These days I’m getting a little more cautious about making statements that begin with “Oh I would never…” or “I’m just not the type of person who could ever…” because more often than not I find myself eating my words. It’s easy to say “I would never let my two year old have a pacifier” or “I would never use disposable diapers” or “I could never feed my family sugar cereals” or “I’m just not the type of person who could ever use coupons or live on a strict budget” or whatever your issue might be.  It’s not until I’m put into a stretching situation and my pet assertion is on the line that I realize how tightly I’ve been clinging to some little piece of identity.

When I make those “I would never” statements about morally neutral things, what I’m really doing is constructing a self-concept apart from God. I’m saying, this is who I am – I’m too smart for this or too good for that or too cultured for the other thing.  Not only is that prideful, it’s also insulting to others who are in different circumstances and its often not based in reality.  I may say “I could never…” but the truth is I’ve been surprised what I can do when necessity demands it.

There’s nothing wrong with holding strong convictions – it’s good to be convinced in your own mind that some action or method is the right thing for you to pursue – but in my case when I turn a preference (such as “I think an organic whole foods diet is healthiest for my family”) into a principle (like “I could never be one of those people who shops at Walmart and uses coupons”) that is my clue that I’m holding too tightly to a piece of my identity – instead of being a personal conviction, it’s become a way to differentiate myself at other people’s expense and assert my own superiority.  In many cases, God has used circumstances in my life to challenge these pieces of identity.  I don’t think He does that to say “Ha!  Take that!” but rather to help me see that the core of my identity needs to be in Him, not in my supposedly superior ways.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently in which he described identity as what makes a person distinctive, and he said that every other identity factor gives you a joy that is based on a feeling of superiority, whereas the Gospel creates a new kind of identity that isn’t exclusionary but by grace it allows you to connect deeply with other people who are vastly different than you are.  There are a lot of things that make me unique and distinctive, but I don’t want to cling to them so tightly that they overshadow the most important distinctive of who I am in Christ.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I made all the statements above at one time or another and yet Jack slept with a pacifier until after his second birthday, I use disposable diapers part time, my husband has been known to eat Cocoa Krispies for lunch, and our budget is a lean mean fighting machine. I remember as a sophomore in college being lectured by a classmate about my unbalanced checkbook and extravagant shopping and told that my spending habits were “going to make some guy very unhappy someday.” Ha.  These may seem like superficial issues, but they serve as good reminders to me when deeper issues are at stake.  I don’t want to disdain God’s blessings, but I do want to hold them lightly, because my identity rests in Christ, not in my education or appearance or possessions or accomplishments.

Have you ever made one of those “I could never” statements and had it challenged by circumstances later?  After re-reading this post I am now hoping I’m not the only person who has ever had this happen!

15 thoughts on “Distinctives

  1. I usually don’t leave comments to blog posts but after reading your post I couldn’t help but mention that I think you made a great point. I can see in myself that having strong convictions can be a conduit to sin. Making such statements in a sense involves judging others. Thanks for opening up my mind!

  2. LOVED this post. That Tim Keller quote is spot-on, and that issue of pride and being “right” and therefore superior to everyone who chooses differently has been something I have become more aware of in my own life recently. I’m a pretty opinionated person, and don’t tend to see things in shades of grey — even morally neutral things, like parenting choices or lifestyle choices or spending habits or whatever. I tend to think that if I’m right (and of course I’m right) then everyone else is wrong, and that’s really not the case, and even if they are wrong, it’s really none of my business anyway.

    I think God gives us children who challenge those specific things we cling to in order that we realize the futility in finding our identity in things other than Him. At least that has been my experience so far in my mothering journey. I said I’d never do disposable diapers and yet we honestly do disposables way more often than cloth. I also said I’d never, ever, ever let my kid CIO and yet I ended up doing that, too. I also said we’d never spank and yet we’re finding with a strong-willed toddler a firm “no” and redirection isn’t working as well as some of the gentle discipline books said it would. On the other end of the spectrum, I used to think people who gave birth at home and breastfed past a year were total freaks and now I’m considering home birth for the next kid if there ever is one and still nursing Sam at 14 months and showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

  3. I also found your post encouraging and challenging. However, I took something different from it. I have been struggling with learning how to view myself as a wife, mother and adult rather than a recent college graduate and newlywed (which I really am neither of anymore). I think find the things that make you who you are and recognizing them is a good thing and can help you. Even if those things change in a few weeks, months or decades, seeing what they are now is good for your self-esteem.

    However, I agree with the “never say never” sentiment. I never thought I would be having 3 kids in 3 years. I never thought I would have 2 kids in 3 years really. But here I am and that has forced me as you said to change many preferences and habits.

    1. I agree it’s good to know yourself and figure out what it means to be you, especially in times of shifting identity like moving from college kid to newlywed to mother/adult as you mentioned. I found that transition difficult. My point was that if the foundational distinctive is who you are in Christ, that’s something that is a constant even if the other distinctives change.

  4. LOVE this post! I could not have said it better myself. Often times I find myself needing to take a step back and re-evaluate my own heart’s priorities. For me, I’ve gone from all organic, all the time, to coupons and frugality. This was something that I felt convicted about, because it had become an idol to me. And as you mentioned, I was allowing this to define me instead of Christ. Thank you for sharing this, it was truly comforting, and encouraging.

  5. So glad to hear your husband sometimes gets cereal for a meal, too! I often have thoughts along the line of, “Man, I am glad I dont live my life like her, or her, or her!!!” But then, as I am sitting and stewing on how terrible somebody is, I realize how I am struggling in that same area, and that is probably why it is so distateful to me! We have to show grace to others, our families, but also to ourselves! I struggle with all 3.

  6. I absolutely loved this post. When I get frustrated at not being able to ‘be who I am’, what’s really happening is I’m fighting against the Potter shaping me into who He wants me to be. You spoke this so eloquently! Would you mind if I made this a note or linked to this on facebook?

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