THE BOTTOM LINE – Satan tries to define my identity in ways that are false and destructive. But God knows who I really am. I will listen to God's truth and reject Satan's lies.
What’s the first question we ask when we meet someone new? “So, what do you do?” We always ask about the person’s occupation, right? Based on the answer to that question, we think we can draw conclusions about who the person is. It’s popular to think that what you do determines who you are. And it’s true that what you do may give someone a small slice of insight about who you are. But only a slice. It doesn’t paint the full picture. You are not just your occupation.
Who you are will ultimately determine what you do, not the other way around. And if you don’t have a true sense of who you are, it can profoundly affect what you do – and what you don’t do.
TRAUMA AND IDENTITY
At Firstline, one our our foundational premises is that each and every person has the potential to do extraordinary things. That includes you. You were put on this earth for a purpose. You are capable of amazing and heroic feats. As a first responder, you have probably already been called upon to do things that most people would consider exceptional, even if they seem ordinary or routine to you.
However, when a person experiences multiple traumas or long-term stress, any sense of self-identity is often shaken to the core. You may have started out your first responder career feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof, but over time, you may have found yourself in enough traumatic scenarios to alter that assessment. Those positive characteristics may have been replaced by fear, confusion, and a sense of powerlessness. And they don’t remain merely in the psychological realm – they bleed into your behavior, too. Your plans, priorities, responses, activities, hopes, ambitions, social interactions, and career can all be negatively impacted. You may try to maintain the bold, confident persona on the job, but on the inside, you may feel very differently.
As Dr. Neil Anderson states: “No one can consistently behave in a manner that is inconsistent with the way he sees himself.”
You can’t hold one set of opinions about yourself and try to live according to a different set. You may succeed for a while, but the energy required to keep up that front is enormous. Eventually, exhaustion sets in, the mask comes off, and the meltdown occurs. The issue of identity also hits hard once you retire.
For many years, who you were was intrinsically connected with your first responder career. But that’s over. How do you figure out who you are now? As we learned a few weeks ago, one of the three primary predictors of depression and suicide is a lack of belongingness. Retired first responders may have a difficult time shifting gears and figuring out where they belong after their careers have ended. The importance of the issue of identity can’t be overstated for retirees.
John Eldredge writes that every boy grows up asking these questions: “Do I have what it takes? Can I be a hero? Will I be able to fight for what is important in life?”
The same can be said for young women – especially those who end up in first responder careers. We don’t often find the answers to these questions during our childhood years, so as adults, we continue to ask them. For many, the only way we think we can find answers is to compare ourselves with others. But this doesn’t help, because for every person we judge to be inferior to us, there are plenty of others we judge to be superior. Our confusion continues, and we keep searching. There is no winning in comparison.
THREE LIES FROM SATAN
Your soul has an enemy – Satan – who is happy to help you answer your questions of identity and intensify your soul wounds. However, his answers are false, designed to keep you trapped in the mire of low self-worth. They stand in the way of God’s greater purpose for your life. Let’s look at three lies Satan tells us on the subject of identity.
LIE #1: “You are what you do.”
For many first responders, this doesn’t seem like a problem. Who wouldn’t want to be defined by the heroic career you have decided to pursue? But what happens when you can no longer answer the call? What if you are injured or laid off? What if your duty-related stress sidelines you? What happens when you retire?
If your identity is tied up solely in your career or any other activity that is important to you, Satan can really knock your self-worth for a loop if you find yourself no longer a part of those activities.
LIE #2: “You are what others think you are.”
It’s human nature to care what others think of us, and it can be a driving force in our lives. We may even find ourselves acting differently in certain circles in an effort to fit in. But public opinion is a fickle thing. The world can love you one moment and leave you the next. And it doesn’t actually bring about the validation and encouragement we crave.
In a recent study of social media users by the University of South Wales, it was found that craving “likes” online correlates with low levels of self-esteem but actually has no effect on helping people feel good about themselves or cheering them up when they’re feeling down. It’s pretty easy to construct a positive, problem-free, impressive profile on Facebook, but it often covers up the truth about who we really are and what we’re struggling with. And no amount of “likes” and “shares” will change that.
The word “hypocrite” comes from the ancient Greek word hypokrisis (hip-ah’-cris-is), which refers to someone who puts on a mask and assumes a false persona in a dramatic performance. This is pretty descriptive of those of us who put on masks to hide the truth about our soul-wounded selves rather than dealing with the truth in a constructive way. Satan prefers this “play-acting” non-solution, but we shouldn’t.
LIE #3: “Your best days are in your past.”
If Satan can get you to swallow this one, it will wreck your ambition, your optimism, and your hope. This lie can make you ask yourself, “Why try to change? Why strive for a better future? I’m stuck here, might as well get used to it.” If you’ve been injured in the line of duty or compromised by duty-related stress and trauma, then pain, anxiety, and helplessness have probably been a major part of your world for some time. This kind of suffering can become more than just a sickness; it can become your identity. Those who believe this third lie are vulnerable to allowing this victim mentality to rule their lives.
In John 5, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years. He had sat by the Pool of Bethesda every day to beg. One day, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” What kind of a question is that? Who wouldn’t? But perhaps Jesus discerned an identity problem in this man. Perhaps, after nearly four decades of being known as “the lame guy beside the pool,” he had allowed his disability to become his identity. Did he have any hope for better days in the future?
Jesus was ready to heal the man and release him to his new life, but he first wanted to hear from the man’s own lips that he was ready to move forward. The man was ready, and he was healed. Chances are, if you believe that your best days are in the past, they probably are. Satan hopes you believe this. But God hopes you will believe the truth – that the sky’s the limit.
Like the man by the pool, even after 38 years of affliction, you can experience life at a level you never dreamed possible. Last week, we looked at Matthew 4 to learn about the tactics Satan uses to try to destroy us. Remember that he used variations of these same three lies on the Son of God, trying to make him lose His bearings and bring Him to defeat. But in each case, Jesus fought back and defeated His enemy. Jesus didn’t respond with anger, fire, or more lies. He responded with the truth.
THREE TRUTHS FROM GOD
Just like Jesus used truth to combat Satan’s lies, you can use truth as a tool to reclaim your true identity. Here are three truths that counter the lies of your enemy. As you strap these facts to your soul, Satan’s lies will bounce off you like bullets off Kevlar.
TRUTH #1: “God has big plans for you.”
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’” Proverbs 3:5-6 says that when you put your trust in the Lord rather than in yourself, “He will make your paths straight.” He doesn’t want you to set up residency in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He wants to walk with you through it, and His “goodness and love will follow [you] all the days of [your] life” (Psalm 23:6).
TRUTH #2: “You are what Christ did for you.”
Consider this: something is “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it. How much would you pay for a small piece of canvas and some paint? In 1892, the painter Paul Cézanne got two of his farmhands to pose for him playing cards at a table. It was a pretty cheap undertaking. But if someone wanted to buy The Card Players from its present owners today – the royal family of Qatar – they’d have to come up with more than $250 million. The painting is worth what they were willing to pay.
Let’s take it even one step further. Some people pay obscene amounts of money for designer clothes. Are the clothes that much better than what we might buy at a department store? Not really. But people pay for the name on the label. The shirt has great value because of who designed it. Your worth and value come from your designer. God’s glory is stitched into the very fabric of your being. And God was willing to pay far more than $250 million for you. He paid for your eternal life with the infinitely valuable life of His only Son, Jesus. This is your true value. When it comes to gaining a sense of self-worth, few truths are greater than this one.
TRUTH #3: “You are who God says you are. Period.”
If your identity has been shaken, the answer to the question, “Who am I?” is up for grabs. Satan would like to answer that question for you in false, destructive ways. But God wants to tell you the truth. And if anyone knows the truth, God certainly does. He knows you. In fact, as Psalm 139 tells us, He’s known you since you were in your mother’s womb. He knows everything about you – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And yet He still loves you, has plans for you, and paid the highest price for you. For all of us. What man, company, department, or boss could bestow upon you a title worth more than who God says you are?
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