Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Self-Image: Three Questions

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by Ed Welch

So much of life comes down to the following three questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You might not wake up in the morning with these questions on your mind. In fact, you might never have asked these questions. But, as a human being, those questions are part of your DNA. You will find them sneaking around in your anger, happiness, contentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, guilt, cutting, sense of purpose, life meaning, decision making, moral choices about sex, friendships, school, work, and so on.

Notice, for example, how jealousy answers these questions.

Who is God?

“He is someone who should give me what I want.”

Who am I?

“I deserve better—better looks, better athletic ability, a better boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“I am a judge who is authorized to stand over others.”

Who are these other people?

“They are below me. They have things that I deserve more than them.”

 

Sadness or depression? Listen and you will hear their answers too.

Who is God?

  • “He is far away and doesn’t care.”
  • “He is someone who didn’t give me what I wanted.”
  • “He could never forgive me for what I have done.”

Who am I?

  • “I am nothing, literally nothing. It isn’t that I am trash; I am just nothing.”
  • “I am needy, and I haven’t gotten what I need.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “I am God. I deserved something and I didn’t get it.”

Who are these other people?

  • “They are my life. I put my hope in them, and they let me down.”
  • “They don’t care, so I am trying not to care about them, but it isn’t working.”
  • “They can’t be trusted.”

You can see what’s happening. You already have answers to these questions. You just have to uncover them. You might know some right answers, such as “I am a child of God.” But our hearts are complicated. The right answer is rarely your only answer. Instead, you usually have at least two sets of answers: those that are “right,” and those that actually guide the way you live. To discover your real answers to these questions, watch how you live. In particular, track your emotions. Look for what makes you upset, depressed, angry, and anxious, or what makes you happy, calm, excited, and peaceful.

Once you settle into one of your less comfortable moods, who do you say God really is?

  • Angry
  • Far away and not aware of what you are doing in secret
  • Far away and uncaring about what is bothering you
  • Picky
  • Unfair

What about other people? Who are they?

  • Objects you manipulate so that they serve you
  • Protectors
  • Threats
  • Jerks
  • Things that can make you feel really good or really bad
  • Idols that you worship

And you? Who are you? Try to capture your view of yourself with a picture. If the picture is “child of God” don’t stop there. Find some others.

  • I am alone, living behind thick walls. I can see out, and everyone else looks normal, but I am isolated.
  • I am a leper who has to live with other lepers far away from everyone else.
  • I am the black sheep—unwanted, standing out in a bad way and not fitting in.
  • I feel like a baby bird, vulnerable, needy, waiting to be pushed out of the nest.
  • I am a piece of a puzzle, happy to fit in but not stand out.

Any you would add?

When it comes to being controlled by the opinions of others—the fear of man—there is one image that fits most of us: a vessel, cup, bowl, or some kind of container. Listen for words such as need, want, and empty. They hint that we want to be filled with something that only other people can give us. Ever feel empty?

Any thoughts on what you think would fill you?

Picture a cup, something like the animated walking teacups of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There is already something in it; call it self-esteem for now. Some people have more, some less, but no one feels like they have much. You waddle around, hoping that no one bumps you so hard that everything spills out. You also hope that someone close by is in the shape of a pitcher so you can be filled.

What would cause a spill?

  • “Loser!”
  • “We decided not to hire you.”
  • “We regret to inform you that you weren’t accepted to . . .”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?!”

What would fill you up?

  • “Nice outfit.”
  • “Awesome game!”
  • “Good job.”
  • “I love you.”

“I love you” fills you up best. Sometimes it is enough to hear it from a parent. More often, parents can’t fill you with their words of affection, though they certainly can cause you to spill all over the place with words of rejection. The job of filling you is usually reserved for your peers. Get an “I love you,” or even an “I really like you,” from the right person, and life is wonderful. You feel great. Full. Who cares if someone bumps into you? “I love you” is high-octane fuel for your self-esteem.

If you don’t get filled, bad things happen. You wander around with a case of the blues, though you might not even realize it. Some people try to fill themselves with other things: achievements, sex, drugs, music, video games, Internet porn, and fantasy. But none of it really works. Even if you receive love it doesn’t work for too long. It is like a drug that fills you for awhile—about an hour or so—and then you need more. And there will be days when you feel so bad that even “I love you” won’t make any difference. Either your cup has a leak in it, or you weren’t intended to live like a cup. Which one do you think it is? (Both answers are correct, so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong answer.)

Do you have any ideas why life as a love cup doesn’t work?

There is nothing wrong with wanting love. It would be positively inhuman not to want it. The problem comes when we desire it too much—when our desire for love becomes the center of life—which, when you think about it, makes us the center of our own lives. The problem is when we want to be loved more than we want to love. If only life could be a little bit less about us.

Then it gets worse. When we live as love cups, we will get hurt. There is no doubt about that. We can never get filled enough. When the hurts pile up, we feel ashamed and protect ourselves. We hide behind masks. You can’t let others see you or really know you. You try to spruce up your facade with grades, thinness, or some other accomplishment, but you never feel covered up enough. When other people are staring, it’s as if they can see through the mask. So you move on to something less revealing—if masks won’t work maybe walls will. But walls have problems of their own. Have you ever experienced the transition from love cup (or approval cup or success cup or . . .) to mask to walls? We all have, so what was it like for you?

What masks do you wear the most?

  • Intelligence
  • Athletics
  • Popularity
  • Creativity, being different

One problem with masks and walls is that, though their purpose is to protect you from hurt, they hurt you even more because they don’t allow relationships. You can’t have a deeper relationship if you won’t allow yourself to be known. All this leads to a dead end: if you allow people to know you, you get hurt; if you protect yourself from people, you get hurt. It ends in misery. But there is another way. This better way allows us to be open and honest and part of a community where we don’t have to put up self-defensive walls. Ever been there? Have you ever had the pleasure of being open with another person?

Think about it. What’s better than having relationships that let you be yourself? If you have ever experienced that, be sure to thank those people.[1]

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[1] Welch, E. T. (2011). What do you think of me? why do i care? answers to the big questions of life. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

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