What You Did Is Not Who You Are

I recently shared some thoughts on how “what you do” doesn’t define “who you are,” and how sometimes we allow our roles to cloud the truth about who we are in Christ.   Yet there’s an even bigger danger we face when it comes to our identities.  It is basing “who we are” on “what we did”.

I don’t get many opportunities to tell my story on how I came to know Christ.  My hope is that it helps to lay a foundation for why I think it’s so important we don’t allow our past to identify who we are right now and who we are yet to become.

I’m not aware of any church history in my family.  What I do know is we have a history of mental illness, addiction, suicide and yes, even murder.  When I was just two months old, my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Of course, growing up I didn’t give much thought to my family’s history.  I certainly didn’t understand the impact it would have on me.

Needless to say, my childhood wasn’t ideal.  The result was an insecure, scared little girl who didn’t understand boundaries.  That turned into an attention seeking, reckless teenager…which then turned into an angry, promiscuous, controlling woman.

You can probably guess there were some struggles with finding my identity in Christ.  Coming to know Him was the most wonderful, freeing experience of my life.  Yet the “who I was” seemed to overshadow the “who I am” in Christ.

My initial response to the gospel message was like a kid in the candy store.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  The realization that all of the icky stuff I’d done was forgiven—nailed to the cross—began the process of finding deliverance from shame.  Long “churchy” dresses replaced short skirts.  A fun night no longer consisted of a brandy and coke at a bar but coffee and sweets at a Bible study.  My speakers now blasted the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace, instead of Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi.

Maybe it’s not glaringly obvious—but as “good” as these changes might have been in my life—they did little to address the deep-rooted shame that laid the foundation of who I was.  In my head I could say I was new in Christ.  But in my heart, I still felt like the old me, especially when I continued to battle with some of my past struggles.

Despite ongoing years of Bible study, church teachings, and doing my best to be the right kind of Christian wife, mother and friend…”who I was” continued to be “who I am.”  I wasn’t living in the freedom of being a new creation in Christ.  When I looked in the mirror I still saw the unredeemed me.  The broken, messed up, lost soul who yes, was saved by the grace of God…but just couldn’t believe I was loved and accepted.  How could One so holy accept the likes of me?!

There is a danger in identifying ourselves as “who we were” rather than “who we are” (in Christ).  On the most surface level, it keeps us from reaching our potential as a believer.  But on a deeper level, it chains us to the past.  That eliminates freedom of movement in the things that God has for us.

One of my favorite bloggers is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t allow “who she was” to identify “who she is.”  At “Beauty Beyond Bones,” you will meet a young lady who overcame her eating disorder and now offers hope and encouragement to others.  While I have never struggled with this particular issue, her blog feeds my soul.  I can relate to the journey she has taken in learning to love herself.

No, we can’t erase our past.  We can’t pretend it never happened.  Nor can we deny its impact on our lives.  But we can embrace what’s in front of us.  We can learn from the struggles of our past.  And we can finally find freedom in Christ.

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The Prodigal Child – A Time for War and a Time for Peace

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time for war and a time for peace…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8b)

A time for war…

Prodigal children are in a spiritual battle.  They don’t recognize it and sometimes even parents fail to see it.  Our focus is oftentimes on the issues, when it should really be on fighting the war.  But the only way to do this is on our knees.  The greatest weapon we can wield against the enemy is prayer.

 

However, there are times we grow weary in the battle for prayer.  It happens to even the greatest warriors.  These are the times when we should turn to others for help.  People who care and will intercede on behalf of our child.

 

War is ugly and it oftentimes results in some casualties.  But it’s always, always worth the fight when it comes to the souls of our children.  When it’s a time for war, don’t give up and don’t be afraid to enlist help.

 

A time for peace…

For the sake of peace, sometimes we have to call a truce with our prodigal child.  We may never see eye-to-eye or understand each other’s ways.  But we have to weigh whether the battle is worth the price.  Relationships are the first to suffer harm, sometimes resulting in irreparable damage.  It’s a high cost to pay just to prove a point or to be right.

 

I’ve learned that the less I say about an issue, the more likely it will come to a healthy resolution.  It’s not my natural inclination, to remain silent—especially when I feel strongly about something.  But a closed mouth is worth it when the end result is peace.

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Love and a Time to Hate

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to love and a time to hate…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8a)

A time to love…

If you had told me when my children were little that one day I would feel dislike toward any of them, I would have said no way.  It wouldn’t have seemed possible and yet…that is exactly where I find myself too often.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone.

 

Yet it’s not the liking that gives me the ability to show grace. It’s not the liking that allows me to believe the best.  It’s the LOVE I have for my children.  Love goes deeper than my ability to like someone.  It gives me the strength I need to keep fighting on my knees.  It gives me the hope I need to believe there is good that can come from trials and tribulations

 

There is ALWAYS a time to love.  Not loving the sin but loving the sinner.  Not liking your child’s choices but loving the potential.  Loving when it hurts.  Loving when it disappoints.  Loving when all seems lost.

 

Isn’t that what God does for us?  He loves us when we sin.  He loves us when we make bad choices.  He loves us when we cause pain and disappointment.

 

A time to hate…

Hate is such a strong word.  Yet it’s exactly how I feel about some of the choices my prodigal has made.  Not personalizing their choices isn’t always easy.  This means we don’t take it personally and we don’t assign it to them personally.

 

The only one we should really be mad at is the devil.  When we turn the anger inward or toward the child, we are missing the mark.  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood (people).  But it’s against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Satan and his demons).

 

One morning on my drive to work, the thought suddenly crossed my mind that all of my anger had been misdirected.  I started listening to a song that led me to start proclaiming out loud that the devil had to, in Jesus name, take his hands off my child.

 

The more I declared this, the angrier I became.  But it wasn’t aimed at my child…it was at the devil.  Thankfully it was still relatively dark out and not busy because anyone driving past me would have thought I was a lunatic.  I began to scream at the devil.  What a release!  Yes, there is a time to hate…to hate the sin and not the sinner.  To hate the hold the devil has on our child.  To hate his plans to rob, kill and destroy.

 

Think about where your love or hate may have been misdirected in parenting a prodigal.  Ask God to help you work through this and show when it’s the time to love and when it’s the time to hate.

The Prodigal Child – A Time for Silence and a Time to Speak

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be silent and a time to speak…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b)

A time to be silent…

I’m not very good at keeping silent.  When I have something to say, well, I’m going to say it!  The book of James does such a great job at reminding us how hard it is to restrain the tongue.  It’s especially not easy when your child is making poor choices or living an ungodly lifestyle.  Yet a lot of talk—especially loud talking—doesn’t tend to steer our children back onto the right track.  In fact, it can have the opposite effect!

 

Sometimes, no matter how much it hurts or how frustrated you may feel, it’s a time for silence.  Our words may cause more damage to the relationship.  They can push our children further away.  I’ve come to learn that my prodigal child already knows about my disappointment, anger or whatever the emotion is without me saying anything.  In fact, I think the silence oftentimes causes that child to suffer more.

 

A time to speak…

Yet there is a time to speak.  A time to voice your thoughts…to express your feelings…to remind…to encourage…to correct.  The only way to know when it’s the time and how you should speak is to seek the Lord’s wisdom and direction.  Done in accordance with His guidance, the words will make a greater positive impact.

 

Speech that is demanding, condescending, biting or sarcastic isn’t helpful.  It’s hurtful.  It has no place in a conversation with your prodigal child.  I say that out of experience.  Times the wedge has been the greatest between me and my prodigal has been in these types of conversations.  So season your speech with salt.

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Keep and a Time to Throw Away

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to keep and a time to throw away…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6b)

A time to keep…

I don’t keep a lot of things.  In fact, one thing’s for certain, I will never be accused of being a hoarder.  I get rid of things easily (sometimes prematurely).  I don’t like clutter and I don’t like messes.  I’ll do whatever is necessary to eliminate these things from my life.  So, what do I keep?  Most things fall into one of two categories:  1) things that are useful and 2) things that are precious.  Useful is something like an extra pair of gloves.  Precious is a picture of my children.

 

How does all of this relate to parenting a prodigal child?  Well, it’s not about things…instead, it’s about keeping hope alive.  Never giving up.  Refusing to let go.  A time to keep hope in a God that can save even the most derelict person on earth.  Keeping faith and trust in God’s plan, which is always bigger than we can imagine.  There is always a time to keep hope and faith at the forefront of our problems.

 

A time to throw away…

Throw away what’s useless.  I’m not talking about those jeans you wore in high school and hope to one day fit in again.  I’m referring to useless chatter from others, who tell you everything that’s wrong.  Useless inner chatter that stirs up self-condemnation and guilt.  And especially useless chatter from the enemy of our souls, who tries to convince us that things will never change.

 

Throw away discouragement…depression…anger…bitterness.  Throw away lies.  Throw away all negativity.  But don’t just throw it away.  Completely destroy it so that it can’t come back refurbished, made to look good when it’s nothing but garbage.  Ask God to help you take out the trash.

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to tear and a time to mend…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7a)

A time to tear…

In Old Testament times, the tearing of one’s clothing was a demonstration of anguish, remorse, sorrow and/or distress.  Bad news was a sure way to cause one to tear his clothing.  An outward representation of internal hurt.

 

While I would never tear my clothing in dealing with a prodigal, there have been times I’ve thought about tearing out my hair.  Because I too have felt some of the same things—anguish over choices made, remorse over not doing something differently, sorrow over loss and distress over consequences suffered.  Yes, there is a time to feel these things and outwardly express them…whether that’s to God, others, one or both.

 

Outwardly demonstrating how you feel can be a sort of release.  It sometimes feels good to cry, scream or otherwise “let loose.”  It’s like releasing the volcanic ash that has been lying dormant inside.  The key is knowing the right time, the right place and the right people who are around (or if you should do this alone).

 

A time to mend…

There is also a time of mending.  When you lack anguish, remorse, sorrow and/or distress.  And not because you don’t care.  Perhaps it’s finally arriving at that place of peace, despite the circumstances.

 

When my daughter informed me at age 17 that she was pregnant, I felt a great deal of anguish.  I saw it as the end of her life and a season of my own life I wasn’t ready for.  I was in a tearing clothes kind of state.  But when she informed me at age 19 that she was once again pregnant, I didn’t feel the anguish.  Not because I felt the circumstances were any better…and while maybe in some ways they were, they still weren’t ideal.  Yet I was in a mending kind of state.  I had peace, in spite of the news.

 

I don’t think we can always control whether we tear or mend.  But I believe that in our moment, God directs us.  He knows what’s best for us and He will see us through either way.  Yes, there is a time to tear and a time to mend…but regardless, God remains in control (even if we don’t).

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Search and a Time to Give Up

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to search and a time to give up…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6a)

A time to search…

I can only imagine the pain and heartache experienced by parents of prodigals who have no idea where to find their child.  They’ve been missing days, weeks, months or even longer.  I’ve only experienced a smidgeon of this feeling.  To live day in and day out without knowledge of their child’s presence and safety—well, my heart goes out to these parents.

 

There is a time to search…to look for a child and try to bring him back.  In some cases, this means a searching for the truth.  What the child has done or plans on doing.  Truly, no one else makes for a better private investigator than a mother desperate to know the truth about her child.

 

Jesus can help in the search…He leads the search and rescue team!  I have seen Him do this in ways I could never have thought up on my own.  That mother’s intuition about where to find a child?  That’s the Holy Spirit guiding the way and giving wisdom.  He can help when it’s time to search.

 

A time to give up…

Yet there is also a time to give up.  Not in the sense that we lose hope.  But in that we let go of the need to control, the need to know, the need to understand.  Sometimes it just won’t happen.  So, all we’re left with is releasing our child and allowing God to do His work.

 

Searching is necessary sometimes but it’s frantic.  In letting go, we actually find the greatest peace.  When I get to that place, which has been fewer times that I would like to admit, it feels so freeing.  Not controlling is a relief.  Not knowing is okay.  Not understanding is fine.

 

Searching isn’t easy but giving up is even harder.  Yet there truly is a season for both.  Jesus walks with you through each of these, so know you are never alone.

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Embrace and a Time to Refrain

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5b)

A time to embrace…

It’s easy to embrace a child who is acting right.  Only God’s grace can help you to do that when a child is making wrong choices.  There is a time to embrace your prodigal, despite the hurt and pain his decisions cause you.  Regardless of the actions, and in spite of your personal feelings.

 

Oftentimes, it’s grace that speaks the loudest.  More than your scripture verses or words of wisdom.  More than the shouts of anger or the ultimatums.  By embracing God’s grace to us, we learn how to embrace others in need of His grace.

 

A time to refrain from embracing…

Yet there is also a time to refrain from embracing…when boundaries must be established for the good/safety of yourself and/or your child.  Clear-cut rules are enforced.  No more chances are given.  Tough love is dished out.

 

It isn’t always easy to know when the time is right to embrace and when it’s not.  This is why it’s so important you are constantly seeking God for help…insight…wisdom…direction.  He will show you not only whether it’s the time to embrace or not but what that looks like.

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Scatter and a Time to Gather

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5a)

A time to scatter stones…

In Joshua 4, we read how the Israelites gave glory to God by taking stones and piling them up as a monument.  The scattering of stones has always served as a reminder to God’s people of His faithfulness.  As we scatter the stones of our journey in parenting a prodigal, we also declare the goodness and glory of God.  It’s a public declaration of what God has done and is doing.  Yes, even in the midst of a mess we recognize that good still exists and hope has not completely died.

 

Let me share a very personal example.  When my 17-year-old daughter became pregnant, it seemed like a pretty hopeless situation—made worse when a few months after giving birth, the father of her child left her.  Being a single, teenage mom doesn’t sound like a God plan.  Yet He showed me how my daughter’s life was actually saved by the birth of my granddaughter.  Quite literally.

 

A time to gather them…

The stones of our journey in parenting a prodigal are sometimes not meant to be on public display.  Some things aren’t to be shared with others, even in the way of asking for prayer.  Learn when to keep things to yourself and instead, gather those stones in your heart.  Trust God with what you are to do with them.

 

Oftentimes it’s the gathering of stones that forces us to greater dependency on God.  We don’t look for answers in others.  But in the One who already knows the necessary path our children must take.