Who are You? Pt. 3 Stop Lying to Yourself

The desert is the great mirror, the revealer of your truest intentions. In it, who you really are comes to the surface as the scorching heat and the blinding light burns away any walls you had up protecting your facades. As you look out into the expanse, you are faced with a question, “Will I continue to go forward, or will I retreat to the comfort I once knew?” Although it seems like death, the desert is giving you a chance for new life, the purpose that God had laid out for you since before the beginning of time. The truth is, you can always go back to your comfort of not knowing who you are, but you would be the lesser for it and so would others around you who would lose the gifts you have to offer.

I was surprised to find that one of my favorite Marvel movies ended up being Dr. Strange. In the movie, Dr. Stephen Vincent strange is an arrogant, world renowned surgeon. He is loaded with money and loves to drive his sports cars. One night on one of his drives, he gets in a horrific car accident that damages his nervous system, rendering his hands inoperable. As a result, he faces an intense identity crisis because he had placed all his worth in his job as a surgeon. Out of desperation to find answers, Dr. Strange travels across the world in search of the rumored “Ancient One,” who can supposedly restore his hands. He learned of The Ancient One after hearing from a formerly paralyzed man who had been healed by her, Jonathan Pangborn, that she could heal him. After finding her, Dr. Strange learns how to use mystical powers and martial arts. Along the way, he discovers that he has been woven into a story that is much bigger than himself. An other worldly, all powerful being named Dormammu is threatening to destroy the earth, just as he had done so with many other worlds and Dr. Strange soon discovers that it is his task to stop him. At one point, Dr. Strange decides he just wants to go back to being a surgeon after realizing that he can use his newfound powers to channel energy through his hands. Right before The Ancient One dies, a heavy conversation takes place between her and Dr. Strange:

The Ancient One: You have such a capacity for goodness. You’ve always excelled, but not because you crave success but because of your fear of failure.

Dr. Strange: It’s what made me a great doctor.

The Ancient One: It’s precisely what’s kept you from greatness. Arrogance and fear keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.

Dr. Strange: Which is?

The Ancient One: It’s not about you! When you first came to me, you asked me how I was able to heal Jonathan Pangborn. I didn’t. He channels dimensional energy directly into his own body.

Dr. Strange: He uses magic to walk. . .

The Ancient One: Constantly. He had a choice to return to his own life, or to serve something greater than himself.

Dr. Strange: So I could have my hands back again? My old life?

The Ancient One: You could, and the world would be all the lesser for it.

And. . . just in case you would rather watch the clip of that whole conversation, here you go:

Go to about 47 seconds, and that’s where the conversation starts.

In the clip, you will also notice that she says that none of us are ready, and we don’t get to choose our time. There will come a time when the desert will show up knocking at your door, often uninvited. What choice will you make? Most will refuse to venture into the desert to discover what gifts are to be found because the pain will be too much. I do not say this lightly or with judgement in my heart, simply because I know how intense that pain can be. All of us are faced with a choice at the doorstep of the desert. Will we allow our false identities to be ripped from us, knowing the pain and inner turmoil that will happen as a result? Will we remain at the doorstep, choosing to forever hide within our false sense of value? Dr. Strange could have had his old life back. You could have your old way of life back, but the world would be the lesser for it. I would also like to clarify what I mean by your old way of life. When tragedy strikes, in many ways life will never be the same, particularly if it involves the death of a loved one. When I say old ways, I mean old patterns of thinking and old sources for security and identity. When suffering happens unexpectedly, we often just try to grin, bear it, and go back to being busy because facing ourselves and the pain within can be terrifying. In my own life, the pain of the desert became one of the most treasured gifts that God gave me. I became more forgiving, a better friend, a son of the Father, more compassionate, and even more passionate than I already was about making a difference in the world. Brokenness is a gift, not a curse. So how do we get there? How do we get to the point of seeing brokenness as a gift?

We left off in the last post establishing the most important thing about us, and that is what we think about when we think about God. Our view of God, whether we believe in Him or not, will determine how we view ourselves and other people. If we are to be truly known by Him and see Him for who He really is, we have to allow the filters placed by our false identities to be removed. Like Dr. Strange in his old life, we place all of our value and worth in what we do or how other people perceive us. This false sense of value causes us to see God as someone who only loves us when we are doing well, likewise, we end up only valuing others for what they can do for us. For example, most of us would not even give a janitor or a trash pickup man a second glance, but if Tom Cruise was walking down the street we might take a second look. We will not get a grip on who we are until we allow the desert to first expose common lies we believe about our identity.

Lie #1: I am what I do.

Like Dr. Strange, we tend to place our value in what we can do for ourselves and others. A tragic event can change all of that. What happens when you have been working at the same place for twenty years, and your company drops you right before you’re about to cash in on that retirement? If you are an athlete, what will happen if you suffer a serious injury that will keep you from being active in the same way again? Are you still you even if you can’t do sports? Do you still have value? Have you been in a serious relationship, thinking the whole time that the other person loved you and would give their life for you, only to find they would drop you as soon as they think the grass is greener on the other side? Such tragedies in life will force you to face the lie that we are what we do. As someone in ministry, I discovered that I was doing “so much” for Jesus that I forgot that I am supposed to love Jesus and people, rather than doing things for Him. I also realized that one of the burdens that came with leadership was people wanting to attach themselves to me not because of who I am, but so that they could climb up higher on the social ladder. The tragedies of life will remind you very quickly that doing things and being busy are fragile structures for identity. If you are not able to do your job, your ministry, your sport, your talent, etc. . ., are you still worthy of being loved? If your answer is no, perhaps you are believing the lie that you are what you do.

Lie #2: I am what other people say about me.

Adults do not change that much from their childhood selves. While they mature and get jobs and form families, they are still driven by the same insecurities they experienced in childhood. Even within churches, jobs, and schools adults still form their cliques. They may be in their twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties, but they are all trying to find a group to be a part of and impress others with their outward accomplishments. At the end of the day, we are still kids. A warning sign that you are placing too much value in what others say about you is if you are devastated by even the slightest bit of criticism or when someone talks bad about you. This is not to say that it is ok for people to give unjust criticism or for people to talk about you behind your back. What I find crazy is how much we do to try and impress people when we go out to gyms, coffee shops, movies, or restaurants. We try to look or act a certain way around people we may never see again. When I try to drag friends to the gym with me a common response I get is, “Will there be a lot of people? What if everyone is looking at me cause of how out of shape I am?” Maybe you get gossiped about at your church or job, most likely from people who don’t even know you very well. Here is the funny thing, all those people you are worried about trying to perform in front of don’t really care. In fact, they are thinking the exact same thing you are, “How do I look and do I have what it takes?”

First, we have to realize we are not the center of everyone’s attention. A big lesson I have learned in leadership is most people’s favorite talking point is themselves. Second, the human personality is one of the most complex, beautiful parts of mankind. It takes YEARS to truly know someone, yet we write one another off pretty quickly. So, if someone ghosts you, rejects you, or thinks they “just know” you even though they have only been in your life a short time, you need to remind yourself that those people have not seen everything you’ve been through. They don’t know all your hopes and dreams, they haven’t been there in the times you’ve been alone crying out to God on your bedroom floor, they don’t know all your quirks, and they don’t know all of your fears or regrets; in fact, they have probably only scratched the surface. With all of this in mind, have a little grace for yourself. I used to write off people with a first glance, but now I really try to remind myself that the human personality is very deep, mysterious, and complex. Each person has the spark of greatness in them and whether that spark will be ignited on this side of life is another question entirely. Finally, there is only one person in this universe who really knows who you are and that is God. No one, not even yourself, has the bird’s eye view into the deepest parts of your soul. We will get more into what God says about who we are later.

Lie #3: I am what I achieve.

From childhood to college, we are fed this idea that you have to go to college, get married, get a job, have two cars in the driveway, have a nice yard, and have a decent house. When you have checked off all of those boxes, you have made it! That’s it! After that, all you have to look forward to is retirement and dying! For my generation the formula is invest, build your clout, your podcast, your Tik Tok, your Twitch, and retire by age 30 and travel for the rest of your life. This is not to say traveling and investing are bad things, but what are you going to do when you have accomplished all those things? Will traveling all over the world or retiring earlier cure the search for meaning in your soul? Seneca once said:

“Though you cross the boundless ocean. . . whatever your destination you will be followed by your failings.” Here is what Socrates said to someone who was making the same complaint, ‘How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away.”


Social media can amplify these feelings of emptiness in our achievements, and give a false expectation of how success presents itself. Many times we catch ourselves comparing our accomplishments to others whenever we see people post pictures of their new house, their new job position, or their luxurious vacations. Craig Groeschel, leader of Life Church, said, “The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else.” When you equate value with success you are going to be jealous, bitter, disappointed, and depressed. There will always be someone better than you. When our value comes from success, we fall into the comparison trap. A hundred years from now, no one will remember who had a doctorate degree, a big house, or a fancy car. No one will remember how many friends you had. One day, someone will inherit all of your stuff, or it will just be sold in an estate sale. These are the harsh realities of life. Your achievements will end up like a pile of dusty trophies in the end. Invest in what will last, and that is people and relationships. People are the only legacy we leave behind.

Lie #4: I am what I say about me.

In lie #2, we talked about the complexity of human personality. It seems like we have a hard enough time knowing other people, let alone knowing ourselves. I find it ironic that we live in a day and age that is all about self-discovery and finding the “god” in you, and yet, we are experiencing an epidemic of anxiety, suicide, and depression that we have never seen on such a scale in human history. The more we have tried to dive into ourselves to find purpose and identity, the more lost we have become. In a day where truth is considered relative and unknowable, and the Knower and Creator of all reality is believed to be dead, as Nietzsche put it, we have lost the way to know ourselves. When I tried to get to know myself better, I discovered that there is a great capacity for darkness inside of me, as well as every other human being. Any person who dives into themselves is going to find that darkness eventually and if God is dead, then we are truly without hope. We will get into tackling our inner darkness later. For now, you need to know that all of your self doubts, insecurities, and fears do not define your identity. You may be a person who constantly beats yourself down because of what others, your parents, or your teachers spoke into your life. You keep telling yourself a narrative of “I’m rejected and no one wants me.” Chances are that there is probably at least one person in your life that would be deeply hurt if you were to leave this world and their life. Our self-talk is not always the best indicator of who we are. Again, there is only one person who has the bird’s eye view concerning who we are. A good friend of mine caught me talking negatively about myself and told me “Be kind to my friend Matthew.” How do you talk to yourself? Does your self talk reflect what God says about who you are? Do you even know what God thinks of you?


When you get some time to yourself, spend a while reflecting on these four lies about your identity. Like Dr. Strange, do you identity your value with what you do? Maybe you identify with several of these lies. In the desert, you have a chance to break their power, but to do so will be costly and painful. Yes, you can rest in the false sense of security in your old way of thinking, but you will wake up one day to find that you never became all you were meant to be, and the world will be the lesser for it. Maybe for several of us, it’s not the “entire world,” but perhaps it will be that family member, that neighbor across the street, or the person in the check out line who will be the lesser for it.

In the desert, those four lies will come crumbling down and for a time, you will feel like nothing because you will have lost everything you were placing your identity in. Deserts in real life starve us of nutrients and make us dehydrated to the point where all we think about is that beautiful, life sustaining substance we call water. The desert will starve your soul. In a desert, you aren’t worried about getting a Coke or a Dr. Pepper because your body focuses on what it needs to live. The lies are what we used to feed ourselves on, and yes, we will starve and become thirsty. In losing yourself, you will find yourself and the One who created you. Eventually, we will get to uncovering who we are. For the next post, we will go over facing the inner darkness that keeps us from our true identities.

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