“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” goes the rhyme, “but words will never hurt me.” If only that were true. The truth is that words come loaded with power and meaning and at any stage in life name calling is a damaging thing. There is one guy who has called me some really negative things; it’s usually in moments of frustration or anger or sadness but that doesn’t make it all right.
If this person was anyone else, I imagine that I’d have given in to anger and yelled at them in return, or else just frozen them out of my life as a toxic person. The reason I haven’t? That person is me. I’ve often been my own worst critic. I am less so now, but I’m by no means completely cured.
An example of this was when, just yesterday morning, I couldn’t back my new car into a space first time. It’s so much wider than the last one and I am mildly neurotic about scratching the alloys. So I drove off, turned around, pulled in forwards, and proceeded with a massive amount of character assassination. Naturally this failure to park pointed to a much wider failure to be able to drive well, and potentially a failure as a man. Heck, by the time my rant was over? I was a failure as a human being. All because I couldn’t get into a parking space at the first time of asking.
I know I’m not alone in this. If you take an honest look back over the course of your life, many of you will find you have done the same. In moments of anger, frustration, or disappointment, we can level insults and negativity at ourselves that would provoke us to wrath if uttered by anyone else. It’s an all to common mistake to call ourselves names and adopt an identity that doesn’t reflect who we really are. A great example of this is Naomi.
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
We see many times that God gives people a new name but this is the rare occasion when someone chooses their own. When called by her real name, Naomi wells up with hurt and pain and despair and tells the women of her village that she’s no longer to be called Naomi. “Call me Mara,” she says, “for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”
Even at this moment when she is moving back towards God, Naomi can’t quite believe that she may have a future and labels herself based on her past. How often do we do the same?
But God? God is different. Look at Abram, Jacob, Simon – God never renames us based on our past. Our identity is never rooted in what we have been through, when God gives someone a new identity it is based entirely on who they are becoming. Who we are is not found in what we perceive our failures to be, or the issues that we have not yet fully dealt with from our past, but in the fact that Jesus Christ is in the business of making all things new. Including us.
In the epigraph to his book True at First Light, Hemingway wrote about truths that changed.
In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there, absolutely true, beautiful and believable.
– Ernest Hemingway
Sometimes we have too much respect for our past and not enough for our future. What was true when the light first shone on us is a lie now it has transformed us. What was true of the darkness is not only exposed by the light but, like a flower opening and tilting it’s head towards the sun, changed by the light. Our new identity is there, absolutely true and beautiful but we don’t yet associate ourself with it fully.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Sometimes the hardest thing is not so much becoming a new creation, He takes care of that, but rather believing we are that new creation. It takes repeated decisions to overrule negative thought processes and emotions; it takes a choice to make space for Him to enable us to see the new creation and the work He’s perfecting within us. To see with eyes of faith, not fevered emotion.
I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. Hopefully for someone out there this may be the encouragement you need to believe the same.