Ladies, last week in our 14-week series exploring our true identity we talked about how our parent’s view of us seriously impacted our self-portrait as we grew up. This week, let’s look at three influences outside the home that may have amplified the negative messaging we heard at home—or, conversely, overrode the God-based confidence our parents tried to instill in us. These influences are school, secular society, and church. School can be very challenging for a lot of kids. Cultural tolerance is becoming increasingly pervasive. And, sadly, not all Christians churches teach sound theology. Rather than empowering people to fully live in God’s amazing grace, they enslave people with the chains of performance-based salvation and legalism. Influences: Our School Experience Kids can definitely be cruel to each other. They have the innate ability of discovering and magnifying any tiny fault or blemish, and blowing it into a major issue. Every snub, every unkind remark, every joke you were the brunt of in school added another unsightly nick to your self-view, perhaps causing you to doubt your intrinsic self-value. Why did what our classmates and teachers thought of us matter so much? My friend Terri wishes she’d had a completely different school experience. An introvert by nature, Terri hated the first day of school. But also the second day, and the third day—and any other day that offered up the slightest chance that she might be called upon to speak in class. When her teachers assigned an oral report, Terri was so anxious she could barely speak. Terri’s fear? That her teachers and classmates would think her incredibly stupid. Where did she learn to have this expectation? From her mom, who often paraded what she thought were Terri’s inadequacies in front of Terri’s younger siblings. Because of Terri’s assumption that others also saw her as incompetent, she was super sensitive to any teasing she received at school. As an adult, Terri still makes decisions based on how smart she thinks others think she is. When Terri feels that she can trust those around her, her natural abilities shine. But put her around loud extroverts, or people who have fancy titles or important jobs, and Terri loses all confidence. In effect, Terri’s view of her self-worth is constantly in motion. Gals, it is only when we become confident in God’s unceasing affection, care, and value for us that we can stop allowing the barbs and opinions of others to cease wounding us. Are you there yet? Or might you still be limping, even at your twentieth high school reunion, from the arrows that your teachers and fellow students shot at you? Influences: Our Secular Culture In large part thanks to television—and now the Net—it’s almost impossible to quiet the negative messaging that is trying to get inside our heads 24/7. Via the secular messaging that our media churns out through television, movies, music, publications, and the internet, we are being manipulated to conform to what our society says is “truth.” The lies of cultural tolerance entice us to not only disregard God’s truth, but to believe that God is a myth. Only a generation or two ago, it was our family environment that formed our belief and value statements. Television programming used to shut off in the late evening. We weren’t bombarded with crappy programming like we are today, 24/7. And the Internet hadn’t been invented yet. Thus, most youth grew up somewhat sheltered from immorality, pornography, violence, and secularism because to have access to them took some effort. Today, the media dumps all of it into our living rooms, family rooms, and bedrooms. It’s now a fight to keep those negative influences at bay. Anything you want to expose yourself to is accessible with a few clicks of the mouse. It’s super easy to accidentally step into chat rooms and web sites that entice us to participate in activities that we know don’t please God. Pornography has become a huge addiction not only in our society, but around the world. Even in Christian homes where parents monitor TV and internet access, kids are strongly influenced by our secular culture. Most sitcoms, dramas, movies, and educational programs present a secular worldview. It is now typical to see couples jumping into bed, even in programming aimed at teenagers. Secular programming typically portrays parents as dimwits, and children blatantly disrespecting authority. Many popular songs contain lyrics that celebrate promiscuity, and devalue women. Social media has created pop icons out of people who do their best to be profane, anti-God, and vulgar. We’ve accepted the secular viewpoint as “normal.” But the way culture sees us versus the way God sees us is miles apart. Our culture glorifies the extraverted loudmouths, the physically beautiful, the athletes who can best swing a bat. The people with the biggest salaries and biggest houses. What messages have you internalized as you’ve watched these person’s gain the world’s frenzied adoration? Celeste, a twenty-eight-year-old accountant, grew up with few restrictions on her TV viewing. She watched cartoons by the hour as a child, sitcoms and dramas as a teen, and soap operas and “mature” videos as a young adult. Celeste also ingested hour upon hour of commercial advertising. While she did attend church and professed to be a Christian, Celeste allocated very little time to cultivate a devotion life. Why? She was too busy feeding her obsession with TV. Celeste knew of God, but she didn’t know God, because she gave Him so little time to build a relationship. Because she didn’t have a clear view of how valuable Christ sees her, Celeste formed her self-image from the messaging advertisers tossed at her. By her early teens, Celeste “got” the message that her overweight body would ensure she would never be attractive by societal standards. And that “big girls” are around for laughs, not romance. Like Terry, Celeste decided that she is unattractive and thus, unlovable. So Celeste struggles to believe that God loves her. Rather than joyously turning to God’s unconditional love, she distances herself from him. It’s a horrible place of limbo, considering that God is the one source of unconditional love that we can turn to. Like the sun’s ultraviolet rays that burn our skin, cultural messaging can burn us bad. If we don’t fight off the rays—a little Jesus sunblock, anyone? (SPF unlimited!!)—we’ll allow our culture to dictate our worth in this world. Gals, society doesn’t give a crap about us! But God loves us so much that He was willing to take human form to die for us so that we could be fully reconciled to Him! Influences: Our Religious Experience It may seem contradictory to say that your Christian religious experience may have contributed to your having an inaccurate view of your true identity. Unfortunately, not all pastors and teachers correctly represent God’s view of our value to Him. Perhaps you were taught that God is more of a force than a person; that you really can’t have a relationship with Him. That He created the world, then took a hands-off approach, leaving us to try to muscle through the muck ourselves. Or maybe, like Janet, you were taught that God likes you ONLY when you’re perfect; but screw up, and His punishment will be swift and painful. That only through your good performance can you earn God’s good grace. (So NOT true, Gals!) But Janet believed it. The pressure to conform eventually got to her. As a teen she rebelled against her church, her Christian family, and the God whom she assumed has little use for an imperfect servant like herself. Because of her church’s relentless focus on Christian obedience and righteousness, Janet didn’t get to learn about God’s compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Janet saw herself in the hands of an angry God, desperately trying to please Him, but always failing to measure up. Talk about negotiating life through quicksand! Thank God that He is quick to forgive and forget our failings—just as His Word promises. For a church to teach that God expects performance-based righteousness is simply not biblical. Forcing Christians into legalism prevents them from developing a relationship of trust and love with Him. Ladies, if Jesus willingly went to the cross for us, how can we even believe this??? If we can’t walk in the confidence of God’s cross-bearing grace, we’ll never get our self-portrait right. One of my favorite verses speaks to the fact that there is nothing will EVER separate us from God’s unconditional love: Ephesians 3:17-19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Our 14-Week Journey About Our True Personal Identity! Part of rightly understanding our true personal identity requires that we know how God sees us. As our loving creator, God says two things to us: “You are my child,” and “You are chosen.” Do you sense God’s heart toward you? Can you wrap you mind around the truth that God was thinking about you before He even created the world? Let that truth sink into the depth of your heart and mind. It may take a lot of determination on your part, but as you begin to realize just how valuable you are in God’s eyes, you will be able to break the chains that keep you from accepting and loving yourself. Ladies, we CAN drop the burden of what other people think—and the judgments we hold for ourselves! During this 14-week blog series, we’ll post about personal identity. Each post will include a song to remind us of the truth of how God sees us. Our song this week is Flawless by MercyMe. MercyMe has it exactly right: The cross has made YOU flawless. Accept this truth to experience the true joy of being YOU! This blog series is based on Josh’s book See Yourself as God Sees You . It is our prayer that during this series you come to recognize and accept your true personal identity! God couldn’t love you more! BONUS: Enjoy a free download of Josh’s message, See Yourself as God Sees you , using Coupon code SEE17 (expires in August).