burning, fire-like pain that lasted 24/7 and kept me from being able to sleep and eat. The worst parts of the cycle typically lasted for about two weeks. I would often lose around 15 pounds and end up home for breaks looking skinny and frail. And, sadly, those were the times that I was the happiest with my body.
I secretly found satisfaction in getting sick every few months and even became dependent on it to maintain my “goal weight.” After a few years, however, my gallbladder basically stopped working and I stopped having such concentrated spells. And ever since that, plus my surgery to have it removed, I haven’t been able to lose a pound. Which now presents me with the challenge of accepting my body all over again.
My point in all of this is to say that I don’t see myself clearly. I look back at pictures and videos from any time in my past and see someone who looks perfectly normal, even though each new day looking in the mirror feels like the same disappointment that it always has. And I continue that cycle year after year. I do the same thing with my mind—I berate myself and my qualities and my passions. I listen to lies from Satan like they are my own personal voice.
Why do I mention these personal things in regards to our topic? Because I wrote something in a journal a few months ago that I came across again today, something that answers the question of why it is that we are tempted to run away from people who love us with genuine intentions: We aren’t really running from them, we are running from ourselves. And no, not the warped-self that we see in the mirrors surrounding us, but the unfamiliar-self that is true, beautiful, and blindingly bright that we have to see through their eyes.
I didn’t discover this for a long time. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to let anyone in, especially in a romantic sense. I enjoyed being mysterious and aloof, kind and unattainable. I often danced close to the edge, spending months of constant texting and hours on the phone with a guy. I would then disappear the moment they started to ask me on real dates or look for something serious.
Even throughout my first legitimate relationship during college, I still had no idea that this was true of me. My ex-boyfriend was easy to fall into because deep down, he didn’t really know me and I knew that he never would. But I figured he knew me enough and I was comfortable having pieces of myself to myself. I knew my flaws in ways that he never got the chance to see. I knew my heart in ways that he never even knew to seek out. It was the easiest thing in the world to love him because he was the focus and I got to ignore myself for a while.
I forced myself into someone else’s world and constantly stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt anxious at every twist and turn of that relationship and convinced myself that it was my fault. I should be able to fit somewhere if I want to. I can become whoever I want to become. I can warp the mirrors around me into whatever view serves me, can’t I? It took many things in my life crashing down for me to realize that I didn’t know myself in the slightest, but whoever she was, she couldn’t be manipulated to appease my own will. And what I also didn’t know yet was that real, two-sided love would present a much clearer image to me of myself than I’d ever seen before.
When staring the truth down, you want to run the other direction if it isn’t the truth you’ve been clinging to forever. When I found myself with someone who accepted me regardless of my good or bad moments, regardless of my physical or mental state, I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was in the right place, but it felt so disorienting to be there. I don’t think I’ve even found words to explain that feeling, but perhaps spiritual warfare describes it best.
When you are in the wrong places, Satan either encourages you or leaves you alone. When I found my way to a place of safety, peace, and belonging, he came after me viciously. And so I had finally met someone who really loved me well and I refused to accept the reflection of me that I saw in his eyes. I found myself noticing not only the beautiful things about who I was, but the flaws I hid so well that I’d just about hidden them from myself. And that is the thing—the truth of who you are is neutral. It isn’t inherently good or bad, but it isn’t warped either. You are worthy regardless. And knowing that I really did have flaws as well as knowing that I really did have gifts felt like the weight of the world came and sat on my shoulders because:
In the process of healing my identity and view of love, I realized that everything I was experiencing was just a small snapshot of something much bigger—the reason I run tirelessly from God.
Nearly every conversation I have had with God is riddled with apologies, repentance, requests for Him to rid me of the disgusting nature of my heart. I felt like if I constantly tore myself apart and just about hated myself before Him that I was somehow on the same page as Him. That if I not only killed any sense of ego I had but dehumanized my whole being, that I was “right with God.”
I wasn’t getting any closer to God by approaching Him this way; in fact, it was a slow and gradual process that started building resentment and creating distance between us. I absolutely refused to accept that I was created perfectly and wonderfully. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend that I was worth dying for. I have sat and tearfully begged God to tell me why He would do such things on my behalf more times than I can count. Even now, I don’t understand it. I don’t think any of us are really capable of grasping the total magnitude of it all, and that is a big part of why it is so beautiful. But also why it can be so impossible.
The thing is, if I was struggling so much to not run from an earthly love, how much harder was I sprinting away from a perfect, heavenly love? As I have been dating my current boyfriend, I have been learning to accept his kindness and consistency. I have been learning to accept his help and his thoughtfulness. But it has been much more difficult than I imagined it would be. And when it finally slapped me in the face that this was magnified by 100 in relation to God and me, my faith was suddenly exposed as thin and shallow and empty. Because for me to truly have faith, I have to get out of my own way. I have to accept the unacceptable, impossible, outrageous, perfect love from my Creator.
I run from real love, whether it be in people-form or God-form. But it took people-form for me to see it in the context of the greatest love of all. My biggest hope for those of you reading, if you haven’t yet experienced genuine love in your lifetime, is that my experience can be a grounding place for you to start thinking. Because our earthly relationships are constantly giving us glimpses into the spiritual world and I can nearly promise that if you struggle to let people love you, then you are on the run emotionally from your Creator just like I was. And still am to an extent.
I also want to encourage you that you don’t have to run even if you feel like you do. And that feeling the temptation to do so doesn’t make you evil or horrible, just human. It is like cutting a finger open on accident: Ignoring it could lead to infection whereas cleaning and bandaging it leads to healing. I am choosing to stay and battle the enemy because I am worthy of the love from not only my boyfriend or friends or family, but also the love from my Maker. I am cleaning the wound that I’ve been ignoring for as long as I can remember and letting God in to make me whole. I challenge you today that if you are still running, to take my hand and stop right here. Stand still with me for a moment and then let’s continue this journey together towards an accurate sense of self, a firm identity, and genuine relationships centered in love. Satan cannot convince us that we are not worthy anymore, he can no longer create ruins out of the relationships that sought to heal us. He can no longer keep us in the chains of those who he uses to keep us small. God’s got us, and I am here for you too.