Why do so many of us define ourselves by our worst traits? We do it with our physical imperfections as seen in the Dove Real Beauty Sketches; we do it with inner attributes as well.
Take me for example—I’m shy by nature. Over the years, my aversion to looking foolish has made me pull into myself and keep others at arm’s length. Instead of defining myself as quiet, but super curious, I’ve justified being cold and withdrawn because that’s what stereotypical shy people do. I act according to the label I’ve given myself. Shy people don’t look people in the eye…so I didn’t either. Shy people don’t wave to people as they walk down the street or greet new people at church. They keep to themselves and don’t jump in to share their opinions in group settings. By succumbing to my self-given label, I defined myself by all the weaknesses inherent in that label and I wasn’t true to me. Shyness is a weakness, not my identity. Weaknesses can (and should) be overcome through the grace of God.
It’s natural to want to stick labels on ourselves and others. In the picture book, You Are Special by Max Lucado, the Wemmicks stick stars or dots on everyone they meet. Dots are bad; stars are good. Punchinello is sad because he has been covered by dots. When he meets another Wemmick with no stars or dots, he decides to find out her secret. He learns that spending time with the Woodcarver each day (their creator) helps her realize what’s special and unique about her. As Punchinello learns to value himself, the dots and stars don’t stick to him either.
Spending time with our Creator each day in prayer can help us value ourselves so we don’t define ourselves by labels like Punchinello did. Whether they are bad or good labels—stubborn, bratty, bossy, jerky, brilliant, beautiful, talented, loner, shy, party animal, slow, handicapped, alcoholic, gay, dumb, jock, smoker, nerd, popular, Goth, addict, know-it-all, loud—they still fall short of defining who we truly are. The only label that matters—because it’s real and won’t ever change—is Child of God.
God loves us whether we are incredibly talented or lazy as a slug. He loves us whether we are as kind as Mother Teresa or whether we are serving time in prison for an atrocious crime. He loves us whether we believe in Him or not. We’re His children. He knows we have potential to become better than we are today…no matter whether we sit in the White House or sit on the couch with a bag of Doritos.
I love reading books. Everyone is like a book in life’s library. Each of us has different contents and mysteries within our pages. We all have our share of tragic plot twists, humorous scenes, love stories, and sometimes chapters of great suffering. We have unique covers, but though we judge literary books by their covers, we shouldn’t judge humans by theirs. We don’t get complete artistic license with our outside covers (genetics and life creates most of the base design); but we have complete control over the contents within our pages. Life may throw wicked plot twists our way that make us wonder if joy will ever be possible, but no matter how much suffering you wade through in your story…you can experience joy (even while wading). It’s a choice.
The way to choose joy no matter what surprises our stories throw our way is to hand over our pens to God. When we do this, we can be assured a happy ending. Our Father in Heaven will ensure that we struggle through a hero’s journey that exposes all our worst and best traits, but He also can guarantee that weaknesses don’t break us. In Moroni 6:4 (in the Book of Mormon) it says:
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word ‘wrought’ means to work into shape by artistry or effort; processed for use; beaten or hammered into shape. When we give our pen to God to co-write our stories, it doesn’t mean we won’t have any gut-wrenching plot twists. All authors know that happy stories make boring books because the characters don’t grow. God, being the author and finisher of our faith, will bend, twist and shape us into new creatures through challenging experiences. At times, our story might bring us to our knees in “Why me?” moments.
And God says, “Why not you? I’m making you into a new creature—one more powerful and capable than the one you are right now. Growing hurts, but it will be worth it. Trust me. You’ll get your Happily Ever After in the end.”
All we have to do is rely on Him…believe in Him…and follow Him. Then JOY will wrap its arms around our hearts in both the bad and good moments and we will know who we truly are because we will see ourselves through our Father’s eyes.
Do you believe you can have joy even during the tough times? Have you succumbed to self-labeling and defined yourself by your weaknesses? What have you done to help you remember to be more positive? I’d love to hear from you.