“Self-rejection is simply seen as the neurotic expression of an insecure person.
But neurosis is often the psychic manifestation of
a much deeper human darkness:
the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence.
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts
the sacred voice that calls us ‘Beloved.’
Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence”
(Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World).
Beloved, defined: dear to the heart; greatly loved.
In our last conversation about true unity, I asked the question, “Do you belong to Jesus?” or “to a denomination?” I suppose the most honest answer would be “both.” Or, more accurately, I could say, “I belong to Jesus and I choose to express this relationship within the ____________ (fill in the blank) denomination.”
The word belong is a very important element when it comes to unity. In the process of writing two book proposals and teaching the subject matter, one on the spirit of unity and the other on spiritual identity, I have come to see these two facets of the spiritual journey are completely enmeshed. One can’t exist without the other.When you know to whom you belong, time is not wasted searching for a place to belong. When you know who is the source of your identity, time is not wasted searching for your identity. And, as a result of this, a secure identification with Christ is formed and true freedom to express this relationship is unleashed.
This past week, due to torrential rains hammering the Virginia coast, I found myself home more than usual. One afternoon, I tuned into Oprah, whose guests were famed Teri Hatcher, Linda Evans, and Cybill Shepherd. During the course of the interview, all three of these legendary actresses commented that indeed their identity had been based on their beauty; albeit, none of them did anything to “get” their beauty—they were born beautiful—nonetheless, their beauty had opened doors for them. It did become their identity. In many ways, they all commented, their beauty became a curse, as their true identity became masked by magazine covers and Hollywood glitz.
“What we look like on the outside,” Linda Evans shared, “has nothing to do with who we are on the inside.”
Cybill Shepherd remarked that she remembers walking by magazine covers of herself and then going home and looking into the mirror. “How did this happen to me?” She would ask. “Why don’t I look like that cover?'” she says. “I had this wonderful success. At the same time, that retouched image is a lie.”
The retouched image is a lie. Profound statement, don’t you think?
As Cybill Shepherd continued discussing her battle with being an aging actress in Hollywood, she winced, “I felt if I’d come on a show I had to do something shocking and get attention. Somehow I’m a starved child that never got enough attention,” she says. “It never makes up for your real value that you find at the core of your being.”
Ah, the real value at the core of our being. No matter who we are, it all boils down to this one vital truth so brilliantly expressed by Solomon: I am my Beloved’s and he is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3).
Belonging is everything. Is it possible that these seven little words could redefine the way we live life—“I belong to God—nothing else matters?” When this truth is grasped, it becomes the cornerstone of spiritual identity—literally everything stems from it. Belong, defined, means, “to be the concern of proper business of; to be a part of, or connected with, though detached in place.” Oh, how King Solomon knew this truth. In Song of Solomon [7:10], he writes, “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (NIV). Belonging to someone brings a deep sense of security, identity, and connection. We all want to belong. We all want to feel as though we fit somewhere. Isn’t this why there are so many extracurricular activities on high school and college campuses? within communities? Isn’t this at the root of gangs?
Programmed in our DNA is the deep need to belong. I struggled for years to belong. To be accepted. To be loved. Finally, after years of straying down many dangerous paths, trying to fill the gaping hole in my soul—alcoholism, promiscuity, anorexia, depression, and spiritual unrest—a path unfolded that led me to a sense of belonging, a sense of peace, and a newfound sense of purpose. In the midst of my wild, whirlwind of self-destruction, God stopped the madness and opened my eyes to His love for me. The difficult, frustrating journey towards repairing my own self-rejection had begun. Now, the cry of my heart no longer concerned my circumstances changing, but my heart changing. Christ became my hope (Colossians [1:27], NIV) and my ever-present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1, NIV).
Nouwen’s words strike hard, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” Can I really say that I have a handle on this core truth? Do I actually believe that I am the “Beloved?” IF, in fact, I do believe this, my life ought reflect it.
Last weekend, I was privileged to speak to a great host of women at Bethel Baptist Church, where we dialogued on this subject. I proposed:
- Knowing we belong to God (Song of Solomon [7:10]; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Corinthians [5:17]) changes everything. From the moment we enter into relationship with the Almighty God of the Universe, we no longer need to look to the opinion of man for the definition of our identity. We look to the Word of God.
- “Who is the source of my identity?” Knowing who we are in Christ is the antidote to society’s alluring voices, the secret to spiritual success, the key to walking in complete freedom and the empowering truth that will enable us to remain constant in our faith—advancing the kingdom of God in every facet of life.
Once we understand whose we are, we know who we are, thus able:
- To live in the freedom of Christ.
- By knowing who we are, we will not have to waste precious time and energy trying to be who we aren’t. Clothed in strength and dignity (Proverbs [31:25]), not shame and regret, our identities will no longer be defined, but expressed and enhanced by marriage partners, children, peers, culture, boyfriends, parents, academia, success, ambition, popularity, church, friends, sports, body image, etc. but by a secure and solid identification with Christ. These very important things will not be our identity, but be an expression of our identity.
We had the most wonderful, honest discussions about these two issues: identity and unity. A real paradigm shift in our thinking took place. If each member of the body of Christ functioned in this solid identification with Christ; knowing whose they are and understanding their God-created identity and therefore expressing their individual gifts, talents, and spiritual endowments, wouldn’t the Church be a completely different place?
A couple days ago, Candace, my older daughter, showed me this video, “Jessica’s Daily Affirmations.” At first, it just cracked me up. I watched it several times, laughing hysterically. But, then, I couldn’t help but think, “Where in the world did this little girl get this? Does she watch her mom or dad do this every morning?” C’mon, Jessica gets it. She knows who she is. Self-rejection is not in her vocabulary. No doubt she knows she is loved and therefore, completely confident; allowing her the complete freedom to express her God-created identity. I want to learn from this little girl and move forward with a renewed sense of self. Anyone game for a little morning “mirror talk”?