Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Identity is in Christ.

In the world of eating disorders, we so often struggle with this thing called identity.  Identity:  a person’s global role in life and the perception of his or her sense of self. Some might simply say that identity is who someone is.  For people who suffer from their eating disorder, they often make their illness their identity.  I am anorexic. I am bulimic.  Instead of I am a person anorexia or bulimia.

I know that this was true for me.  I found my identity in my eating disorder.  I thought of myself as a purging anorexic, as the number on the scale, as the number of calories I ingested or the hours I exercised.  And when I was in treatment, I was a recovering anorexic.  When I reached the point in my treatment when I was weight-restored and eating regularly, I had an identity crisis.  I had for so long defined myself by my disorder that I forgot any other way to define myself.  I had no idea who I was, and a person cannot live like that.  

I struggled for a really long time before I came to find my identity in God.   

Who does God say we are? Looking at Genesis, we can find that we are three things: 

1) Revelation receiver
2) Made to mirror God (Genesis 1:26-27)
2) Blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 1:27)
3) Humbly honored (Genesis 1:26)

Let's explore this a little bit.  As a revelation receiver, we are given the ability to communicate with God and have Him communicate back to us.  We allow God to speak.  As humbly honored, we are more than just mere animals, but not so powerful that we don't need God's help.  

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  Because of this, you are not more valuable or less valuable than anyone else.  All of us equally bare the image and likeness of God.  All of us are made to mirror God. 

As people who are made to mirror God, we are made to do for God exactly what mirrors do for us--reflect the image of our self.  God is loving, forgiving, truthful, merciful, generous... and when we are also loving, forgiving, truthful, merciful, and generous, we are reflecting God.  Just as Jesus did.  Jesus was the perfect, sinless mirror.  We should ask not what this action will make me look like, but how can I reflect who God is.  

We are also blessed to bless.  If you read Genesis 1:27 closely, you can see that Adam and Eve didn't do anything to be blessed by God.  Not a single thing.  God blessed them right from the start and actively loved them with a father's affection.  He began with a blessing.  

The same is true for us.  It begins with the blessing of Jesus.  The blessing of an unchanging identity in who God made us to be and who Jesus is.  Our identity is received, not achieved   And we are continually blessed by God--things He provides like food and clothing, spiritual gifts, lessons that he teaches us--whatever God teaches you, whatever God does for you, whatever God blesses you with is so that you can teach, do, and bless others in return.

If God was the only spiritual being at force in this world, all of those walking with Jesus would be secure in our identity in Him.  But we aren't.  Satan interferes with our ability to believe God's truth.  

See, Satan wasn't satisfied with his identity under God.  He wanted to be just as powerful, if not more powerful, than God.  So he sought his identity elsewhere and now he is a liar and deceiver and killer.  

In Genesis 3:5, Satan offers an alternative identity statement to Eve than the one that she was given by God.  Satan was then and still is now responsible for the lies.  But the lie alone did nothing.  It was Eve's belief in the lie that led to the fall, her sin of commission and Adam's sin of omission, both resulting from believing the lie.  And still today, we are responsible for our belief in the lies that Satan tries to feed us.  

For me and many others who have suffered from eating disorders, a lot of these lies had to do with my worth, my value, my appearance.  I believe lies that said I wasn't good enough, thin enough or pretty enough.  I believe lies that said that if I skipped this meal/purged that/ran for x hours/weighed x amount then I would be loved.  

The true power of a lie is that it doesn't need to be true  to destroy you.  The power is contingent upon our belief in it.  Have you ever noticed how Jesus was able to resist temptation, withstand suffering, and face trials?  I'll give you a hint: he knew his identity.  Over and over in the gospels he comes back to his true identity.  We don't do that.  If I'm thinner, then I'll be loved.  If I drink a little more, I'll be more courageous.  If I get a 4.0 this semester, I'll be successful.  It all comes back to believing lies about our identity. 

But knowing our identity doesn't mean that our lives will be free from pain and suffering.  It only means that our lives will be pain and suffering proof if we put our identity in Christ.  If we remember that God made us.  That Jesus loves us.  That there is no condemnation in Christ.  

Any damage that we do to ourselves, like eating disorders, is rooted in our false understanding of identity.  It's the definition of idolatry given in Ezekiel 14:3--the problem is in our hearts.  The problem is when we take a good thing and make it a God thing.  When we expect our identity to be achieved.  
Our identity is received.  

In the Bible, people are placed into two categories--idolaters and worshipers.  We are made to worship the Creator and steward created things.  Idolatry is what happens when there is an inversion.  

Because idolatry is so deeply entwined with our hearts, people violently defend their idols.  They find them hard to change because they promise something 'better,' like happiness and a perfect life if my weight is x or I look a certain way or earn a certain grade. But idols make promises that they never keep.  They lie to us.  Lies don't bring life; they only bring death.  

We idolize items.  Cars, homes, name brands of jeans, even colleges.  We spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't know.  

We idolize our duties.  Being a student, a mother, a Christian.  We put doing good things like volunteering and serving into the place of God.  This is bad.  Doing the right thing with the wrong heart is idolizing.  We try to find our thing and then be the best at it because we believe that what we do determines who we are.  This leads to cockiness by many who believe that they are the best and also depression by the many who believe they are failures.  It's exactly the opposite: who you are determines what you do.

We idolize others.  What will they think of me if I do this?  What do they want?  What do they need?  How can I make them happy with me?  I want them to approve.  I want them to like me and never leave me.  I want to make them think this about me.  I want to be included.  I want to be accepted.  I want them to praise me, and if they do that, my life is worth living.  But if they criticize me, I want to die.  It's so common especially among those with eating disorders.  People pleasers...willing to change our identity so that people will like us.  

If you idolize, you will demonize.  I have to be thin to be accepted.  So obviously fat people are not accepted.  Or even at a simpler level: I love Ohio State football.  I hate Michigan.  So if you love U of M, you're the devil.  Or if you think that wearing leggings as pants is acceptable, your the devil.  As if anything contrary to what you believe--or what you think people want you to believe--automatically makes that other person the devil.

We live in a world where we are always creating an identity and someone is always criticizing it.  And all of a sudden, we're becoming people that we aren't.  We are forgetting that our identity is in Christ.  That we are daughters and sons of the King.  That we are already accepted and loved.

Then we idolize our sufferings.  We suffer emotionally. We suffer relationally. We suffer spiritually. We suffer financially. We suffer physically. And when we suffer, either because of sins we commit or others commit against us, we can have our worst day be our defining day.  But here's the thing: you are NOT your worst day.  You're righteousness is in Christ, not you.  

I have anorexia.  I have depression.  I have weak bones.  I am orthostatic.  These are thoughts that I allowed to define me.  But if you really love someone, you cannot allow their suffering to become the source of their identity.  Identity is made in the image and likeness of God.  Yes, these things are a part of me, but they do not define me.  They EXPLAIN me.  

I eat every two hours because I have to follow a meal plan and because I suffer from anorexia.  I isolate myself because I suffer from depression.  I take calcium supplements and watch what I do because I have a low bone density.  I drink caloric beverages and move slowly because otherwise I will pass out.  I love Jesus more because he redeemed me from this.  

We are not our worst days.  We are not the worst things we've done.  We are not the worst things that others have done to us.  We are what Jesus has done for us.  

A lot of times we try to take serving others, we try to take recovering from an eating disorder, we try to take serving others, we try to take good things and put them in God's place.  But good things in God's place are invariably things that fail.  And when, not if, but when we have placed our identity in these thing and when they fail, we will look for someone to blame.  I am a failure.  Look what you've done.  God, You said You loved me.  We become self-centered, other-centered, or God-centered in our blame.  

And when things fall apart, when our identity idolatry fails us, we have two options.  Turn to Jesus.  Admit that we have idols, that we don't allow Him to define our lives.  Or pick a new identity idolatry. 

And as someone who has constantly bounced from one identity idolatry to the next, I'm running to Jesus.  Because in him, I am redeemed.  In him, I am set free.  In him, I am a new creation.