On the Bravery of Identity

heels“Wow, you have the same anointing as such-and-such {fill-in-the-blank, well-known female Christian historical figure}.”

“Oh you are just like so-and-so {fill-in-the-blank, wonderful, famous female Christian leader}.”

If I had 50 cents for every time I heard or received that type of “prophetic” word in the years I traveled full-time speaking in the outer fringes of the conference circuit, I could pay for part of grad school.

Before I left for Africa in 2006, I had a very vivid mental video play in my minds eye one afternoon as I was praying. There stood a long line of well-meaning people trying to put other people’s dresses on me.  Layer after layer got put on me until I was virtually mummified by other people’s garments.  And when no more would fit on me, they were simply piled around me until I became buried up to my mouth by them.  Wearing other people’s expectations of who they think you are supposed to be steals and silences your voice.

At which point Jesus came to my rescue and extracted me from that mountain of misplaced identity. He very clearly told me the only dress I needed to wear was the one He created for me to wear.  Great picture Jesus.  Filing that away.

And… then it actually happened. Slowly. Subtly. Until I was nose-deep and suffocating in “prophetic” comparison that rapidly became the subject of introductions before I got up to speak and the talk around the table after I sat down. I get it.  Folks were trying to figure me out as a newbie on the scene.  They were genuinely trying to be encouraging in the only way they knew how.

And therein lies my concern.  Hence this conversation.

Using metaphor as an intentional literary device is one thing. The Old Testament prophets spoke and lived in metaphor. The Psalms are filled with it. Jesus taught in it.  But when metaphor is reduced to a form of literal comparison that in turn becomes the unnoticed context framing our reality, we operate with only part of the picture in view.

As one of my grad school text books points out {Images of Organization for any who like yummy academic reads on organizational theory}, metaphors are great at showing us similarities and can provide powerful insights.  But the very same lens and perspective metaphors offer have within them inherent distortions. While the lens can help us see some things, it helps us not see others at the same time. The same metaphor that gives us insight through pointing out similarities is powerless to show us the differences needed to complete the whole picture.

And what in the world does that have to do with bravely living out our identity in Jesus?  A whole lot.

The bravest thing any of us can ever do is go on the journey to become who we uniquely are, to wear the garment Jesus has made just for us.  To embrace our story fused with His, to share our one-of-a-kind voice and to celebrate raw authenticity in the face of a culture that still bows before graven and polished images.

What does that look like practically?  Is it wrong to point out similarities as a way to encourage the giftings we see in each other?  Well, is it more helpful to say to someone, “Wow, you are just like “fill-in-the-blank amazing well-known Biblical teacher and father-figure-to-many.”  Or to say to the person, “Wow I can see Jesus has given you such a gift and ability to take deep spiritual truths and condense them down into powerful and memorable one liners.” And then if appropriate mention someone who is known that demonstrates that same gift.

Perhaps it is the way we frame our encouragement that needs to change.

We desperately need to cultivate a culture of celebration not celebrity.

Comparison is compromise that becomes a box that confines.  Celebration defines {rather than confines} aspects of our identity and becomes an invitation to an ongoing conversation.  This conversation ideally challenges us to grow bravely into more of who Jesus has created us to be in Him.

Paul didn’t say, “Compare yourself to me as I follow Christ.”  Rather he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Comparing and following are two totally different things with two entirely different end results.  Comparison’s goal ends at Paul, where as following Paul culminates in Jesus.

When our prophetic histories are overly saturated with frequent comparisons to famous leaders, we risk allowing these comparisons to become the measures for what we think we are supposed to become.  The very truths that should set us free become boxes that hold us back.

You are you. Period.  And the bravest, most dangerous thing you will ever do is dare to become exactly who Jesus made you to be.

So what do you think?  What are the most helpful ways we can encourage one another in this brave journey of becoming more of who we are called to be everyday?  Let’s have a conversation over on my Facebook page.  I’d love to hear your heart. Simply reply to the question in the comments on this post over there.