Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Be yourself - You can't be what you're not

Last night we had student-led Parent-Teacher conferences with both our kids. The teachers helped the students prepare the materials, and each student then sat down with their teacher and parents and led the individual conferences. During our conference with our 4th grade son, Jared, he read a story to us that he'd written during class. His teacher pointed out to us how the entire story developed from Jared's own personality and imagination. He told us that he encourages Jared to write about:

1) What he cares about
2) What he knows about
3) What he understands.

He motioned towards all the books in the room and he said that each author doesn't sit down and decide to write just for the purpose of making money, but they write because it is stuff that they care about, know about and understand.

If I were to condense this concept into a simple phrase, it would be "be yourself." Write about what you are passionate about and don't force yourself to write about things that don't interest you. Other interests and passions may develop as you write about what is naturally on your heart and mind, but don't try to be what you're not.

All of this applies to much more than writing, obviously! Whoever you are, whatever you do... be who you are. In Christ, you have become a new person. You are free to be who that person is! I'm reminded of a line from a song that hugely impacted me back in my early Christian life when I was very confused about who I was and what I was to do with my life. The band's name was Fighter* and they had a song called Your Hand. The chorus went like this:

Your hand is on me
Wherever I go I just look around and know
Your hand is on me
Through the rich times
And through uncertainty...

And the line from the song that absolutely melted my heart one day and began the process of clearing up a lot of my confusion went like this:

You use the things God gave you
You can't be what you're not.

I remember crying unrestrained tears of release and a sense of overflowing joy on the day when those words came alive to me. I had been confused by a lot of preaching (as well-intentioned as the preachers may have been) that told me I was supposed to do this and I was supposed to do that, and that a good Christian should do this act of service and should do that act of worship. My own mind was consumed with pondering all the things I should be doing as a Christian, and I was simply overwhelmed.

But I can't be what I'm not! However, I can be what I am! Put another way, I can do nothing apart from Christ, and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That doesn't mean I can do "everything." It just means that I can be and do, through Christ, whatever it is that God has made for me to be and to do. He has placed all of this inside me in the form of desires and passions, gifts and abilities, and ultimately His very life in me. It's not up to me to force myself to have certain spiritual desires and passions, nor to do every spiritual-looking work that I can think of.

Here's a tiny example of what I mean, from my own life. During the more intense time in my life in which I was "discovering" who I was in Christ, I had a sincere desire to help people. I thought perhaps if I became a nurse, I would really have an opportunity to help lots of people. In order to "test the waters" of the nursing field I took a month-long nursing assistant course and I went to work in a nursing home (for only a week). I then worked with a quadriplegic man in his home for a couple of months and then I finally ended up working as a nursing assistant at a hospital. It didn't take long for me to discover that I hated this type of work! I had lots of compassion for the patients, but yet I did not like that type of hands-on work and there's no way I could do that type of work for the rest of my life! I can't be what I'm not.

Since that time, I've had plenty of other experiences in which I've dabbled in "good" things that aren't "me," and over a period of time I've discovered who I really am in Christ, and I continue to learn who I am, and to live it out. I'm not talking about living a purpose driven life. I'm talking about an intimate Spirit-led life. I'm talking about not going with the "flow" of the rest of the church if who you are isn't what they think you are or want you to be. I've "done my time" in various church settings in which I've served in capacities that simply are not "me." That is, Christ-in-me. They've certainly been things that have looked good to man, and have even been beneficial to others at times, but in reality are not the works that God created for me to walk in. They are works that man has created for me to walk in. In the church today, there are plenty of these man-made works!

I'm sure you've heard the old church saying that goes something like, "10% of the people in the church are doing 90% of the work." Could the reason perhaps be because so much of the work that is created by the church is man-made work and not Spirit-led work? What if the church would stop... and simply trust that Jesus is building His Church (not a church or churches), and would stop coming up with programs and activities that, while having a nice spiritual appearance, are really keeping people from walking in the works that God has prepared beforehand for them to walk in (Eph 2:10).

And so my continuous encouragement to myself (and to others) is, "be yourself." I'll be completely honest with you. I'm one of the 90% who is not going along with all of the busy work that others in the church are complaining about having to do alone! And no, I'm not a rebel! I mean, my reason for not going along with them is not because I have a rebellious attitude against the spiritual-looking work they would have me do. My reason is simply because those things are not ME!

I am "being" who I am, not what others think I should be. Sometimes people look down on me because "myself" is not what they want out of me. Other times, people look up to me because "myself" looks very good to them. But either way, I don't care what others think of me! I'm not out to please them, nor to fulfill their agendas. I'm not even out to fulfill my own agenda. I'm simply out for a long walk with my Father!

"I am what I am and that's all that I am."
- Popeye


*Fighter was a local Christian band that influenced me in my young 20's. They no longer exist as a band, and the members have each gone on to other things. Amy Wolter, one of the lead singers, is one of my myspace friends. Anyway, the band had an excellent album called Bang the Drum, and last July 4th I posted the lyrics to the title song in a post called Bang the Drum - Let your freedom ring! The previous July, I had also written an article about the song. This is a knock-out song that pulls no punches against legalism and legalists!


  1. Great post, Joel. I'm still trying to figure out who I am in many areas of my life. Since, for so many years, I've been a people pleaser, it's exhilarating to be free to discover who I really am and I'm finding out that the in-Christ me is a really neat person. Peeling back each layer and making new discoveries about myself is exciting.

    Like you, I'm one of the 90 per cent and I don't feel guilty about it at all. There are just so many hours in the day and all of that busy work takes time away from doing those things that Father is calling me to be involved in.

    Religion has complicated it but it really is quite simple. If we'll just do what Father has place on our hearts to do, we'll be okay. And,our hearts can be trusted, when we're living out of our union with him.


  2. Aida... I'm in a very similar place. Although I've discovered a lot more of who I truly am in recent years, I'm still growing in it, and each new discovery truly is exhilarating! I used to squawk at Christians who said "be yourself" (although I truthfully never heard it said a whole lot), because I thought that "who I am" is a bad person and that I need to start being like someone else (Christ). I now realize that who I am in Christ is the person who I get to be!

    As I look back, stripping away the layers has been both scary and exhilarating! It helps a great deal when I hear from others who have been or who are going through a similar process!

  3. Joel,
    In the process of 'discovering' who we are, Is it okay to mess up? For example, like Aida, I too don't want to be a people pleaser, but I still do that time to time. I also want to be just who I am in Christ. But what does it really mean? I know I am His righteousness, holy and for ever a child of God. But what are the implications of it in a daily life? You said you wanted to help people and became a nursing assistant, but only after becoming one you realized that it was not for you, right? In other words, you took a step in a direction you thought God was leading you but later realized it wasn't God.
    So can we say, we try many different 'things', not realizing whether it was intended by God and then later realize it wasn't. Is that also part of discovering who we are? I am not sure if I am making sense.
    What I am struggling is this: without making mistakes, how do we learn? The reason I have a great appreciation for the message of Grace is because I walked the 'valley' of legalism for a while. Bible says, "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." The more I know I am weak in my flesh, the more appreciation I have for Jesus. The more I realize I cannot live without sinning, the more I appreciate Christ's righteousness. The more I realize what I do can be a mistake, the more I realize how much I need Him. Right?
    We are not prone to mistakes even in the process of being who we are, because sometimes we just don't know who we are! We forget it, ignore it, etc. To me, I cannot decide one fine morning that from today onwards I am just going to be who I am. Expect disaster! (at least in my case). I think I will live the rest of my life figuring out who I am in Christ (in a practical life) and I think I will get that realization only when I see Him face to face.

    Great post though! Something to chew for a while!

  4. Bino... Yes I think mistakes are a part of our life in Christ. In fact as I was writing the post, I had to delete some things because it was getting too long and I also had much more to say. I thought perhaps I'd write another similar post if I had the time.

    One thing I had planned on saying was something like, "And don't be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, expect to make mistakes."

    I was going to continue with my story about becoming a nursing assistant. It's definitely not where I was headed in the long run, but yet becoming a nursing assistant landed me at the hospital where I've now had a different job for several years, and is a job where I can plainly see that God has me there.

    And yep, I think on the one hand "who we are" is the righteousness of God, holy, perfect, sin taken away, etc, etc, and on the other hand we will spend a lifetime of discovering all that that really means. We'll make many mistakes, in that we'll do things that don't represent who we are, and we'll learn from those mistakes. We'll also get many things "right," and we'll learn who we are through those things, too.