Who Are You?
Updated: Nov 21, 2017
Why it Matters How You Answer this Question
It's coming. Holiday party season. (Otherwise known as "Jingle Bell Hell" for introverts like myself.) This year, I'm going to challenge myself (and you, if you care to join me) to ask only one question to every stranger I meet at a Christmas party: Who are you? Not, "What do you do?" or "Where are you from?" or "What are your hobbies?" Just Who are you? I wonder how people will respond.
How would you answer that question? OK, maybe not at a party, but deep down, in your heart of hearts. Most of us don't search out the answer to that question, but that doesn't mean we don't already have one. And, getting the answer correct in practice, not just in theory, is the most important thing you will ever do.
I used to think that motive was the key to making changes in my life. For example, when I was trying hard to avoid food temptations, I would picture myself in a smaller size jeans. When I needed to get motivated to clean my messy house, I would invite someone over. Change motive, and you can change behavior, right?
The great Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards said,
"The will is always determined by the strongest motive."
In other words, your greatest desire always wins out, and in order to change your habits, you must change your desires.* John Calvin said it another way. He called our hearts "idol factories", perpetually creating new things to worship and adore. The only way to destroy the idols, he said, was to love and worship God above all.
While I agree wholeheartedly with their assessment of the problem, and even their solutions (how could I argue with the likes of Edwards and Calvin?), I found it difficult in my life to change my desires, and choose to love God more than my heart's idols. Just choosing a different motive might work for weight loss or house cleaning, but I found it wasn't as effective when I wanted to change my propensity to over-commit, or my unforgiving attitude towards my husband. I needed to go another layer deeper and ask myself why I wanted what I wanted, and worshiped what I worshiped.
What is it in our hearts that motivates desire and manufactures idols? Belief. What we believe to be true about ourselves--who we are--is the basis for almost every desire.
In order to truly change our desires, we have to change our beliefs.
Let's put this theory into practice with one of my earlier examples. In order to stop my over-commitment behavior pattern, I had to ask not just one why but two. The first is, why do I over-commit? My motive was, I wanted to be seen as good, and helpful. Now, if I stopped there, and simply worked hard at pleasing God more than people, my behavior might change, but I would never lose the pain in my gut every time I had to say no. The second why I needed to ask was, why did I care so much about pleasing people? The answer was a matter of belief. I believed "I am a good person", and "good people don't say no when asked to help." Saying no was so painful for me because I was acting contrary to my core belief. I literally thought saying no would change me from "good person" to "bad person." This fundamental belief had to change in order for me to be able to break this habit with a clean conscience.
You might have already guessed that the word identity can be used in place of belief. The term gets thrown around so much these days, though, its meaning gets a little muddled. Identity is more than just how we perceive ourselves. Perceptions are easy to shift and change, depending on circumstance or environment. Beliefs, on the other hand, are much more difficult (but not impossible) to change.
Identity is what we believe to be true about ourselves. These beliefs inform our emotions and motivate our actions.
How do we identify and change identity beliefs so that we are living out the right answer to the "who are you" question? My upcoming book will explore this in detail, but here's a hint: it's all about re-reading your story.
*Edwards' conclusion was that we do not have the power in ourselves to change our desires, but we must rely on the Holy Spirit to change us.