In the desert, there is mostly silence. The only company you have is the occasional cry of the coyote, or the howl of the wind. As you look out into the empty expanse, you are reminded that what you see on the outside is what you feel on the inside. The desert suddenly becomes a mirror to your soul. For the first time in your life, you are forced to ask, “Who am I?”
In the last post, we introduced the idea that the barrenness of the desert starves us of all company or distraction. It is the dark nights of the soul that force us to wrestle with the question of identity. Although this experience causes excruciating pain, we can receive some of God’s most precious gifts through the solitude that the “desert” of the soul has to offer. Most people will wake up at the end of their lives only to discover that they spent their entire time on earth never answering life’s most important questions, “Who am I and why am I here?” To begin asking such questions earlier in life is a risk and is quite frankly, the first steps into an incredibly dangerous journey. Once you embark on your quest to answer those two questions, you will never be the same. You will lose things, values, and relationships that are important to you; however, you will be equipped and ignited with a deep sense of purpose that can only be forged in the fires of the desert.
How does one even begin answering the question, “Who am I?” Louie Giglio states:
The most important thing about you is what you think about when you think about GodLouie Giglio, Not Forsaken: Finding Freedom as Sons and Daughters of a Perfect Father
What does he mean by this? Whatever you believe about God will determine your identity, how you make choices, and how you treat other people. Albert Einstein put it this way, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.” If you believe in a God who is out to get you and lay the hammer down anytime you make a mistake, you are going to be full of fear and insecurity and try to control other’s perception of you. If you don’t believe in God, you might believe there is not a purpose to anything and may often lay awake at night asking if anything you do or if anyone around you really matters. Maybe you believe He is just the “big man upstairs,” like an old grandpa who started the clock of time and space and just lets everything run its course without showing much interest in what happens in your life. Whatever you believe about God, or don’t believe about God, will determine everything about you as well as how you treat others and interpret life circumstances. Certain beliefs about God have led people in the past to either mistreat one another, or fight for the cause of the oppressed.
The first step to answering the question of who you are is to answer the question of who God is. When we discover who God is, we discover ourselves. Pretend you are a fish. If you were born in a fish bowl and all you knew your entire life was the fish bowl, you may not even know you are a fish or that you live in a bowl. Let’s also pretend this fish bowl is not clear and that you cannot see anything outside of it. How on earth could you ever know that there is an entire world outside your bowl? If, perhaps, there was someone outside the bowl to pick you up and show you around outside the bowl, then you might discover that there is more to your reality than just your bowl. You might even discover that you are a fish living in a bowl because you are shown your bowl from the outside perspective!
God is the one who is outside the bowl. Our fish bowl is our reality of time, space, and personal experiences, of which none of us have ever been outside of. If this is the case, how is it even possible to know anything at all if there is no one outside the bowl who has determined the rules of reality and answers to questions such as “What is a human being?” We face an identity crisis in our nation today because we are facing the logical consequences of a nihilistic worldview. If God is dead, as Nietzsche said, then so is knowledge of reality and knowledge of the self. Before I go any further, I don’t want to dive too far into the philosophical and psychological question of identity just yet. We will get to that in another post. When the soul is in agony, logic and philosophy offer little to no solace.
Inside of our fish bowl, there are many voices clamoring to tell us what the bowl looks like and how you fit in it. As a child, you had expectations placed on you by family members, peers, and teachers. Perhaps you experienced some kind of trauma or abuse which took away your ability to trust anyone. Maybe you had super critical parents and believed that no matter how hard you tried, nothing would be good enough. Another voice is popular culture which tells us how we should dress, act, and what we should believe in. Some of us don’t even want to deal with the pain of asking who we are, so we numb ourselves with social media scrolling, addictions, or business. When we enter the desert, ALL of these voices are silenced and who we truly are comes to the surface. The desert is the lamp that God uses to expose the most hidden part of the soul, our subconscious, which guides our everyday interactions with ourselves and others. In the desert, it is just you and God, the One who created you and the One who knows you better than you know yourself. The book of Job has deeply impacted me by teaching my the truth that God sees me and knows me better than anyone else.
Job knew God most of his life. After losing everything, Job understandably had many questions for God after having done nothing wrong. Like Job, many of us have asked how a good God could allow so much devastation and unexplained suffering. Over and over again, Job challenges God and eagerly awaits God’s reply. After several years, God finally answers and tells Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and yo make it known to me” (Job 38:2-3). God then proceeds to ask Job if he was present at the beginning of the world, if he knew how to make the sun rise, or if he could tame the mighty Leviathan. God was not condemning Job for bringing his doubts to Him, but was giving Job the answers he needed. Like Job, not a single person on this earth has the bird’s eye view of reality and cannot possibly see all of the endless connections and consequences to every decision that is made. In the end, Job did not receive the answers to his questions, but he did receive God Himself. As a man who had grown up serving the Lord, Job’s answer is pretty profound:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours is thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what i did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.Job 42:1-6
Job, a man who had served the Lord most of his life, is admitting that he had heard of God and even knew about God, but now he was truly seeing God. Before I entered the desert, I had grown up in church and genuinely had a relationship with God; however, I think I knew about Him instead of deeply knowing Him for who He is. When all chaos broke loose in my life, I quickly discovered that I saw God through the lens of my past mistakes and through people who had betrayed me. I didn’t trust Him, because I saw in Him those who had rejected me; as a result, I shut myself off from opening up to other people and kept myself from expecting good things in the future because I did not want to be let down. I strove to preform to the best of my ability at everything and was harder on myself than anyone else. I was placing my identity and value in what others thought of me, and avoided failure at all costs. It was hard for me to receive joy because anytime someone gave to me or when something good happened, I would quickly think of worst case scenarios because I did not want to get let down later.
It is the wounds and trauma from the past that are driving our subconscious actions and motivations. All of us deal with this. Peter Scazzero refers to this as our shadow, which is “the culmination of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of yourself.” (The Emotionally Healthy Leader, 51) Until we deal with our shadows, we will be slaves to our hidden motives, forever striving and tormented on the inside. God is the one who brings our shadows to light and he uses the desert to do so. Many times we refuse to enter the desert because we are afraid God will hurt us, when in reality, He wants to heal us. Many of us are like the paralyzed man by the pool at Bethseda and Jesus is asking us, “Do you want to be made well?” (Jn 5:6) Do you want to be made well, knowing what it will cost? Our shadows become like our favorite hoodie, comfortable and worn in. They are what we are used to and casting them off will feel like death. Many of us say we want the freedom that is ours, but do you really? Do you want to made well?
For me, God knew my shadow was killing me on the inside and he sent me the gift of the desert to expose it. At first, everything felt like death and keep in mind, this has gone on for nearly ten years now. I had to completely reconstruct how I interpreted God, the world, and people. Everything I had placed my value in was suddenly gone. There were and sometimes still are, days that take every ounce of strength to get out of bed. For a while, I asked God so many questions and eventually became more silent as I waited for His answers. I was wondering if He saw me and if He noticed my pain. The silence and solitude I experienced seemed to communicate to me that either He did not care, or that He was absent. As I said less and asked less, I came to a realization, “Am I going to believe He is God or not?” Looking back, I now see that He was giving me Himself. He began showing me my mixed motives, my false securities, and ultimately, how I viewed Him. I did not see Him as the loving, protecting, and all providing Father I was supposed to view Him as. When I was in love and went through a devastating break up, I learned that I could not put another person on a pedestal and that she could never provide for me the longing in my soul for the love only God can give. Furthermore, I learned to value my heart more, to protect it, and was able to trust that God will bring me someone who will be able tough it out on the crazy adventure ahead. When I experienced betrayal from a pastor and mentor I thought I could trust, God showed me my hope was not in man, but in Him. When I was rejected by “friends” and people as soon as they realized being with me was no longer convenient or useful to them, God reminded me that He is my home and heaven is my destination. I NEVER got answers to most of my questions, but what I did get was God Himself. I realized that I could not operate in the calling He put on my life until I had a correct view of who He was. Like Job, my heart was exposed before Him and I began to see God for who He said He is, not what my past experiences said He was.
If He wants to use you and you are willing to be used for a greater purpose, He will do everything necessary to make sure your character can match your destiny. Ever since I was a kid, I have had huge dreams and am still holding on to and pursuing those dreams today. I have been carrying some of these dreams in my heart for nearly twenty one years now as I have been working behind the scenes and waiting on God to take care of the timing. For now, those dreams are between God and I and the select few in my circle who are praying for me as I chase after them. But here’s the great thing, those dreams are not just my own, they are dreams God put inside me and because of that, it’s up to him to make them happen, not me. Olympic runner and Christian Ryan Hall used to say in his training, that it was up to him to put in the work and up to God to take care of the results. Some of these dreams are so crazy that if they were to happen without my identity being placed in God, I would be destroyed in an instant and hurt others along the way. I once heard a speaker say that God is far more concerned with who we are becoming than what we are doing. If I was not confident in God because I did not know who He is, then I would trust my soul and dreams to other people, money, fame, power, or whatever I would feel safe with. Those dreams would quickly die and leave a wake of hurt people in the aftermath.
At the end of this, I would like you to get some time with God, take a journal, and ask Him, “How do I see you?” At first you may not hear anything, but keep trying. I had to get a lot of alone time before God began revealing my view of Him. If you had an abusive or absent father, you may have a hard time believing your heavenly Father actually cares for you, and yes, even likes you. If you have wounds of rejection, you may be exhausted because you cannot accept the fact that God has chosen you despite your sins and failures. In other words, you don’t feel free because you still have not realized that there is literally nothing you can give to God to make Him love you anymore or less. You cannot do a single thing to earn your way to heaven. The bottom line is that you will not move forward until you know who God is as He says He is. In the next post, we will start going over practical steps towards how we should view ourselves in light of who God is, including knowing how to deal with our shadows.
For now, please know that He sees you and He knows the questions you have. In the darkness, He wants to give you Himself and make Himself your home. Everything around you may feel like death, but with Him, death always leads to new life. You are not alone and the best is yet to come. Remember, the most important thing about you is what you think about when you think about God.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
One thought on “Who are You? Pt. 2 The Most Important Thing about You”
“If He wants to use you and you are willing to be used for a greater purpose, He will do everything necessary to make sure your character can match your destiny.” yes
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