The Truth About Who You Are

Mar 12, 2014

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

So don’t.

Have  you ever received a sharp criticism similar to this one? How did you handle it? 

39 Comments

  1. Mel @ Trailing After God

    Wow, I am sorry that happened to you. Like you don’t have enough on your plate. I’m constantly amazed by what people, mainly believers, think they need to say out loud to others. Very good advice. I have a very tender heart and am wounded easily, which can be dangerous, especially in this online world of writers. Hugs to you. Don’t let Satan try to steal who God says you are!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks, Mel. I wrote this before the events of the past couple weeks. But can still feel the sting. I, too, am amazed on what people think is okay to “say,” either out loud or over email. Perhaps the best lesson in all of this is how it convicts me to not do the same. We must, must let love and kindness lead us.

      Reply
  2. Louaanne

    Tell us more Michelle. Was it from a close friend? On a scale of 1-10, how close is this person to you? Was an email the best delivery? Do you write similar emails to your friends? How is the relationship doing?
    And most importantly, what did you learn from the details of the email? Was the feedback a catalyst for change?

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Unfortunately, the details are private and I’m unable to share. However, I can say this. Relational wounds should never be hashed out over email. Or Facebook. Or any other similar medium. People are far more valuable than that. Perhaps the best lesson from all of this? I’m more committed than ever to avoid doing the same to someone else. Grace is POWERFUL.

      Reply
  3. Coleen Elkins

    Good morning Michele!

    I must have received the same email you got! I got one last week questioning my morals and ethics. This came from someone who works in the same industry I work in. I knew in my heart of hearts the comments where not true, but they still hurt. There is a saying “when you point a finger at someone you have 3 pointing back at yourself”. Last year I witnessed this person doing some things that caused me to distance myself from her.

    With regards to her emails I have received 4 to date. I have ignored them except I set up a rule in my email program that forwards her emails back to her and then they go into my trash without me touching them. I also pray for her whenever I think of her.

    Thank you so much for your blog as it was just what I needed to read this morning!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Yes, they still hurt, even when we know they aren’t true. I try to remind myself that if I hang on to the hurt, I will become the very thing I don’t like. Forgiveness is the only way to a pure heart.

      Reply
  4. Crissy Terrell

    Love this! Thank for sharing. I needed the reminder.

    Reply
  5. Leslie

    I am so sorry, Michele. In my experience, it is fragile, fragile people for whom it takes very little – such as information about another person – to shatter their misplaced faith in humanity. It is no less devastating to be on the receiving end of the backlash, but helps to understand maybe a little of the “WHY????” These types of barbs don’t come from the wise friends we walk with every day, and whom God has given to lovingly encourage us and, occasionally, within the bounds of love, to gently admonish. This type of barb is just NOISE from the enemy of our souls…noise he can get by with passing on to us through fragile, hurting vessels who don’t recognize the source. Noise meant to hurt and distract. Praying for you and again, just very sorry it happened to you.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I agree, Leslie. These types of things usually come from a place of deep hurt. If we can step back, take a breath, and see it as such, we can respond with empathy rather than retaliation. Heaven knows I’ve reacted inappropriately out of hurt before, as well. But for grace …

      Reply
  6. Ilesha

    OUCH! Those always sting. And as a (trying to recover) people-pleaser, I have allowed those types of comments to sink me for weeks! One of the reasons I waited so long to start blogging was because of fear of yucky feedback! 🙁

    But as I’ve learned to stand & rest in God’s Truth, it matters less what people’s opinion about me may be. I’m flawed, totally human, a misser of the mark, but I’m also LOVED unconditionally!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Oh girl, I KNOW. Writing is such a vulnerable endeavor. Every post makes me break out in a cold sweat. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Leah Ann Crussell

    Michele, I can’t believe it has taken me THIS long to subscribe to your blog….and I’m so glad I changed my ‘preferences’ recently. I wanted to hear more from you and ‘stay in touch’ better (you’re such a busy person, so I’ll take all I can get!) – and I knew this would be one simple way to do that. I HAVE received your monthly newsletter faithfully, and have forwarded it on to others far and near many times. You’d be amazed at how many people you bless, those whom you don’t even know. I just want to thank you for your transparency in this blog. It takes a humble – and oh so wise and ‘centered’ person — to share this message today. We need reminders of this truth about who we are, don’t we? (I’m a recovering People Pleaser too.) ‘Centered in Christ’ is the only safe and right place to be….He’s a much better anchor than anything else we try to hold on to. Continue holding, my friend.

    Reply
  8. Danica Favorite

    Love this! Definitely some good words I needed to hear. Thanks for being so open. Love you! Also love that you’re not perfect. 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      And I love that you love that I’m not perfect. It’s a beautiful thing called “safe.” <3

      Reply
  9. Lily Kreitinger

    This is one of the times when I feel like saying what my 3 year old son says to his older sister “If you’re not nice to me, I’ll punch you.” As I have learned recently though, hurt people tend to hurt other people. As much as I would like to at least TP this person’s house for you, I know that she thinks very little of herself. It says more about her than it does about you. I am, too a recovering people-pleaser. I know how much those words sting and will pop up every once in a while. But all of us who know you and follow your work are AMAZED at who you truly are: a woman of faith, a loving wife, mother and friend. And in God’s eyes, you’re His beloved.

    Reply
  10. Mary Quillin

    Michelle, I received an email probably similar to yours when I was a young ministry director. It was from a popular seasoned volunteer leader. In all honestly, I had made a leadership mistake. I was wrong. I had already begun to make the repairs and apologies and painfully learn from my mistake. But I still received the email. It was a painful, hurtful description of how I had failed and not cut out for this particular position. I had read it alone. It felt like a sucker punch into the feelings I was already had because of my mistake. I was alone and of course the thoughts began running through my mind that maybe she’s right. Who was I to step out and respond to this new opportunity? Maybe I’m not cut out for it. I didn’t share it with anyone because frankly I was embarrassed but I should have. The solitude gave that email too much power in my head. I needed the truth from supportive friends and ministry partners to remind me that this was not the truth of me. Yes, mistake made, but not the end of the story for me. There was a purpose for me in this new ministry and discouragement have taken out more leaders than should have. They would have picked me up and told me, “Let’s go.” Their words would have also helped me to let go and forgive this person. To give grace because the email spoke more of what was happening in her heart and understanding of the situation than my mistake.

    Thank you for sharing. Allow those who know and value and love you to respond with truth as you already are receiving. Thank you for bringing us back to living in what He says of us. Thank you. 🙂 Let’s go….. :-)))))

    Reply
  11. Suzanne

    Best reply: And I am disappointed to find out what kind of person you are, too. Ok, we really shouldn’t do that, but it IS tempting . . .

    Reply
      • Suzanne

        The delete button also is helpful. 😉 Great post, though. I’m definitely going to try to remember what you said the next time somebody says something hurtful.

        Reply
  12. Susan Cox

    WoW! Thanks for sharing this. I also am a recovering people pleaser & a recovering Martha! And the timing of my reading this could not be any more perfect. My husband & I are missionaries raising up our support & prayer team. It’s been super difficult to not take a no or a lack of interest personally, especially when it’s been from good friends or our church family. I’m still learning how to find my true identity in Him each day so this was such a great reminder! Thank you, thank you!

    God bless you,
    Susan

    Reply
  13. Tracee

    cups up to anchoring. there is a process to everything. Those who choosing anchoring will find healing, maybe even restoration. My emotional deep feeling self has to sit in it a bit first. DANG you spiraling! Grateful to know and see the anchoring in your life. We are human. It is good to be seen that way and know we are still enough.

    Reply
  14. N Cheryl Northern

    Because of many events in my past I have fought the feeling of inadequency all of my life. Too sensitive to what other people say and think. Although God has been there for me and I know that while people will let you down….God never will let you down. In December a family member verbally expressed their feelings to me, that completely brought me down to the point I was afraid to even open my mouth about anything, and for several days could not stop crying. What feelings I had at all that I had any worth was completely gone. Then the Father told me that others are also just people too, and that His opinion was the only opinion I should put that much stock in. I have forgiven my relative, but must admit I have not completely succeeded in ridding myself of the hurt. But I know that God is the great healer.

    Reply
  15. Judy Acker

    The devil can use someone to hit us where we are most likely to crumble. I have found that as God was moving me forward in my service for Him someone would say something to me to make me question my ability.
    You are an awesome person. Not perfect but God does not use someone who “thinks” they are. Remember God is with you on your journey. He will be seen in you and you will be in awe over who he pits in your path.
    .

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Yes, yes, yes. True. That’s why we must keep moving forward, keep being faithful with the days we’re given. Thanks, Judy.

      Reply
  16. Cindy Schaumburg

    Outstanding piece Michele! Full of truth. Holding you and your precious fam before our God!

    Reply
  17. Julie

    Excuse me for being a bit biased, but she still doesn’t know “who you truly are.” I’m sad for her. She is missing out. I’ve watched you grow up, spent significant time with you as an adult, experienced some highs and the lowest of lows right beside you. Through it all, you have been full of grace, encouragement, and love. It’s just like you to take some shards of glass and turn it into something beautiful. To God be the glory! Love you, girl! Xo

    Reply
  18. Jon D Harrison

    Michele, what an empowering thought – “Identity is anchored outside the reach of public opinion.” it sounds like common sense, but it is far too easy to forget or allow that people pleaser to run way too far with the thoughts that bubble up.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Common sense that is also a whole lot of work! 🙂

      Reply
  19. Elizabeth M Thompson

    This ministered to me today! I’m reeling from a similar incident and am grateful for the grace you poured out through this blog today. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I’m sorry, Elizabeth. It’s not fun! Go ahead and reel for a while. Then remember who you are. 🙂

      Reply
  20. Peter

    Very encouraging, Michele! 🙂 I recently moved on from a management position where those comments were almost all I heard. Besides a couple kind people on my team, it seemed everyone resented my role and hated what I stood for. It really broke me down on a daily basis.

    But it ended up making me a lot tougher, though, and happier now that I’ve moved on. It makes me appreciate positive and kind people a lot more.

    When I was still there, though, the best way I found to cope was to occasionally engage head-on in honest and open discussion of it. I found that when I really told my team members how I really felt, we were able to connect a little better. When I explained what I was really trying to do FOR them, and how their misunderstanding me was so discouraging, they often were able to rethink things…

    But for when that wasn’t an option (or didn’t work), coping meant keeping our work and team in perspective and holding on tight to my best friends (like my encouraging girlfriend).

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Yes, disparaging comments can really wear a person down. Like you, being on the receiving end has made me more committed to not doing the same in return!

      Reply
  21. Gwen Rutz

    “Identity is anchored outside the reach of public opinion.” Love this. It’s so true. Great post!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Now if only I would have learned this sooner. 😉

      Reply
  22. Ray

    I’m new to your blog and so thankful to have found it (a friend suggested a particular article). This post is very poignant for me right now having just gone through a painful divorce and being called many hurtful things, which though untrue still cause me to question myself. I know you are going through a very painful, trying and exhausting time and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing the gifts God gave to you. You have an amazing way with words and the expression of what many of us experience and can’t quite always articulate. I don’t expect a response, but I want you to know that I am praying for you and your family as y’all endure this time.

    Reply
  23. janice

    You are the bravest woman I have ever known. A woman of our time! Instead of shying away from feelings we all want to forget or bury, you open the box wide and examine each part. That takes incredible courage. I am so thrilled my daughter loves you and who you are

    Reply
  24. Loree

    It’s late. Well, really, it’s later. That is, I saved a link to this on my laptop to read later. It’s later. Timing is ironic sometimes, yes? I am in such a slump…self-loathing is pretty close, maybe not that bad yet, but close. Seems summer break from nursing school is a hard adjustment, I don’t quite know what to do with myself, though my “to-do” list is raging. So, I hopped in here and read this. Timing, yes. He made me. I am human. I will make mistakes, but I am forgiven. It is becoming more and more apparent that I am, as yet, unable to forgive myself. I’m going to work on that now. I’ll be around…reading and smiling and crying and listening. Thanks for being here. <3 loree

    Reply

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