The Art of Finding Self-Worth: Embracing Your Identity in Christ

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Because of an abusive past, so much of my identity was based in my sexuality. I thought if I was “hot” enough, I would meet my own needs by getting all the attention and affection I desired. I bit the apple of seduction hard by the time I was 15. All I had to do was get skinny enough, buy clothes cute enough, get my makeup right enough . . . and I had power, influence on others, something to offer the world. Power! I had never experienced it before, and it felt good. Here was my salvation, my panacea for the pain and powerlessness of my situation, my way out of a world that didn’t seem to open a lot of positive doors. I could do this thing and do it right!

As a young person, I used to wonder why old people’s faces were so downcast, why so many senior citizens seemed miserable. I’ll tell you why because now I know. Sin takes you farther and deeper than you ever thought possible or ever wanted to go. They may not know enough about God and the Bible to realize that’s what happened to them, but that’s what painted the frown on their face — whether the sin of unforgiveness or bitterness or anger or pride or addiction or whatever other sin they committed in reacting to life’s hard circumstances.

Building Identity on the Foundation of Christ

For me, the sin of seduction began to snake its way into my insecure teen years as my “salvation” until it eventually wove its way into every fabric of my life for decades to come. Even as a Christian, my relationships were marred by it because of the spirit of pride that hid behind it all; I thought I could, by my own means, “get” people to like me. The foundation of all my interactions was me striving, me getting people to like me, which God in His providence allowed to backfire — ultimately causing people to reject me! In many ways, I was a performer on a stage, and eventually, my life did not ring with the truth that causes others to trust; it rang with undertones of “old-man” sexuality and the serpent that had controlled my life for so long. My relationships and ability to be real with those I cared about collapsed around me, and because I chose not to identify completely with Christ, my foundation in Him was crumbling.

Every now and again, God can speak a word into one’s spirit that seems to set their course for a lifetime. As a new Christian at 18 and an artist, I remember one such encounter with God as if it were a visitation from God Himself. He said, “Are you willing to paint paintings in life and give them away?” It doesn’t sound like a visitation to you, but to me, it got right to the heart of who I was. I thought of what that would mean. Use my gift to give it away. Get no glory. Have no tangible proof of my worthiness. Have nothing to hang in my house to point to and say, “I am wanted; there is good in me; I am worthy.”

God’s presence was there in a solemn way waiting for my answer. I panicked. There was God asking a simple question, and I felt myself delaying, drifting away with each second passing until my answer, pitifully, was a bewildered, “No, sorry, God” — revealing the depth of inculcation this snake of seduction had wrapped into my soul. I said, “God, I want to, but I just don’t know how I could get people to like me — if I don’t have my art to show them.”

It’s the “little” decisions we make like this that part the seas wide open in our lives to live for God — or not. It’s not about going to church on Sunday and getting dressed up and saying all the right things when inside we are telling God no about emptying ourselves of that which would give us identity and purpose outside of Himself. The way we go about feeling worthy tells everything about us.

It goes right to the joint and marrow of who we are. Do we get a sense of dignity, purpose, and worth from the amazing presence of Christ within us? Do we break the bread and drink the wine imbibing all the sweetness of what Christ did for us, smelling the rose of Sharon in our lives? Do we sense the holy royalty of Christ emerging as we take pity on the least person in our lives — the janitor, the garbage-man, the homeless?

Or do we grab the American dream in some way, piling SUV’s, latte buzzes, the latest technology, the cliques, the “ministry” or designer clothes that we wear to “dress up for God” into our lives to point to our “art” and say to the world, “I am worthy; look at what I have created”?

Emptying Yourself to Be Filled With Christ

Exodus 20:4 (NLT) says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” But so often, we make ourselves an idol. Feeling the pangs of insecurity, we want to be admired, esteemed, and respected to excess. While Jesus validates our need for honor, the path to it is always to go lower. As we go lower and humble ourselves, we empty ourselves that God may fill us and be all-in-all.

And since God is a blessing God, He can’t “resist” an empty vessel.

In 2 Kings 4, a widow approaches Elijah. Her prophet-husband had died with creditors about to seize her sons. All she had was a little jar of oil, so Elijah instructed her to borrow all the vessels she possibly could and not “just a few” (v. 3). Then she was instructed to come inside and close the door. She began to pour oil and poured and poured until every vessel was filled; then she sold the oil to pay her debts. She had to get the empty vessels, and she had to shut the door. We don’t always want to borrow things, to be in need, to get the empty vessels or to be one, for that matter — and we don’t always shut the door. But we have to empty ourselves if we want God to fill us.

Unfortunately, sometimes instead of waiting for God to honor us, we carve out some worship for ourselves. We want people to see what we’re doing. John the Baptist set the example when he said, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). However, so many of us are guilty of selfish ambition — the sin that drove Satan from heaven itself. Are we trying to go up — to ascend in a selfishly ambitious way? Or are we trying to come down? To descend and humble ourselves like Jesus did, empty ourselves, and ironically find the greatest fulfillment of worth in being empty for God?

Mercifully, God has a way of stripping us. I had a dream in which I perched on a stool in front of a huge makeup case. I said out loud, “The princess (i.e., myself) has almost this much makeup.” Suddenly, the stool fell over, the makeup case tumbled, hitting a man in our church who had a heart problem, and also toppling onto a friend whom I knew God had told to go without makeup. As I prayed for the interpretation, I asked God, “What is the stool?” He said, “Pride.” I knew this was not a “good” dream! God was after something. Mind you, my makeup was not too excessive, but my goal in those days was to be hot, not holy.

Then the Lord showed me the man with the heart problem had a spiritual “heart” problem, and my use of makeup was hurting him in the form of temptation as well as it was hurting the girl whom the Lord had told to quit wearing makeup. I was violating her conscience by the way I wore mine! Excessive makeup had to go, and God made very clear — a little foundation, a little concealer, a little blush, OK — but no mascara. No lipstick — my hallmark! — whatsoever. Not even Vaseline. The pangs of obedience shot through me. I counted the cost. Christ was worth it.

So, while losing my “face” was a difficult task at first, it eventually transformed the way I saw myself. I actually began to like my looks more! I seemed much more the “girl next door” than someone trying to be “hot.” I found out it feels a lot better to feel safe and wholesome than to feel hot! God may not be making the heavy request of you to remove your “face,” but each one of us must be willing to yield whatever God puts His finger on that we have used as an identity crutch.

Being Useful for God’s Purposes

The writer of Proverbs states, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, ESV). God is a god who gives favor. It is not up to us to try to draw people to ourselves through our gifts, talents, looks, positions, titles, riches, personality, or anything else we can manipulate.

Only God knows the things we must yield to Him to get our foundation right, and our walks with Him are highly individualized. Whatever the Lord may impress upon you, determine today not to be “hot” for others but an empty vessel God can use for His purposes. We must abandon ourselves to the “audience of One” — to quit performing for the world and make our sole focus Christ, so that at the end of our lives, we stand on the great stage of the life we lived, and there is One person clapping in the audience — clapping and standing — and it is Christ. The years fly as swift as swallows, and blond hair turns gray. Are we anchored to the Lord to get praise from Him and the favor He provides, or are we still striving and struggling to do it all ourselves?

My house is full of paintings now. I have given some away, I have kept many, and the Lord knows if I had it to do all over again, I would say a huge yes to God’s query and give every painting away! Instead, God asked for the painting on my face, and this time, I said He could have it, and it has meant everything to me.

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton lives in Canton, Georgia, with her husband and feline despot, Gideon. Stacey's name means "resurrection," and it also is a story of her life -- many "deaths" in different areas that seem to keep returning as empowering events. She is a former contributing editor to "Living Water Journal" and enjoys hiking, biking, painting in oils, acrylics -- and recently, watercolors -- and loves nothing more than to wake up watching tree shadows flicker on the top of her tent. A teacher, Stacey holds a master's in Teaching English as a Second Language and is learning to praise God even in a current season of being in "God's waiting room." Her dream is to hold prophetic and deliverance conferences to see God's people get set free around the globe. Until then, she keeps practicing on herself, her family, and whoever will listen to her ministry in the "highways and byways." Stacey is a bold believer who specializes in witnessing for the kingdom of God.

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The Reason I Am Taking More Selfies

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I’ve had a personal revelation.

A few years ago I stopped taking selfies. I developed a general annoyance with the trend because it seemed like everywhere I looked there were prepubescent tweens (or adults) taking pictures of themselves making the dreaded “duckface.” (If you aren’t familiar with “duckface,” Google it at your own risk.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a selfie … I mean, my best friend, Tori, takes selfies all the time and she makes it pretty dang adorable. In fact, I think the first selfie I ever took was with her.

Anyway …

I have realized recently that I’ve been shying away from having pictures taken of me in general. This seems to coincide with a drastic drop in my self-esteem over the last year or two. I started to hate pictures of myself and dread seeing them. In my mind, I was fat, ugly, too pale, whatever. This insecurity seems to run in my blood. As a child, many of the women I grew up around told me I was beautiful, but they weren’t shy about letting everyone know how much they loathed themselves. So when I saw these women look in the mirror and verbally abuse themselves, I took note. It’s a pattern I am desperately trying to break with my own daughter.

You see, there’s a very persistent and malicious critic who lives in my head and seems intent on making me hate myself and everything about my life. You’re disgusting. You’re so ugly. You’re fat. Why can’t you look like her? You are embarrassing. You are a failure. You can’t do anything right. You look terrible without makeup. I’ve always given way to this little devil in my mind, up until a few weeks ago.

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I was hired into my position to replace a girl who received a promotion. Recently I met this woman and was literally floored by how beautiful she is. She’s a tall, statuesque blonde with these piercing blue eyes. Seriously, she looks like a Barbie doll. My first reaction after I shook her hand was to flee the scene because I was so intimidated by her beauty and my lack thereof. I remember going into the bathroom and looking in the mirror and beginning the usual critique on myself. But something unprecedented happened. A new voice spoke up.

Wait, wait, wait. Hold on, Sharon. You cannot do this again.

Huh?

Seriously. Enough is enough. You don’t need to look like that. Do you hear me? YOU. DON’T. NEED. TO. LOOK. LIKE. THAT. Do you know why you have that fair skin? Do you know why you have that dark hair? And those green eyes? And that slightly crooked smile? And those bony knees? I’ll tell you why.

You have that fair skin because of your Irish daddy, who you adore so much. That dark hair is his too. Your green eyes are to remind you of where your ancestors lived. And that smile? It’s a combination of your dad’s, a silly smirk so few get to see, and your mom’s, a happy grin when she’s laughing from her gut. And you might think your knees are too big and weird looking, but they’re the same knees your dad used to lift you and carry you piggy back. You want to give all that up to be someone else? You look like this because of who you are. The critique is over. It’s done.

Somehow, things have started to change since that day. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a statuesque blonde with blue eyes, but I am a unique individual, and my physical features are special and tell a story about who I am. Since that talk with myself in the bathroom, I’ve stopped beating myself up as much. I’m standing up to the critic in my head. And I realized that the real reason I stopped taking selfies was because I had developed such poor self-confidence that I couldn’t stand a picture of myself. I once begged my husband, Matthew, to delete a picture of us because I was so embarrassed about how I looked. I’ll never forget what he said after he gave in and erased it: There. You happy? Memory gone.

My new idea in self-therapy (is that a word?) is to take selfies, dad gum it. If I feel like I look cute, I’m going to give myself permission to take a picture. It’s all part of learning to accept that I really am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). And you are too.

Sharon Early

With a bachelor’s degree in English, Sharon Early did not actually put her English background to use right away. She began a job as an animal trainer out of college and then moved on to become a marketing writer. Her latest role is now stay-at-home mom to her infant daughter, Mellie Christine. Married for almost 3 years to her pilot-husband, Sharon has lost 3 babies to miscarriage and is currently pregnant with a brother or sister for Mellie. A Lord of the Rings fan, Sharon once tried to learn Elvish, and dreams of visiting New Zealand where the movies were filmed. She also loves musicals, particularly Phantom of the Opera. Over the course of her life, Sharon has struggled with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and promiscuity before coming to Jesus at the age of 23. Because she still struggles with many of these things, Sharon believes that the worst thing she can do as a Christian woman is pretend like these issues do not exist. Because she has been the recipient of judgment and criticism from other Christians for battling these demons, Sharon is passionate about letting other Christian women know it’s okay to not be okay, and that it’s only when we admit we are not okay that we can begin to fully rely on God’s grace. Sharon firmly believes that we defeat the lies of the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).

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