A while back, I wrote a three-part series on the power of words. One of those essays was about how much our words impact our kids and how we have the ability to either speak life over them or hurt their little souls, not necessarily intentionally, but hurt all the same. But there’s another aspect to the power of words. Words can shape identity. They can influence what you believe about yourself. Words can be used to either encourage and support what God already says about you or place labels on you that are secondary to who you truly are and were made to be.
The Lego Personality Test
I sat down to play Legos with my girls recently. Like many siblings, Genevieve and Juliette are as opposite as opposites can be. We have one Type B, creative, sensitive, outdoor-loving, lives-in-her-head kid, and one Type A, hates messes, loud, extrovert, linear-thinker (don’t you see the labels forming already?)
As they started playing with the Legos, here’s what happened:
Juliette immediately picked up all the people and animals and created this whole little world with intricate details, genuine dialogue, and an ever-evolving plot. Genevieve, on the other hand, became intensely focused on building the biggest tower possible. She knew exactly which Lego pieces she needed and set about to her task with abandon. Observing them play for fifteen minutes reinforced what I already know about them and the personalities God placed in them.
When my husband came home from work, I replayed the moment for him, saying, “I love how a mere fifteen minutes of Lego-playing shows that Juliette creates stories and Genevieve accomplishes goals.”
A couple of days later, Chris and Juliette were playing board games. When they finished their game, she asked if she could play with the game pieces because, in her words, “I create stories. That’s what I do.” She has said that same phrase multiple times since that moment.
She is at that tender, moldable age where, as I like to say, she’s “sticky.” She soaks everything up and it motivates me to be even more intentional with what I pour into her heart and spirit. But it’s also eye-opening to see how much my words and descriptions are helping her to shape her own identity.
In this case, I love that she’s taking this on as part of her identity. From the moment she started to play and interact as a baby, she has been a storyteller. I can see her writing books and using her imagination to capture this beautiful and complicated life we live. Frankly, I wish I had her creativity. I truly believe this is exactly how God made her and I want to foster it and encourage it, to “fan into flame” the gifts God has given her.
But it did get me thinking. Have you ever considered how your identity was shaped? How much of what we believe about who we are is from what others have said, what culture says, what the church says? Do you know the line between what you do and who you are?
What Defines You?
We all have pieces of our stories that define us, that make up a core part of our identity. God uses each moment, each path we take, and each season we walk through to lead us into His purposes for us. But these are secondary. They make up who you are, but they aren’t who you are.
For many years, I found my identity in being the youngest sister in my family, a bookworm, and a motherless daughter. As I moved through life, I picked up more pieces to add to my identity arsenal: I was the studious one, the leader, the administrator. I became the go-to person for book and resource recommendations, the planner, and the writer. As I pondered Juliette’s declaration of who she is as a storyteller, I realized that while I proudly wear the titles and traits listed above, most of them have one thing in common: they are what I do, not who I am.
What I Believe = How I Behave
You may be wondering why this is such a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with linking your identity to your talents or natural tendencies, right? But it’s usually not the labels that are detrimental, it’s how they determine our behavior. The more I see myself as Pamela, the type A overachiever, or Pamela, the mom who doesn’t know how to be present with her kids, the more I believe that’s who I am and live up those descriptors. My thoughts about who I am constantly reinforce my behavior. I'm giving these labels more power than they should have.
Everything we place our identity in outside of the work of Christ will pass away. When trials come, these labels become like shifting sand, unable to root us deep against the winds and waves of life.
So instead of focusing on the labels I’ve picked up through the years, I go back to the Bible, over and over again, to remind myself of who God created me to be, who I am apart from Him, and who I am in Christ. Jesus loves to draw out our true identity if we would only listen and pay attention. Think of all the people he interacted with during his years on earth. When the Samaritan woman at the well encountered Jesus, she no longer saw herself as ostracized and dishonored but someone redeemed and restored. Zacchaeus was deceitful and a betrayer to his people, until he ran straight into the grace of Jesus and was transformed by his faith in our Lord.
We will never learn who we are until we see ourselves as new creations in Christ, image-bearers of a holy God who says our worth is not dependent on what we do or who we’ve been in the past, but on that pivotal moment on the cross when Jesus redeemed us from our slavery to sin. Because of his indescribable love and grace, we are fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted. But living in light of that truth can seem impossible sometimes, right?
If you too are exhausted by the constant barrage of your thoughts and the world around you telling you what you should be and what you should do; if you are tired of striving to “be enough” and want to live in the freedom that Christ in you is enough, try this:
Get away in silence and reflect on what you believe about yourself. I’m not just talking about insecurities or flaws. Think about your roles, what you take pride in, and your mindset or attitudes. Then line them up with what God says about you. Do they match? Is your identity based on what you do rather than who you are? Do you truly believe what He says about you? Know that this is a journey. I'm still not there. I still have to preach the truth to myself every day, and even then, I sink back into old thought patterns. Stick with it. Even if it doesn't feel like it, growth is happening. Day-by-day, it will probably feel like nothing is changing. But one day, you'll look back and be filled with gratefulness and awe at how everything is different.
So the next time you feel burdened by your shortcomings, by the labels you’ve used to define yourself, remember these truths:
You are a new creation in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus sacrificed His life for you while you were still a sinner and now lives in you.
You are chosen, redeemed, forgiven, and lavished with grace. (Ephesians 1:3-8)
You are made in the image of the Father, and He only makes good things. (Genesis 1:27)
You are God's masterpiece, created in Christ to do the good things He prepared for you beforehand. (Ephesians 2:10)
You are not condemned but free because of the work of Christ on your behalf. (Romans 8:1)