A misconception of identity is as dangerous as a misconception of love. I used to think that very little mattered. By this, I mean that whenever things happened that were unpleasant or painful, I would dismiss it with the idea that it didn’t matter. I would just get over it. Of course, this was merely a minimization of how deeply events really affected me. As I moved out of denial, I began to realize that everything matters, though perhaps not with the same impact. And the one that matters most is how we understand ourselves in relation to God and our neighbor.
Our ways of relating to others are one of the most crucial aspects of our lives for one simple reason. If we have recurring issues in our relationships, we will have recurring issues in our relationship with God. In fact, how we relate to others is merely the other side of the coin in how we relate to God. In the previous post, I discussed how the misconception of love ( www.poemachronicles.com/misconception-of-love/ ) causes us to become distant from God or afraid of Him. In this post, the misconception of identity, that is mistaking what makes us individuals, can create a lack of intimacy with God that is difficult to overcome.
In order to have a healthy relationship with God and with others, we must understand who we are.
If we do not have a clear idea of what belongs to us and what does not, we make one of two mistakes. Either we have no boundaries or we erect walls too high for others to scale. Too much or too little seems to be the default settings of many people. For me, it was always the former. I let everyone in. Now, I often tend towards the other end of the spectrum, happier to observe than participate.
So let me get to the point here in terms of two ways that we mistakenly perceive ourselves. More than the two I discuss here exist, of course. However, these two capture the greatest number of folks.
Misconception of Identity #1: The Merger
The merging individual has a problem with ownership. After all, a life lived without boundaries, is a life lived as a trespasser. I sometimes think of this in terms of the Lord’s Prayer. We pray Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The idea here is that a clear metaphor for sin is the moving into another’s territory, emotionally, spiritually, or physically, in a way that causes harm.
And this is the life of the merger.
A person who lives life merged with others, feeling their feelings, taking on their responsibilities, and generally taking on the identity of others, lives a hollow life. A life lived as another is the proverbial broken cistern. The reason so many get stuck here, going from partner to partner or friend to friend, is that merging is a natural part of development. It is just one we aren’t meant to stay in. Babies merge with their mothers and then spend their childhoods and adolescence gradually emerging into full-blown adults.
Adolescents, in their quest to individuate from their parents, merge with their friends for a while. Even being in love mimics the merging we did early on as we keep our bodies and faces close to the one who we love. The issue here is that we must take on the weight of our individual destinies.
We must come to grips with who God is calling us to be, not as a group, a couple, or another, but as He made us, unique and alone.
For the merger, just as relationships prove inadequate to fill the hollow places, God proves to be an empty God. Perish the thought, you say. But if we do not know where we begin and end, how can we truly experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit? If we do not know our own minds, how then can we take our thoughts captive? If we do not recognize our own emotions, our devotion to God will prove as transient as our commitment to others. In the end, we cannot give to God what we refuse to own.
We move from sensation to sensation and emotion to emotion without growing into our destiny as sons and daughters of God, in whom we live and move and have our identity.
Misconception of Identity #2 The Avoidant
Avoidant people live in a land free of conflict. You can count of them to ghost you at the first sign of storm clouds. They are easy to be with, except with the nagging suspicion that you aren’t really with anyone. Here the boundaries don’t set a marker for the property; they become an impenetrable fortress. But several dangers lurk behind the walls of the avoidant that threaten their spiritual life to an extreme.
The first is that of loneliness. To avoid being known is to wallow in the self. If we do not let others come in to our world, we set ourselves up for an arid existence. The problem with an arid existence is that we must have water to survive. Secret sins begin to crop up as we look for pleasure and relief from the dryness. The behaviors cause shame, the fear of intimacy increases, and the walls get higher.
The identity of the avoidant is unworthiness.
Sometimes a fear of conflict causes this avoidance. While it may seem to my readers that I express my emotions easily, that could not be further from the truth. Those who avoid conflict often have compelling reasons to do so. My first and highly abusive marriage meant that anger terrified me. Anger meant abuse, separation from love, and more shame. I kept my feelings contained for years and the lies needed to perpetuate the abusive cycle kept the walls firmly in place.
But if we cannot let others in, how then can we let God in? If we do not understand what love is, if we have a misconception of identity, i.e. I am not myself; I am somebody else, or conversely, I am unknowable and unworthy, how do we approach God? We certainly cannot worship in spirit and in truth.
The answer is of course, the same as it always is. No matter what new diet products claim, watching what you eat and moving your body is still the answer to healthy living. You developed your identity or lack thereof over years. Chances are that reclaiming your identity will take some time, some counsel, some prayer, and some guts.
But this is the inheritance of God’s children: that we are loved, are free to love, and each is counted worthy of entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
And here is the startling news. Jesus didn’t proclaim the kingdom as imminent. He didn’t say the Kingdom of God is coming and it’s really great. He said the Kingdom is in your midst. Heaven has already started. It starts with Him in your heart and soul.
This article on merging is helpful…