Self-Identity: Understanding Who You Are


Last Christmas, my wife and I bought a basketball for our 9-year-old son. He'd never played basketball before and our new house had a hoop out on the driveway he wanted to try. A few weeks later, our son mentioned he wanted to play basketball on a team, and soon, I was sitting in the bleachers of an elementary school, watching my son play basketball with other 9- and 10-year-olds in the gym. He double-dribbled, traveled, fouled, and shot air balls. My son was still learning how to play basketball (so of course, he wasn't very good), but I remember thinking to myself from the bleachers, “That’s my boy! I love him, and I am so proud of him.” My love for him wouldn’t change if he'd performed like an NBA pro. I was proud for the simple fact that he is my son.  

I share this story because my son is developing his identity. Apart from intentionally helping him shape that, I want him to know that I love him no matter what, and that I am so proud simply because he's my son. I struggled to believe that myself as a boy and young man. I interpreted messages then that had me place my identity in other things—like my abilities and strengths.

Identity is important for all of us and it plays into our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Identity is largely concerned with the question: "Who are you?" What does it mean to be who you are? Identity is about how you define yourself and ties to basic values that dictate your choices. You begin developing your identify and self-esteem as a very small child. When you were a baby, sometimes you cried. If your caregivers responded to you promptly and in a loving manner, you probably began to learn and believe you were valuable. You probably began to learn and believe your feelings and needs were important. If your caregivers didn’t respond in an appropriate way, though, you may have begun to learn and believe you were not valuable and that your feelings and needs were not important. 

The messages we receive from our caretakers or from society are simply internalized. Sadly, the values of our parents or dominant cultures are often out of alignment with our authentic self and can create an unfulfilling life. Research shows how struggling with identity issues or not having a strong sense of self can lead to anxiety and insecurity—and can contribute to marital struggles, work struggles, parenting struggles, and spiritual struggles. It's important, then, to develop a strong sense of identity because it's the foundation for good mental health.  

Knowing who we are plays a key role in how we think, how we feel, and how we go about our lives. Without knowing our personal identity, we're like a rudderless ship drifting aimlessly on the ocean, subject to the whims of the tides and winds. If we don’t know what our identity is, then we can't live a life consistent with our true nature and values—and we'll only frustrate ourselves, rather than living in harmony with our identity and reaching our true potential. 

Our true and authentic identity is not defined by race, color, nationality, language, or place of birth. True identity is not defined by our families—whether it be the family that we grew up with, or the one we currently have with our spouse and children. It's not defined by a person’s occupation, vehicles, home and property, bank account, or any other superficial thing. Our true identity is not defined by our bodies, athletic ability, our personal style, or overall appearance. It’s not defined by our thoughts, feelings, or dreams. If you make the mistake of thinking your self-identity is the same as your nationality, what you do for a career, your family status, your financial status, your social status, or perhaps your health status (healthy or sick), then you're just setting yourself up for failure. When your self-identity is made up of things and not your deep, core beliefs, you're on your way to an identity crisis. “Things” can disappear for whatever reason, but your true, authentic, deep core values will always be there to provide a stable foundation from which to live. 

A poor sense of self can contribute to other problems in our lives. A few years ago when I was a lead pastor at a church plant we'd started, I signed up to be coached by another fellow church planter and spiritual mentor. In our first week, he opened my eyes to how Jesus got his identity. In Mark 1:9-13, we find Jesus at the point before he's done any miracles; before he's preached the Gospel; before he's fed the 5000; and before he's raised anyone from the dead. This is important, because God had something important to tell him in front of the crowd, and He needed to say it before all the miracles started. Many of us know the story:  

“One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.' The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.”

It was here that God gave Jesus his identity. Here, God the Father calls Jesus his Son. God could have identified Jesus in different ways that would have been true—a savior, messiah, or king—but He identified him as Son. Jesus’ identity was that he was God’s Son, who He loved. What was God pleased with Jesus about? Remember, Jesus had not performed any miracles yet, so God’s pleasure with him was because Jesus was His Son. Jesus’ value was in who he is. This is true for us, too. We are not more or less valuable by what we do; we are valuable for who we are. In light of this, our task is to remember that our value is in who we are and not what we do. We have to fight the lie that our value is tied to our work.

When we find our identity from our Father in heaven, then we can be free, like Jesus, to love in obedience to God—not because we have to so that He will love us. No, we serve and obey God because we are already his dearly loved children. We do what sons and daughters of God do, and we live out the identity that God has given us. For Jesus, that meant he went out to the wilderness to be tempted. What does that mean for you? What or where is the Spirit compelling you to go? I now work in the counseling field. I didn't see this five years ago, but one day, the Spirit compelled me to go back to school and get my degree in Marriage and Family Therapy—and here I am today. My value does not come because I'm a good or bad counselor; my value comes and remains because I'm a loved son of God, in whom He is well pleased.

So, where is an appropriate place to dig into the identity from which we live? For me, the place it began was in a discipleship group. Maybe you could look into finding someone to disciple you and dig into the identity you currently have. Another good place to discuss identity-related issues is counseling. Through counseling, many people experience a reduction in their depression, find ways to cope with struggles associated with their identity issues, and ultimately find themselves in the process of becoming the man or woman they dream of being.

I can imagine you're thinking identity work sounds like a good idea and that taking on the identity of a well-loved son or daughter of God should be easy. Well . . . my journey has showed me that this can sometimes be painful. I discovered that I gained a sense of identity from my past pain, abandonment, my career, my abilities, my heritage, my marital status, my accomplishments, my family legacy, and so much more. It’s painful, because God requires our identity in Christ to supersede all these other identities. I've had to let go of so much, and releasing my identity from these things has at times been very difficult. How did I make it through it? All throughout this journey, I had to remember that the "things" I had found my identity in were really nothing in comparison to the new identity I've found in Christ. I hope and pray you will remember that, too, as you walk this road. God bless.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation: What Is the Difference?


When humans are functioning as God intended, they experience beauty and richness in their relationships with God and one another, yet no one is exempt from the pain of broken relationships and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. Why do we forgive those who have hurt us? Because God, out of love and mercy, forgives through Jesus’ death, and humanity responds in gratitude by forgiving others as Jesus instructs his followers to do (Luke 6:37). Forgiveness can be a worshipful act that has the power to transform lives. Forgiveness, however, is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is internal and makes reconciliation possible, but not inevitable. Reconciliation is interpersonal and involves rebuilding trust in a relationship where trust has been damaged.

Everett Worthington, an expert on the scientific study of forgiveness, explains there are two types of forgiveness that happen independently of one another: decisional and emotional forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness can occur quickly and involves controlling our behavioral intentions toward those who offend us. In contrast, emotional forgiveness is often slower and not always under our control; an individual makes a decision to forgive, but may not feel emotional peace as memories of the offence surface. Personal responsibility, then, is an important part of the process. Once forgiveness is extended, reconciliation involves hard work, emotional honesty, and behavioral changes.

Authors Jones and Musekura offer a forgiveness model that is likened to the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sometimes described by theologians as a dance of self-giving love that overflows into love for humanity. We join the divine dance of the Trinity through the forgiveness offered by Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, enabling us to forgive others and move toward a longing for reconciliation, even if reconciliation is not possible. The model offers six steps, rehearsed over time, to engage in the beautiful dance of forgiveness. The dance steps include: 

  1. Telling the truth of what happened, which requires honesty and patience.

  2. Acknowledging emotional pain and anger.

  3. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, developing concern for the well-being of the offender made in the image of God.

  4. Without minimizing the offence, recognizing and taking responsibility for the human tendency to see the fault in others more quickly than in ourselves.

  5. Committing to change, while looking forward and wishing the best for others on an individual and community level.

  6. Though reconciliation may not be possible, moving toward a yearning or longing for reconciliation through prayer.

Reconciliation happens most authentically when we understand our own broken relationships in light of God’s redemptive work and stay engaged with a heart toward reconciling relationships in the midst of suffering, when the opposite response might seem more natural. The beautiful dance of forgiveness and the longing for reconciliation have a reciprocal nature and exemplifies what humans strive for. God pursues a relationship with humanity via self-giving love, through the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and the Father welcomes a broken and humble soul who returns home (Luke 15:15-32). In the midst of our struggle with broken relationships, it's important to remember that Jesus, though he never needed to seek forgiveness, spared nothing for the sake of reconciliation with humanity.

The Importance of Emotions


Not too long ago, I was trying to help my daughter with her math. Payton is like other students who struggle with subjects, and her kryptonite happens to be math. As Payton and I worked on her math homework, it didn’t take long for her to get frustrated and cry. The more I pressed on, the more she got upset—and minutes later, all positive movement ground to a halt.

So, we took a breather from math for a bit, and then rendezvoused at the kitchen table to talk about why she got so upset when we worked on math. That’s when Payton dropped this big bomb on me. She told me that whenever we work on math together, she feels embarrassed, which leads to her feeling stupid and believing she's a failure.

Our families are full of emotion:

  • Think about who you want to spend the next holiday with.

  • Think about why some family members don’t talk to other family members.

  • Think about why you argue and fight with your loved ones.

  • Think about why you don’t argue or fight with your loved ones.

Emotions exist. No amount of denial can change that. For girls, boys, women, and men, emotions must be accepted so that they can be dealt with in a healthy way. Emotions are a part of who we are. Believing anything else is unhealthy and not sustainable. In fact, emotions don't just exist. Some mental illnesses often result from excess emotion. The overflow of emotion doesn't just drive mood disorders, like Major Depression, it fuels most psychological problems: phobias, anxietytraumahoarding, obsessiveness, borderline personality disorder, and drug and alcohol abuse.

I mention this because many of my clients grew up in homes where emotions were not openly discussed or expressed, or they lived in situations where emotions that were freely expressed led to negative outcomes. As a result, they learned not to value emotions or express them, and these habits were carried into adulthood and into their relationships.

I love working with couples. If I could do anything all day long, it would be sitting with struggling couples and helping them sense how they got to this point in their relationship and what to do moving forward. These couples often find themselves in offices like ours, and they know strongly what they feel, but often they don’t know what to do about it.

I know that’s what I felt when Anna (my wife) and I ended up in marriage counseling. Anna was feeling strong emotions, and I was feeling numb. I felt so many extremely negative emotions and got so afraid, that eventually I determined it was better to feel nothing than to feel the extremes. I learned this in my home from my parents. In fact, as kids, we all learn a lot about how to deal with emotions from our parents. When our parents don’t value or express emotion, we learn not to value or express our emotions. 

Now here is another thing I learned as a person who disconnects from my feelings—and why I think it's important for us to value and express emotions in our homes and in our families. When we choose to disconnect from our emotions, we are in essence choosing to cut off parts of ourselves and practice emotional neglect. And when we disconnect from one emotion, we disconnect access to most—if not all—of our emotions. If we don’t listen when anger or sadness warns us about a situation, we also risk losing the feeling of happiness and excitement when we find a job, a home, or a person that is just right for us. When we lose the ability to feel, we lose the ability to listen and be informed by all parts of us.

Want to know something else I learned? Suppressed feelings don’t evaporate; they eventually burst out and wreak havoc in our lives. We all know the mess a burst emotional pipe can make: ulcers and migraines, family feuds and broken friendships, anger and retaliation. Emotions are not bad. Stifling our emotions is bad.

Why is emotion so important in our families?

Emotion is what changes 
A painting into a masterpiece
An occasion into a treasured memory
And a person into the love of your life.

I know what a lot of you are thinking. We can’t live by our emotions, we can’t trust our emotions, and emotions are dangerous. I have heard these things my whole life, and I have lived them out to see the outcomes they produce. I have lived years hiding from my emotions and suppressing them. (You can ask my wife how she liked that. It only took us 10 months of marriage counseling to regain its vibrancy.) I related to God with no emotions, which led me into a wilderness. I pastored with no emotion, which led to a dwindling congregation.

Here is what I believe and what I have come to understand. Many of our issues stem from hiding from our true emotions. When I am afraid and I tell Anna I am afraid, she comforts me. When I feel insecure at work, I share that with trusted co-workers, and they reassure me. When I am angry because I feel disrespected by a family member, I let them know and ask for my needs to be met.

I hid for far too long. I learned to hide from the home I grew up in, and I spent the first 10 years of my marriage hiding. I had to come to a determination that I can't hide anymore. If I can encourage you today, create an environment at home where emotions are valued and appreciated.

Now, you might be asking . . . is this biblical and is this the way we are to relate to God? Great question. Well let me tell you what I see in scripture about how God relates to us:

  • For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son. (John 3:16)

  • Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. (Isaiah 30:18)

  • So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

  • Ask, Seek, Knock – Tell me what you want, what you need. (Matthew 7:7-12)

  • Come to me all of you who are tired, weary, and heavy burdened. (Matthew 11:28)

This is a picture of a God who is intimately connected and passionately engaged. This is a God who is moved by our failures and successes, who cares about who we are now, and who we are becoming. This is not a distant being, but one who understands things like sorrow and joy—not in an academic, intellectual way—but because of His personal experience.

The Bible paints a picture of a God who has powerful emotions, who is even motivated by these emotions—and all without sin. That is a picture of hope for us. It means that our emotions are not a flaw in the design or a sinful condition to be overcome. There is a way to live with our emotions, to experience them powerfully, and still grow and mature spiritually. We cannot grow spiritually to the level God desires if our emotions don’t grow and mature, as well. He wants us to glorify Him with our feelings. In fact, we can’t honor and obey Him without our feelings! Far from being bad and unreliable, feelings are actually central to loving and serving God.

So if our feelings matter to God, they should matter to us—and if they matter to us, they should matter to our families and our kids and our spouses. We need to value emotions and raise their level of importance in our homes.

The Vulnerability of Fear


Fear is one of the most vulnerable states you can experience. It has the ability to strip you bare and expose the most uncertain, self-conscious, and raw parts of your psyche. What happens when you think about things like death? Horrific accidents or traumas? The real purpose of life? If you never experience true love? If your biggest dreams never come true? Your heart might race or your hands might feel a bit clammy.

A tendency is to avoid fear through distractions—watching TV, listening to music, reading, or eating and eating (or drinking). Instead, I believe we should lean in to our fears to really understand what’s going on. The phrase, leaning in, means getting closer to something or someone to gain a better understanding. It’s usually thought of in a positive light—until you tell someone to lean in to their discomfort, or their pain, or the awkwardness of something.  

So, why should we lean in to something that makes us uncomfortable? Imagine whatever you’re afraid of as a black cloud following you around. You’re able to avoid dealing with it directly, but you also know it’s there—lurking—waiting to make you feel troubled, depressed, or disgusting. There are a million things that can be lurking, following you around—low self-esteem, self-hatred, fear of not understanding the purpose of life, feeling ashamed of a past experience. You might be hoping if you just ignore a fear long enough, it’ll finally go away. But it won’t. Without leaning in to pain, it will continue to lurk in your life. So, why not just deal with it?

When we lean in to the things that make us uncomfortable, we are taking away its power. Instead of running from the black cloud of fear, turn towards it and lean in, getting a good 360-degree view to really understand the components that make up this thing that’s been following you. It might feel uncomfortable, but it will give you the power of seeing what's truly causing your fear. It will allow you to understand what’s causing your pain, giving you the ability to chip away at the cloud, little by little. In a sense, it will allow you to take away its power, because when all the components of that fear are lumped together . . . it's heavy, it’s large, it’s intimidating. If you lean in, understanding the different layers that make up this “thing”, then you take away some of its weight, making it seem less impossible to manage.

After leaning in, you'll feel lighter, freer, and more joyful. Avoiding fear can make us numb—and it's nearly impossible to numb part of our emotions. When we lean in and face things—and deal with the uncomfortable mess following us around—life gets richer and fuller.

Sometimes, we won't have all the answers when facing fear . . . and that's okay. Resting in the unknown can bring us to a place of stronger faith, a stronger sense of self, and a truer understanding of our vulnerability. Whether you believe in God or not, humanity is not supposed to know everything with 100% certainty. Part of the beauty of humanity is our wonder and faith. As a human race, our wonder has led us to discover truths in science that are amazing, yet even as we uncover facts and truths about our universe, we will never know with 100% certainty how far the cosmos extends.

My point is this. We should lean in, wrestle with fear, and come to our conclusions, while also accepting that we won't always have the answers. Not knowing all the answers shouldn't shut us down, cause us to panic, and jump at anything that gives us a glimmer of safety or security. My hope is that it drives us forward in a beautiful and complex way, pushing us to seek deeper, dream bigger, and keep fear from controlling our actions and shadowing our lives.

How Well Do You Bounce Back?


Your infant spits up on you right before you head off to an interview in your freshly, dry-cleaned business suit (the suit you specifically cleaned for this occasion). Or, you lock the front door behind you, only to realize you forgot your keys inside the house. Or, the car won't start and you're already late for an important appointment. Anyone have days like these? How did you handle them? I've had my fair share of stressful days. One time, when I was already 10 minutes behind schedule, I couldn’t find my phone anywhere in the house as I tried frantically to get out the front door. I'd looked everywhere . . . except the fridge. Apparently, when I pulled the milk out in the morning to add a dash to my coffee (that I clearly hadn't drank yet), I'd placed my phone in the fridge in exchange for the milk. The day didn't improve much from there.

In all seriousness, when life throws tomatoes at you, how well do you bounce back? Sometimes, life’s inevitable difficulties—trauma, tragedy, financial stress, or relational issues—can bring us to what might feel like “rock bottom." This is where resiliency comes in. After experiencing life’s challenges, are you able to bounce back stronger, more self-aware, and with a higher self-esteem?

Why Is Resiliency So Important?

Resiliency helps us combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. It allows us to feel—from our core—that we can make it through difficult times and come out stronger on the other side. Do you remember the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, and the house built on a rock? When life throws us into a storm, everything feels like it’s swept out from underneath us. Our world comes crashing down “and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27, ESV). However, if we practice resiliency and strengthen our inner being, we can withstand the storm. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:25, ESV). We're all capable of being that house built on a rock.

But how do we get there?

How to Become More Resilient

Here are a few strategies to help you become more resilient and able to cope with life's challenges.

  • Get in tune with the messages you're sending yourself daily. Sometimes, we're our own worst critics. In times of trouble, our inner dialogue is essential in helping us cope and push forward. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, “I'm not capable of getting over this," or “I'm not worth it,” or “Bad things always happen to me.” Start catching the negative thoughts, acknowledging them, and then redirecting your thoughts to your strengths in the moment. You'll find yourself feeling stronger and more self-confident.

  • Give yourself grace. Have compassion for yourself and your 'humanness.' We make mistakes and things happen to us. Being able to accept difficulties in our life helps us in two ways: it keeps us from sitting in negativity and helplessness, and it brings us closer to focusing on supports we have and the ways we can make our situation manageable. Find your strengths.

  • Spend time in nature. How does nature apply to the fact that my car isn’t starting and I need to get to an interview? In all honesty, we need to get out of our homes and offices and take in fresh air to reset our minds and body. Really, it's about carving out a time in your week for self-care—like meditation, nature walks, journaling, or regular massages. Find what's best for you and work it in. Notice the differences in how you feel throughout the day and week when you take time to recharge.

I encourage you to start practicing resiliency—even when life is going great—so you're more prepared when challenges come. Above all else, be kind to yourself. You are capable. You are valued. You are gifted. You matter. If you don’t feel these things, ask God to help see yourself the way He sees you—as His loved and cherished child. And if you are anything like me, I need those reminders to feel like I can face what’s in front of me each day. I hope you find God's peace and little joys during this season of your life. Remember to look up. God is with you, always.

Living Unfiltered in a Filtered Society


Filters, filters. Everywhere I turn and look, all I see are filters. We live and function in a crazy, filtered, expectant society. There are so many ideals about how to reach “success” ingrained in our culture, we don’t even recognize them. Here are a few examples.  

  • Corporate view: You reach “success” by making money, driving a nice car, wearing nice clothing, having sleek hair, being fit, vacationing over the summer and spring break, and living in a big home.

  • Religious view: You reach “success” by attending church every week. You have personal devotional time daily, you serve and volunteer whenever you aren’t working, you're married before you have babies, you're modest, you speak the lingo, you carry coffee most of the time, you're put together, and you're always nice and never have troubles (because prayer has been successful).

  • Free-spirited view: You reach “success” by living carefree. Your clothes are loose and flowy, you live “in the moment,” you practice yoga, you may have dreads or long flowing hair, you wear sandals (even in the winter), you're trying to build a tiny house, and you could care less about making money.

Do any of these sound familiar? None of these ideals are necessarily bad. In fact, many of these concepts of achieving success are great. That's why they exist—because they speak to so many people. Being fit, practicing yoga, drinking coffee (hello!), saving money, praying, and taking vacations are actually fantastic life plans and goals. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is not the belief systems (about reaching success) themselves, but the tainted messages we humans inject into them. Things like, "If you want to be successful then you have to drive a nice car, practice yoga and be thin, drink lattes . . . ." And, “If you want to be a successful/good religious person, you have to get up every morning to read your Bible, never miss church, pray for an hour every day, and never ever talk about having a bad day.” What do these “have-to” beliefs cause much of the time? Shame, embarrassment, pressure, and fabricated truths—filters. We filter ourselves to avoid being ashamed, embarrassed—because let’s face it—who wants to have those feelings? I certainly don't.

But the question is this: Are you satisfied filtering yourself? Is it fulfilling to try to live up to some standard that you may not fully agree with anyway? Do you have a hunch when someone isn’t being completely unfiltered with you, and do you feel fully connected with them? I don’t know about you, but my interests and belief systems may have some quirks that don’t typically fit the standard. Most people don’t fit the mold that culture tends to place on us.

Our society attempts to define us; my proposition is that we should define it. Do you ever catch yourself admiring someone who seems to march to the beat of their own drum? They just have that “something” that draws people to them. I would be willing to bet much of that draw has to do with their vulnerability with people—owning their quirks and letting their freak flag fly. Because guess what? That freak flag isn’t actually freaky. It’s amazing and inspiring. It’s unfiltered!

Finding Meaning in Work

snow day.jpg

Our son burst into our bedroom one morning recently with an alarming proclamation. “IT SNOWED last night!" he exclaimed. "Do we have school today, Mom?”    

Attempting to gather myself and slow my racing heart, I rolled over towards my bed stand, grabbed my phone, and squinted at the blinding screen. “Sorry bud, no cancellation notices. You are going to school,” I announced.

I'm sure you can imagine the immediate deflation of an eight-year old boy with grand hopes of playing in the snow and sipping hot chocolate, who now faced the crushing reality of another day of times-tables and cafeteria food. As I put my phone back down in a sleepy haze, our son stormed out in disappointment, lamenting, “Why do we have to go to school . . . ?”

To be honest, there have been many days that I've woken up with the same dispirited feeling wishing that I didn’t have to go to work. The “Sunday blues” is a real emotion that many people feel as the weekend comes to a close and Monday morning looms ahead. I'm not alone in this battle. In a recent Forbes poll, only 42.6% of workers liked their jobs, 52.3% of people were unhappy with their work, and 70% of workers weren't satisfied with their career choice. With 1/3 of our day spent at work, and with so many people unhappy at their jobs, we have a real problem on our hands.

The Bible actually talks a great deal about the subject of work. As a matter of fact, the very first words in Genesis reveal that God was at work and actually enjoyed it—He declared that His work was good. Near the end of the creation account, God creates man and woman, and He creates them in His own image. God blesses them and gives them a job to do: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:28 NLT). God entrusted work to human-kind and invited them to partner with Him in the building and stewarding of creation and culture.

Nancy Pearcy, in Total Truth, writes, “The first phrase, ‘be fruitful and multiply’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the cultural mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.” Unfortunately, we've lost this biblical perspective and our work has become a means to an end. We work to pay the bills, to put food on the table, to put our kids through college—or as the popular expression goes, “I work hard so that I can play hard.”

Many of us may be at a crossroads in our lives, and we need to step back and get a larger vision, a transformed perspective, and a broader paradigm of the transcendent purpose of work itself. Having a biblical perspective of work doesn’t mean that we go to work to share our faith with the hopes of converting our co-workers (though that may happen), but instead, we see that our vocation is part of God’s grand story that started in the garden and will continue when Jesus returns and establishes a new heavens and a new earth. Our work is a part of God’s Kingdom coming here on “earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Walking out of my church's sanctuary, the words on the back wall read: "We go out as partners with God.” Our work, whether it's paid or unpaid, is in partnership with God. Like He assigned the naming of the animals to Adam and Eve, so He assigns us tasks to steward creation and culture in a way that glorifies God and serves the common good (Proverbs 12:11, 14b, 24; 14:23). How do we do this? Jeremiah 29:4-7 gives us an example: “'Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters. And take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may give birth to sons and daughters. Become many there, and do not let your number become less. Work for the well-being of the city where I have sent you to and pray to the Lord for this. For if it is well with the city you live in, it will be well with you.’”

Though God holds an extremely high value of our work, our value is not determined by our work. This can be a stumbling block for many of us who've been raised to believe that our work is our identity. A great way to determine if this is an issue is by identifying the emotions we experience when someone asks us, “So, what do you do for a living?” Do we cringe or do we gloat? Unfortunately, we live with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sinfulness—thus the struggle to enjoy work, to work too much or too little, or to find our value or our identity by our work. Thank God that Jesus came and redeemed humanity's failures so that those who put their faith in Jesus can be adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family. God loves us and is pleased with us because we are His kids. We can’t do anything to earn His favor; Jesus did that for us. But just like the devil tempted Jesus' identity in the wilderness, he too will tempt us to live out of a false identity pursuing our ambitions, appetites, and approval through our work.

God’s desire is that we approach our work with a new paradigm of partnership with Him to bring about His Kingdom on earth with all of heaven’s resources at our fingertips. Hugh Whelchel, in his book How Then Should We Work, writes, “As we in obedience answer the vocational call in our own lives, we must learn to believe God uses everything we do. ‘ . . . we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28) All of our work, even the most mundane things we do are taken by God and transformed into Kingdom work.”

Finding Identity in the 'Holy Dance'


As Christians, we believe God is Trinity— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—living uniquely and yet unified in mutual, self-giving love. The relational character of God is often described as 'a holy dance' between Father, Son, and Spirit, whose purpose for creating the world was to bring humanity into a shared relationship with the Trinity—as adopted sons and daughters. Because humans are made in God's image, the capacity for relationship is innate in all of us. As the apostle Paul wrote, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5). I am in awe that my adoption, with all the rights and privileges of a natural born child, gave God great pleasure. All of humanity is invited, but never forced, into the holy dance with the Father, Son, and Spirit. When our identity is secure in relationship with the Trinity, we are free to create, explore, and enjoy the abundant life here and now.


When we lose our ability to make meaning out of our experiences, however, it is difficult to thrive. As author C. Baxter Kruger states, “the goal of the evil one, is to destroy the dance of life shared by Father, Son and Spirit on this planet."

People are complex; our experience, as well as our faith tradition, informs our view of God and how we walk out our faith journey. What seems consistent in the human experience is the tendency to lean more heavily on one aspect of God’s character to the exclusion of another. As a child, I believed God was impersonal and uninvolved in the lives of people. Then, as a young adult, I belonged to a church tradition focused on holiness and obedience, which seemed to underemphasize God’s grace and mercy. Fear was a dominant emotion during those years, because I lived out of an identity focused on pleasing God.

Identity issues have been part of my own personal struggle and for those I work with, as well. As I recover from a distorted identity, I am learning to rest in God’s embrace and risk in relationships with others. God is the prime example of a relational being existing in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. For humans made in the image of God, relationships are at the core of who we were designed to be. It takes courage to walk toward freedom after years of hearing hurtful messages that reiterate “you don’t have value.” Through 'the holy dance'—a deep sense of belonging as a loved and valued child of God is available to all.

Relational Pipelines: Four Key Relationships


No matter how careful or attentive we try to be, we all experience the pain of broken relationships at some point in our lives. No one is exempt. In their book, When Helping Hurts, authors Corbett and Fikkert describe four key areas of relational brokenness that result in emotional poverty—or in "relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, [and] that are not harmonious or enjoyable.” When any one of the four relationships below are not functioning properly, people are unable to fulfill their calling in life.

Four Key Relationships for an Abundant Life

  • A right relationship and healthy dependence on God

  • A secure relationship with ourselves as a unique child of God

  • Connected relationships with others, characterized by empathy

  • A vital relationship with the rest of creation (or the world)

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These key relationships are the building blocks of all human activity and form an interconnected pipeline. This life-giving flow allows us to live out the truth of Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Healthy trust and dependence on God is the first relationship, and it provides a secure base in which to interact with others and the world. The quality and authenticity of our relationships with others is directly connected to our relationship with ourselves and our own uniqueness as a child of God (Galatians 5:14). The ability to love others well is demonstrated through our care and empathy towards the people around us—our families, friends, neighbors, and communities. The final piece in this pipeline is the relationship with the rest of creation (the world)—and finding our place and purpose in it through a meaningful vocation.

No one is exempt from brokenness in their relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation at some point in life. In light of this reality, we have the opportunity to practice new levels of compassion with one another. God invites us to partner with him in the ministry of reconciliation. "And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him" (2 Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation happens most authentically when we understand our own broken relationships in light of God’s redemptive work. Jesus Christ is described in scripture as the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things (Colossians 1:15-20). The authors of When Helping Hurts state that, “Jesus died for our souls, but he also died to reconcile—that is, to put into right relationship all that He created."

It is a high honor to be invited into the story of another person as they learn to release painful memories and experiences that have kept them in bondage, and experience new ways of relating to God, themselves, and others. Our hope is to meet each person where they are . . . and to empower each individual, couple, and family experiencing brokenness with the tools needed to gain wholeness, healing, and freedom for an abundant life.

Hope Is a Rope


“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). That verse was written to a group of people who lived in the midst of chaos, struggle, and persecution. To hope in something or someone means that I live in expectation that something I desire or long for will happen. To hope means I trust that there is something more than I can see, touch, or feel. To hope means I don’t give up, even when I can’t see what’s ahead. To have hope results in the belief that my life is not worthless, because God put me on earth to be worthwhile, and one of the ways I do that is to add meaning and richness to the lives of others. 

In English, hope is a somewhat abstract idea of expectation. The word for hope in Hebrew (Tikvah), however, is more concrete. In Hebrew, the word means expectation—and  it also means cord or rope, which comes from a root word that means to bind or to wait for or upon. Tikvah is a rope that we can hang onto when the world seems out of control or when we don't know how to make it through a difficult season in life, like the promise given to the Israelites in captivity in a foreign land. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope [tikvah]” (Jeremiah 29:11). Is it possible that a rope can give me hope? I can cling to God and cry out with the psalmist, “For thou art my hope [tikvah], O Lord God; thou art my trust from my youth" (Psalm 71:5).

Tikvah is used in the biblical story found in the book of Joshua. As Joshua prepares to lead the Israelites into the promise land, he sends out two spies who come to the house of Rahab, a prostitute. The king of Jericho hears about the two spies and orders Rahab to turn them over, but instead, she hides them on the roof and deceives the king. Rahab is in a vulnerable place and tells the spies, "I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you” (Joshua 2:9). This sounds like a hopeless situation.

She asks the spies to swear an oath that when Jericho is conquered, they will let Rahab and her family live. The spies say to Rahab, “We shall be free from this oath unless when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread [tikvah] in the window through which you let us down and gather into the house your father, mother and your brothers and all your father’s household” (Joshua 2:17-18). The spies keep their word and spare Rahab and her family. The scarlet cord was used here in a literal sense, but it gives us a picture of what hope looks like. The cord was Rahab’s only guarantee that her household would be spared by the Israelites. Though the physical cord had been tied to the window to ensure their safety, Rahab still had to wait for the realization of the spies’ promise. One of the most difficult things to remember is that "hope is rooted in waiting", a concept K. Gallagher beautifully details in her blog ( I imagine Rahab walked through the steps laid out in Romans 12:12—being joyful in the hope that her family would be rescued, patient in the uncertainty, and praying to the one true God that she didn't even know, but hoped would be her salvation.

How do we cling to hope and keep waiting? How do we keep doubt from overwhelming us? In my experience, the answer is rooted in the vital relationships with God, ourselves, and others. The spies needed Rahab in order to leave a dangerous situation; Rahab needed the spies to follow through with their promise to protect her family; Rahab needed to wait and trust the one true God; and Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, needed assurance from God and the people who told him, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).

A connected relationship with God is like grasping onto a strong rope. We can cling to and depend on Him even when we can’t see the next right step. I need to rest in God, trusting that the issues I'm facing are part of what God is using to transform me. And, like Rahab and the spies, I need to risk allowing other people into my life. God really is in control, and when I relinquish my anxiety over to Him, I will find the hope that I long for in the midst of chaos.