What have Identity and Relationships got to do with one another?
The issues of Identity and Relationships are closely related. As I did not manage to write anything last week, we are going to treat them together. Why so, I here you say? Last week we were talking about our intrinsic needs to be loved, valued, significant, secure and accepted. We talked about how no human being could ever fully satisfy those needs. These are needs that can only be satisfied through a relationship with the God who made us and in whom we have a new identity and belonging when we trust in Christ. We saw that merely by virtue of being human and being made in the image of God, each of us displays something of God in us and each of us is a unique reflection of Him. We saw too that though that image has been marred by sin, for those who trust in Christ, that image is in the process of being restored. We now have a new identity in Christ Jesus as a child of God.
Neil Anderson writes “I believe that your hope for growth, meaning and fulfilment as a Christian is based on understanding who you are – specifically, your identity in Christ as a child of God” (The Bondage Breaker).
I have observed that while relationships have huge potential for blessing, they can also be the cause or catalyst of many of our deepest struggles. I think that one reason for this is that we often place our sense of identity in relationships and specifically our relationships with girlfriends/boyfriends, fiancés, husbands/wives. We look to them to meet our needs to be loved, valued, significant, secure and accepted. We live in a fallen world so of course we let each other down. When we are putting our identity in someone who then lets us down (which of course they will) we struggle.
Clearly part of being made in God’s image is about being relational and God has made us for relationships – the only thing that God said was not good in His perfect creation was that Adam was alone. Scripture is clear that our identity should be found in Christ, so we are treading dangerous ground when we start placing that identity (our sense of who we are) in someone else, when we allow ourselves to be defined by someone else. I am not saying that this is easy but it is most definitely a danger that we ourselves struggle with and that we observe in others!!
The danger of placing our identity (our deepest needs and our underlying question) in another person
John and Stasi Eldredge address this topic in their extremely helpful books “Wild at heart” and “Captivating”. They explain that “the heart of a woman longs for three things; to be romanced, to play an incredible role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty” (Captivating pg 8-16). They explain (Captivating p18) that men on the other hand want a battle to fight, they long for adventure (to discover that we have what it takes) and they long for a beauty to rescue (offering their strength on behalf of a woman).
They also write that we are haunted by a question; for women it is about being noticed, being lovely while for men it is about having what it takes. They write;
WOMEN “…down in the depths of our hearts, our question remains. Unanswered. Or, rather, it remains answered in the way it was answered so badly in our youth. ‘Am I lovely? Do you see me? Do you want to see me? Are you captivated by what you find in me?’ We live haunted by that question, yet unaware that it still need an answer…We do not bring our hearts question to God, and too often, before we can, we are given answers in a very painful way. We are wounded into believing horrid things about ourselves” (Captivating pg. 59).
MEN “Even if he can’t put it into words, every man is haunted by the question, “Am I really a man? Have I got what it takes…when it counts?” (Wild at Heart, pg 57).
Based on their own experiences and their understanding of the Bible, they warn us about taking our question to our Adam or our Eve, they warn us about looking to others for the validation of our souls, to tell us who we are;
“In Wild at Heart I warned men that the greatest obstacle to loving a woman was this: too many men take their question to Eve. They look to her for the validation of their souls. (Haven’t you felt it?) It usually happens around adolescence, this fatal shift … Suddenly, he is aware of Eve. She looks like life itself to him. She looks like the answer to his Question. I’ve tried tin every way to help men understand that no woman can tell you who you are as a man. Masculinity is bestowed by masculinity. It cannot come from any other source. Yes – a woman can offer a man so much. She can be his ‘ezer’, his companion, his inspiration. But she cannot be the validation of his soul. As men, we have got to take our Question to God, to our Father in heaven. Only He knows who we truly are. Only He can pronounce the verdict on us. A man goes to Eve to offer his strength. He does not go to her to get it. Now the same holds true for you, Eve. You cannot take your Question to Adam. You cannot look to him for the validation of your soul. But so many women do. If I have a man, then I’m okay. Then I’m loved. It happens around adolescence for women too. The time for her father to speak into her life begins to wane. A new window opens up – boys … No man can tell you who you are as a woman. No man is the verdict on your soul. One woman said to us, “I still feel useless. I am not a woman. I do not have a man. I have failed to captivate someone.” The ache is real. But the verdict is false. Only God can tell you who you are. Only God can speak the answer you need to hear. That is why we spoke of the Romance with him first. It comes first. It must. It has to. Adam is a far too unreliable source – amen!” (Captivating pg 151-152)
Remember your first love
So, first and foremost we need to remember our first love (Jesus) and look to Him to answer our question, to satisfy our deepest needs for love, value, significance, security and acceptance. It is only on the basis of our relationship with God and our identity in Him, that we can truly enjoy relationships in a fallen world. This is the context in which we come to the subject of Relationships this week; having already talked about what it means to know and experience God and about finding our identity in Christ.
Relationships are hard and we kid ourselves if we think it is going to be easy. Yet as Andy Grafton shared with us at our wedding; “An arch consists of 2 weaknesses which when leaning against each other makes a strength. What is the key element? The capstone that joins them together, taking all the strain. As you have come together with Jesus Christ as your head, your imperfections he can turn into to strengths…IF you remember your first love! He seeks to perfect and strengthen your second love.”