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Your identity is God’s gift to you so you can enjoy God and His creation. God also made you for others’ benefit. So, what good is your identity if you keep it hidden?
No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.Matthew 5:15 NLT
This verse made its way into a children’s song: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No!
Everyone is made in God’s image. Believers have the Holy Spirit as a permanent dwelling companion. This qualifies all believers to come out of hiding. You have a light to shine.
Are You Afraid of Your Own Identity?
Often though, people are afraid of what will happen if they stay true to who they are.
- I can’t tell my husband how I really feel. It would hurt his feelings.
- I can’t take that promotion. Mark has worked here longer than I have.
- I can’t tell my friend I don’t want to be in her wedding.
- I can’t tell my neighbor his dog is too loud.
If you aren’t living up to your God-given potential, then you aren’t fulfilling God’s plan for your life. Likewise, if you aren’t being emotionally honest, you are minimizing your impact because of shame, or fear of rejection.
What you say or do will have an impact on someone. That’s what it means to be a person. You can’t be a healthy person and avoid that. God intends for you to use your identity to make a difference in the lives of others. But this can only be done without pretense.
Yet, many people struggle with being genuine. This is understandable because the problem of what to reveal to others can be complicated. While we all need a place where we can be as transparent as we need to be, there are also times when the people in our lives aren’t ready for it.
Do You Respect Others’ Identities?
What if being who we are would cause someone else pain? Paul addresses this in the context of faith.
Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right.Romans 14:13,22 NLT
There are situations where God would have us keep our convictions to ourselves. We aren’t supposed to force our convictions onto another believer. We aren’t supposed to condemn or judge another believer in areas left to personal opinion.
While everyone has an ideal identity, we are all works in progress. In some areas, your friend might have a weaker understanding of their identity in Christ. In other areas, you might not understand the freedom that you have.
Even for ourselves, if we have doubts about a particular belief or action, we should seek clarity before taking action. God wants to act according to the faith we have. Faith is the road one must travel in order to please God (Romans 12:3, Hebrews 11:6).
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.Romans 14:23 ESV
To further complicate matters, perhaps, as a child, you heard your parent tell you:
If you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s better to not say anything at all.
And, Jesus says that we are to:
Treat others how you would want them to treat you (Luke 6:31).
Can You Act With a Confident Identity?
How then can a person follow these seemingly opposing principles:
- Be emotionally honest with what is in your heart.
- Don’t cause others to stumble.
The right approach is determined by:
- Who you talk to
- How you tell them and how much you tell them
- What the consequences are for speaking or remaining silent
There’s a difference between staying true to your identity and condemning someone because of your beliefs. God wants you to be true to Him first, then true to yourself. But He also commands us to not pass judgment on someone because of their convictions (Romans 14:3).
Condemning someone for their beliefs is outsides the bounds of the authority God gives us. It’s up to God to approve or disapprove (Romans 14:4). But sharing your heart within an intimate relationship such as marriage is another situation entirely. Emotional healing can take place only when we share transparently what is in our hearts.
Suppose a person is married with children. This person feels stress from being a parent to young children. If you were this person, what could you do to stay true to your identity while not harming others? Evaluate the situation by determining the context.
- Who: Expecting young children to understand stress is unrealistic and it could burden them with something that isn’t their responsibility or problem. Instead, you can talk to your spouse, friend, or counselor.
- How: Tell your children in non-blaming age-appropriate language. “I need a break. Your grandparents are going to watch you for a while.”
- What: This comes down to how stressed you are. If a good night’s rest will take care of it, then maybe you don’t need to do anything else.
Suppose instead that you aren’t feeling attracted to your spouse anymore. What could you do?
- Who: Expecting your spouse to listen to your feelings about this is reasonable and necessary to improve the relationship. Are they in a position to handle it right now? Speak to them directly if possible, otherwise temporarily consider a friend or counselor.
- How: Be clear and sincere. If you want a better relationship realize it can take time to work through all the issues. It’s important to stay committed to the process. Seek to understand and be understood before you seek a solution.
- What: Silence doesn’t seem like an option. How can you have a fulfilling, intimate relationship if you can’t be honest? It’s the honesty that can lead to greater intimacy.
The key to resolving difficult scenarios like these is to realize that honesty is the first step in finding a resolution. Other people can’t help with your problems if they don’t know about them. Yes, they might not always like what you are saying, but hiding the problem is never a helpful strategy. Shame is a problem; hiding can feel better, but finding acceptance is the solution.
Hiding denies the problem which only allows it to grow. Facing the problem, with faith, God’s help, and others’ help might be unpleasant at first, but it always allows for the best possible outcome.
Allowing others to see you as you really are will be a priceless gift. If done with humility, it can inspire hope because of the testimony of how God will be able to heal your heart.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.