Self Image*part 3

Welcome to part 3 of this series—the final entry. And actually, if you haven’t read the first two parts, there may be a few things that are confusing… but not too much!

God has spent the past several years carefully walking me through rebuilding my self image. Frankly, parts of the process have been painful, and when faced with a choice, I might well have turned away, and remained as I was. Fortunately, He would rather have me whole, healthy and truly joyful and happy, than have me sitting on my rump in my comfort zone—where I’m not much use to Him, myself or others!

And each time I thought I was finally done, He’d give me a little recovery time, and begin to work on another area. I don’t dare say that I have finally achieved a complete victory, but I know He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in me!

Truthfully, I don’t remember praying for God to give me an excellent self image. Oh. As I typed that, the Holy Spirit began to tickle my memory.

He reminded me of late 2002. My then-husband and I had just left staff ministry positions at a church we’d been associated with for half of our Christian walk. As can happen, the circumstances we left under were very hurtful.

I remember sobbing in a private corner of our new church, begging God to show me what I’d done wrong, because if I wasn’t the youth pastor’s wife, if I wasn’t a young adult group leader, if I wasn’t a Sunday school teacher, then WHO was I?

Music was playing, and all through the sanctuary people were worshipping. A kindly man I recognized as the pastor came and knelt beside me, telling me he didn’t know me, but that the Lord had a word for me.

What He said to me isn’t significant here, but I have realized that my prayer WAS. My prayer was about my self image. “Who am I?”

Well, the Lord spent the next year healing me of some wounds I’d received at the former congregation, but sure enough, that following December He began dealing with my self image.

As many works of the Lord do, it started strangely! At least, the works He does in me seem to start that way. The “small group” we had just begun leading was having a Christmas party at our house. As I completely expected, one guest admired my Christmas tree. If that sounds strange, it must be because you haven’t seen how I obsessively decorate that tree. After several years of collecting oversize, shimmering gold ornaments, the only thing more prominent on this tree is the crimson and purple glass balls that are clustered on every available space. (Yes! Touching each other! I’ll wait while some of you practice deep breathing.)

So the conversation turned to Christmas trees, and I commented on how painstakingly I decorated it, squelching my children’s pleas for different colors, and insisting on every ornament conforming to my picture of the perfect tree. (Sounds like a warm and fuzzy Christmas tradition, doesn’t it?)

Then a woman who later became a mentor to me asked why I decorated my tree like that.

I looked at her slightly stunned. Couldn’t she see how beautiful it was? Why in the world would she ask a question like that? I finally replied that I liked the way it looked, and the conversation continued, with others commenting on the colors they had chosen, or decorating traditions in their families.

That night, around 3 am, after having slept for several hours, I woke up out of a sound sleep. God then told me that I decorated my tree like that because I wanted to cultivate an image of excellent and artistic taste. I was performing to achieve compliments and admiration of people, to bolster my self image.

Oh. Yeah, Lord, I guess You’re right. Yay! I can now relax and not base my image on people’s response to how they perceive me! What a great deliverance! Glad you took care of that “image thing” in me, Lord!

The following Spring I attended a women’s retreat my church sponsored. During this retreat, God brought me face to face with my constant obsession with creating a “pulled together” look (image) by planning every outfit and coordinating accessories. Now don’t get me wrong. There is no sin in wearing cute clothes or having great fashion sense.

But FYI, you can know you have a problem when you carefully accessorize your jogging suits and would never, ever jog in them!

My problem lay in being focused on how other people viewed me, and catering to the focus by planning each and every outfit worn in front of any person who wasn’t in my immediate family. That way, I could use other people’s compliments to create my self image. I dressed to achieve an image I admired, to receive other people’s admiration. Look, sometimes we’re not really strong on logic when we’re trying to create a self image!!!

In fact, God showed me that this image obsession was actually what is commonly known as a generational curse: something one of your parents or grandparents had, and one of their parents before them. He clearly showed me I had received this problem and I immediately prayed for deliverance! And He was faithful to do that.

You know, I had never realized how much of my time I spent planning outfits and accessories. It probably sounds silly to you, but it truly was a delicious freedom to not spend time analyzing what outfit would be best, and trying to remember whether I had worn it in front of that particular group within the past few weeks.

Wow! Thanks, Lord. I don’t have to slave over every outfit to create an image of who I am! Glad you’re finally done with that “image thing” in me, Lord! Now I don’t spend more time thinking about what others think of me, than what You think of me!

No, as you suspected, the journey isn’t done yet. A few months later I discovered that something I’d said regarding ministry had been misconstrued by one of my spiritual leaders, and that person’s family. Their anger and disdain was palpable, and truly crushing to me. I was heartbroken, and desperate to win back their approval. I was even willing to consider a critical “word from God” that actually contradicted what God had specifically told me; if my acceptance of that “word” would restore me to their good graces.

Sad, huh?

Again, I was basing my self image on who THEY said I was, rather than who God said I was.

When they were happy with me and praising me, I was satisfied. When they were disappointed, I was struggling to reestablish their satisfaction with me and their affection toward me.

God walked me through that painful episode, showing me when I had first learned to desperately seek approval whenever I was rejected. Do you know that the basis of it was so deeply ingrained in who I was that I had a hard time sharing it with my husband?

God next allowed me to take a brief 3 part course called Designed for Destiny. It consisted of some personality, interest and spiritual gift evaluations. And as strange as it sounds, I felt like the results of those evaluations (gifted in guiding people –through creativity– into deeper relationships with the Lord) gave me “permission” to declare myself to be what God had actually designed me to be. Interestingly, it turned out to be exactly what I had always dreamed of being!

What a journey—all to undo the self image I built through compliments and criticism, and frankly, a little bit of rubble from other people. And you know what? I may not be done yet, but God has declared that He is faithful to finish the good work He began in me!

What have you been building your self image with, mostly?

Have you struggled with seeing yourself as the things God has declared you to be?

Do you know much about what God has declared you to be?

What facets of your self image do you struggle with most often, and why? With whom do you identify most—Mary, Joseph or the shepherds?