The email dropped into my inbox mid-day on a Sunday. Later, I’d find the timing ironic, considering its sting.
It was one of those emails you never want to receive, but which every last one of us will, at one time or another. It’s not my first, although it’s rare. Words are powerful, and I’m glad it doesn’t happen often. Still, this one surprised me, because of one, potent line:
“I’m just so disappointed to find out who you truly are.”
Like a plate-glass door to a moving body, those words carried the power to slice me into ragged bits. The intention was to wound, to cut and tear and dive past all my very legitimate quirks and flaws to leave a deep hole in the heart of my person. Immediately, before I could wrestle thoughts into submission, I panicked:
Am I really that person?
Is this how everyone sees me?
What’s wrong with me?
In the span of minutes, one person’s opinion became the dominant opinion. And I started a slow but sure spiral into self-loathing.
Until. I remembered THIS:
Identity is anchored outside the reach of public opinion.
If I don’t know who I am, then I’m likely to jump on the opinion ship the minute it passes me by. Instead, I need to do the work of knowing who I am: the good, bad and the ugly. When I know who I am—even when I fail and disappoint and incidentally wound people I try to love—then I am secure. I can say “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me, “I forgive you,” and “I love you” without risk of losing my north.
I’m not sure where you are in the process of knowing who you are, but I can tell you it matters more than you think. Identity doesn’t just happen. It requires intention, awareness and a staunch grip on the truth, long before it’s tested.
Yes, I got a tough email. And, yes, it hurt. I’m a (recovering) people pleaser who is loathe to disappoint anyone, strangers and friends alike. In the past, words like these would crush me for a month or more. This time, I felt the sting for a good day or two. Then I did some homework, a little honest mirror-looking. And this is what I know to be true about who I really am:
- I am human, to the very core. I am at times impatient, selfish, judgemental, unforgiving, and short-tempered. I’ve snapped at my husband and children and friends who stepped on my last nerve at the wrong time, on the wrong day. I have mishandled conflict, desired retribution against those who have wounded me, held unforgiveness in my heart for far too long, and have hurt those I claimed to love.
- I am created, by a God who designed me perfectly and loves me infinitely. And although my thoughts and behavior don’t always coincide with divine design or intentions, I’m loved. Forever. There is nothing I can do to move outside the reach of that love.
- I am unique. The God who created me also made me entirely unlike anyone else. Sometimes those differences will bump up against anothers. But that doesn’t make my personhood a flaw or a mistake. It simply is.
- I am forgiven, through and through, for my mistakes yesterday, today and tomorrow, both those intentional and unintentional. I don’t deserve either God’s mercy or His grace. But I receive both, like a desert soaks up a rain. I am safe.
- I am sincere. I want nothing more than to love abundantly, honor God and steward well this one life I’ve been given. Although I fail at it at times, it’s not for a lack of desire or effort. I know this about myself, and those who’ve invested the time to know me recognize this as well. At heart, my intentions are right and good.
This is my anchor, the cement I go back to when barbs fly. Even so, I know the following is equally as true:
I am going to disappoint people. As much as I hate this fact, it’s going to happen. The fallout of #1. When it does, I need to accept it, own it, and move on.
But this does not change who I am. Or who you are.
[read that again. i did. twice.]
You’re going to stumble. You’re going to wound. You’re going to get an email from someone who feels utterly disappointed at who they believe you turned out to be.
But your identity doesn’t hinge on that email. Or blog comment. Or rejection. Or relational snub.
In fact, your identity has nothing at all to do with what any other human believes to be true about you. Who you are is grounded in WHO created you, called you and counted the hairs on your head. He gets to decide who you are, and He says … “You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:10)
You may have to make amends. You may need to listen or apologize. Then again, maybe not. Either way, don’t lose hold of your anchor. Refuse to ride the waves of others’ opinions and don’t spend years beating yourself up for all the ways you can’t do it right all the time.
Why? Because #1 through #5 are the truth. About you. About me. Everything else is opinion and emotion, shards of glass intended to wound. It only shapes your identity if you walk through it.
Have you ever received a sharp criticism similar to this one? How did you handle it?