In this book, Pastor Mike Breaux simply and humorously presents the four areas that often rob us of our true indentity in Christ: Relationships, the power of the Mirror, pursuit of Success, and our Past.
Well, there is a lot that I could say here to try to summarize what Mike brings to the table...but I'd like to focus in on how he steers us back to God's love. Wherever bitterness or hurt or struggles or betrayal have wounded our hearts in the relationships we have been in - Mike reminds us, "It's only when you allow God to love you and to experience His unfailing love - His unconditional grace and mercy - that you'll be able to extend that same kind of grace and mercy to another person, especially the person who has hurt you." We cannot give out what we have not received.
Mike quotes Brennan Manning: "When we freely assent to the mystery of our belovedness and accept our core identity as Abba's child, we slowly gain autonomy from our controlling relationships. We become inner-directed rather than outer-determined. The fleeing flashes of pleasure or pain caused by the affirmation or deprivation of others will never entirely disappear, but their power to induce self-betrayal will be diminished." (Abba's Child) So true...
We are all way too obsessed with ourselves! :) We are "buying a lie that equates looking a certain way with being happy, contented, and showered with unfailing love. Here's how the lie plays itself out in our heads...If I'm attractive enough to other people, I will be accepted and admired. I will be respected, significant, and loved. I will be worthwhile. I will be enough. And once that happens, all my problems will be resolved; my life will fall into place. Members of the opposite sex will find me irresistible. Employers will want to hire me. Friends will want to be with me. Friends will want to be me!" But in reality: "We're buying a lie that equates looking a certain way with being happy, contented, and showered with unfailing love." Yup - sooo not gonna happen in reality.
As I reflected on this idea - I began to think of people in my life who have deeply impacted me, or somehow caused me to grow, look to God more, or consider my life's path. You know what? I have to think really hard to remember what they might have been wearing...or how they looked...or if they were over or underweight. But what I did remember was how they made me feel, and how I was motivated to know more of Christ beause of spending time with them. It made me want to strive to leave this kind of impact...and worry a whole LOT less about my appearance.
I am not above being too self-focused. Sometimes my perfectionism works itself out in a form of "naval-gazing" - trying to fix whatever is wrong with myself so that I will be accepted. Mike makes a strong point in referring to Isaiah 58 - "Isaiah is saying you can find healing for yourself by not focusing so much on yourself! When you love those whom God loves, it puts life into proper perspective. You start to live as a person made in God's image, and all the cultural lies about what your image 'ought' to be are revealed for the shallowness they represent." As God has graciously worked on my heart in this area - I see how freedom comes from looking more at God, and much much much muuuuuuch less at myself!
Success is not wrong in and of itself, but it can become an end in itself, a pursuit. Why? Mike states, "As I look around...I see way too many people whose success-related drives are way out of balance and completely out of control. And I think that's more than a simple desire for success. I think it's a hunger for acceptance. I think it's a longing for the elusive 'atta boy' or 'that's my girl.' I think it's yet another way some people try to satisfy their hunger for unfailing love." Oh so true, Mike. I've been there, and I continue to do watch-care over that part of my heart that wants success so that I can claim that I really belong, I'm finally "in."
I love how he states this: "Because when your identity is all wrapped up in worship of the image, you start to morph into an envious, hyper-competitive, self-absorbed, stressed-out, insecure, approval-seeking person. Then when everything comes crashing down - and it will - you will have no idea who you even are." I can relate. Ugh. This is not a happy place to be.
Mike reminds us of this truth - "I'm already accepted. I'm already somebody. I don't have to strive or perform. I don't need to keep a crazy schedule so people will like me. God already likes me - with an unfailing like. So I don't have to be rewarded, regarded, or recognized. I don't have to be the best; I just have to be my best - to the glory of God." Mike reminds us that God's love is an overpowering, completely absorbing kind of love. Not some kind of sweet, syrupy love - but a pursuing, overtaking, overwhelming kind. And this Love is what secures us.
What keeps us locked in our past is often related to past mistakes or even past sin. "Secret sin cannot coexist with inner peace." and "Unresolved guilt is a malignant kind of thing, capable of spreading and poisoning every part of us. Just look at what else King David had to say on this subject: 'When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.' (Psalm 32:3-4)"
Confessing sin in the safety of community brings freedom and forgiveness. "God wired us to be in community, and when there is an openness to human frailty among friends, there is a spirit of acceptance and grace that can transform our lives." God seems to be educating me in what community can do in and for us, especially in the area of helping us see our sin and patterns. But community can also be healing: mirroring God's acceptance of us (because of Jesus) in the way that our friends extend grace to us. As one friend recently put it - "Ironically, self-awareness is not something that you can generate yourself." Awesome. Well said. We need others to help us see ourselves...and we need grace extended to us so that we can keep growing.
Mike's comparison in this chapter is that we all need a kind of "etch-a-sketch" approach to our life...knowing that we mess up that screen trying our best to draw some kind of picture: but then we hand it right over to God Who wipes it clean...again. Mike lists his sins sometimes in his journal - but then after his time of confession with the Lord - writes "FORGIVEN" in giant red letters across that list. Not a bad idea. The visual is powerful.
Our identity changes when we follow Christ. The past does not define us. Christ defines us...and this is the identity we must stand on.
To Summarize: "Instead of chasing the American Dream and running so fast to prove to everyone that you're somebody, you will relax in the truth that you are already somebody in God's eyes. You won't need the applause of others, because you've already got the applause of the One Who matters most. You will surrender control of your life and your career and watch as God stuffs your portfolio with such assets as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control."
I enjoyed this book (but it doesn't rank as a top favorite for me). Its a simple, humorous read - refreshingly real and Scriptural and encouraging. Recommended if you want a good read on keeping your identity based firmly in truth!