Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


The Path to Reclaiming Your Identity

Nov 7, 2016

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” -E.E. Cummings

Who are you?

Imagine meeting someone for the first time. What you tell them about who you are?

One of my favorite movies as a child was Hook. Hook is a delightful film, based on the world of Peter Pan. In the movie, Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) has left Neverneverland and grown up. He’s now Peter Banning, a narcissistic, intolerable lawyer who has returned to London to visit Wendy, who his kids refer to as their “grandmother”.

However, Peter’s world is ripped apart when Hook comes to Wendy’s house and kidnaps his children, demanding Peter return to Neverneverland to retrieve them. The problem is Peter has forgotten who he truly is, he himself has to be kidnapped to re-enter Neverneverland.

Without this reclamation of his true identity as Peter Pan, he will never be able to defeat Hook, much less retrieve his children. Things have gotten so bad that Peter’s son, Jack, doesn’t want to be his father’s son anymore. Hook takes Jack in as his own and attempts to do for Jack what Peter would not.

In one of my favorite scenes, the Lost Boys come together to remind Peter of his true identity. They each grab Peter by the face, look into his eyes and say, “There you are, Peter.” In the end, even Ruffio, who has taken Peter’s place as the leader of the Lost Boys, must admit “you are the Pan.”

I am Peter Pan – Are You?

Even as I type those words, I’m moved because I find myself in the struggle of Peter Banning. And I doubt I’m alone. I’m sure you’ve found yourself there at different times too. Maybe you’re there today.

I’m not sure who said it first, but this week I heard a quote which stopped me in my tracks.

“Do you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?”


Who are you? NOT who does the world say you should be? But who are YOU? Who were you before you succumbed to the chorus of voices seeking to fit you into their mold?

freedom identity reclaiming identity

In the midst of the move our family recently made, I began realizing how much of my life I’ve spent “hedging.” By hedging, I mean editing, posturing, mimicking and presenting myself as someone less than 100% of my true self. This kind of hedging is exhausting. Do you know how tiring it is to try to be someone you’re not?!

In certain seasons, it came through in my leadership as I tried to be someone I wasn’t, to do my job like someone else said I should. I made decisions based upon the potential fallout or push back – I “played the game.” It came through in my speaking as I tried to mimic someone else’s style and voice instead of my own. It has even come through on this website as my words failed to connect because I was trying to capture someone else’s success by being like them, instead of just being me. For years, I’ve struggled to be who others told me to be or like other people i admired or flat-out envied.

I made a video recently for a special commissioning service my church held in honor of the beginning of my tenure as Lead Pastor. I was working with a friend on editing the video when I noticed something. My eyes were wide open and I was smiling naturally. Now, these may seem like minor, insignificant things to you, but for me they were massive changes. For many months, I had made videos with this same friend and needed to reshoot footage where my eyes were squinty or I was frowning. I often forced myself to smile, as it looked like I was angry or unhappy. (You can see a composite of screenshots from those two videos below.)

before and after identity reclaiming identity

So, what changed? I think one of the things which changed was I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t. I stopped trying to live the life someone else wanted me to live and I started showing up and being myself. I let others deal with consequences of me being me.

What Dying People Most Regret

Bronnie Ware wrote a best-selling book a couple years ago entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. After years of sitting at the bedside of the dying as a palliative nurse in Australia, Ware synthesized her conversations into five categories of regrets. In her experience, the most common regret of dying men and women was, “I wish I had lived the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

We succumb to the lie that happiness and fulfillment come from molding and shifting ourselves and our lives to meet someone else’s expectations. And yet, the truth is we find deep emptiness and tremendous regret at the end of that path.

Now, I don’t know if the complete explanation for the shift in my eyes and smile is found in my relocation. But I do believe a shift has happened in me and the way I’m living in the 6 months or so between the recording of these two videos. I think there’s a comfort and freedom and ease which wasn’t present before now. And I want you to know that freedom!

I’ll ask you again – do you remember who you were before the world told you who you were supposed to be? Is it possible there are signs that you’ve given up who you are for the sake of who others say you should be?

5 Bold Steps to Reclaiming Your Identity

If you’re beaten up, burdened or burned out after trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations, I’d love to offer you another path. Down this path, you’ll take different steps. On this road, there’s no more comparing, conforming or hedging.

If you’re ready, here we go.

1. Listen to and accept what God says about you as the truest thing about you.

Many of us are working on to earn the love and approval of others. As I told a friend last week, this has been my struggle – defining who I am by what I do. Everything shifted when I read a book entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel, which showed me my true identity as God’s Beloved Son. I learned God loved me for who I am, not what I do.

If I asked you what the truest thing about you was, what would your answer be? And if you have an answer for that question, who told you that was true?

Leeana Tankersley identity reclaiming identity

In a recent conversation with my friend and fellow writer, Leeana Tankersley, we shared about our struggles in this area of our identity and the pressures to “succeed.” Leeana shared how she was overcoming her battle.

“I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately and not so much writing. Not sure where it’s gonna lead but I feel like it’s been important.” When I asked who or what she’d been listening to, she said, “God and myself. I’ve just needed to circle back to my ‘why’ — as in, why am I doing this? And it’s been good to listen to Gods voice and direction as well as my own intuition. Nothing totally conclusive but it’s just been good to be silent for a bit.”

I believe what God says about you and me is the truest thing about us. And if we live from that place, we’ll find freedom. On the other hand, as many have said, “If you live for the approval of others, you’ll never live from the approval of God.”

2. Instead of comparing yourself to others, celebrate their success.

I’m not sure it’s ever been easier or more dangerous to compare ourselves with others. Because of social media, we get access to each other’s lives in unprecedented ways. But we don’t get full access – we get incomplete, edited and filtered access. And yet, we keep comparing.

What would happen, though, if we stopped comparing and we started celebrating? It’s hard to envy someone when you’re celebrating with them. The truth is celebration and comparison cannot co-exist since one is consumed with self and the one is consumed with another. If I’m consumed with thanking God for your success, it’s tough to be bitter at God for my own struggle.

I believe people who celebrate with others inevitably find others celebrating with them. When we show up in the lives of people to share in their joy, they want to show up in ours to celebrate too. And they even want to help us make it to that moment.

3. Practice the right kind of comparison.

There are good and bad comparisons. Instead of comparing our Mundane Monday with someone’s birthday weekend on the beach in Mexico, we can compare who we are with who we used to be, where we are versus where we used to be.

Celebrate the progress in you, instead of the gap between you and someone else. Be grateful for your progress, instead of being obsessed and envious on someone else’s achievement. I’ve had to learn to not compare my ability or achievements as a pastor or a writer to someone with more experience, different giftedness in a different context. I can celebrate how I am now living out of my God-given identity more consistently than I did six months or even years ago. And you can too!

When you notice someone else and feel overwhelmed by how far you have to go in comparison, stop and give thanks for how far you’ve come. The secret about gratitude isn’t that it changes our circumstances; gratitude changes our perspective on our circumstances. And perspective is everything.

4. Write down a succinct expression of who you are and return to it often.

Claiming and developing your God-given identity is one job no one else can do but you. You cannot delegate it nor automate it. It’s one of the most important works you have to do every day.

In our recent move, I discovered a file from my first semester of seminary. During our Foundations Class, I wrote an identity statement reflecting my sense of who I am in the sight of God.

“I was created in the image of God and am the Beloved of Jesus Christ, loved for who I am, not what I do.”

Within that sentence, I found all of my struggles over the last ten years. My inability to return to this statement has held me back again and again. Writing down a short summary of who we are is 10% of the battle; returning to it often is the other 90%. But nothing changes until you write it down!

5. Equip and empower people in your life to remind you who you are.

Who are your Lost Boys? Like Peter experienced in Hook, who are the people who grab you by the face and say “I see you?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a post which really resonated with my readers. In that post, I described five friends we all need in our lives. The common thread through all of them is people who tell you the truth. The worst kind of friends only tell you want to hear, they lie to make you feel better. The best kind of friends remind you who you truly are.

People don’t like confronting us. It’s scary! And even if we’ve told them once that we want them to boldly challenge and encourage us, they forget and let fear win. So, we have to continually equip and empower them to speak the words we need to hear in the moments we need to hear them (and vice versa).

A Lesson from the Chicago Cubs and Their Miraculous Win

We saw this exact experience played out in the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series championship in 108 years.

The Cubs and the Cleveland Indians ended the ninth inning of Game 7 tied 6-6. A 17-minute rain delay pushed back the start of extra inning. Jason Heyward, who had struggled all year including the playoffs, called a team meeting during the rain delay. Once the rain delay ended, the Cubs scored two runs and closed out the game for an 8-7 win, ending their curse and century-long drought as a franchise.

After the game, player after player on the Cubs cited this team meeting as the reason for the win. When asked about what he said, Heyward replied, “I just told them ‘this is who you are.’ I had to remind them of who they were. Who they had been all season long.” In the words of one commentator, the 10th inning for the Cubs was like an 8th game in the World Series – it was a totally different team than the 9th inning.

Prepare for a Battle

We all need friends like Heyward. Maybe today I can be that friend for you. I’m not sure who you were before the world told you who you should be, but the greatest tragedy would be for you to get to the end of your life like one of Bronnie Ware’s patients. It would be heart-breaking for you to compromise and live the life everyone else told you to live, being the person they told you to be instead of the person God created you to be. Today, you can claim your God-given identity and live the life you were created to live.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
-E.E. Cummings

I’d love to hear from you – in comments or you can email me at Who were you before the world told you you should be? Where are you struggling? How are you claiming and developing your God-given identity?

Did you enjoy this post? Want more help with seeing the world from a different perspective? Enter your email address below and I will send you a copy of my newest ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality. Once you enter your email, you’ll need to check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

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