That question arrested me. I believe we are asking it all day, every day. It’s why we are so addicted to the buzz of that next email, twitter or Facebook notification. It’s why we’re desperate for the promotion, or the next speaking invitation. That question drives our incessant need for recognition and approval.
We are so eager to know who we are that we’ll let almost anyone and anything tell us, as long as we like what they say. And when we feel like the world is quiet on the subject of who we are, rather than feel the staggering disappointment of our apparent failure, we numb those feelings with excessive alcohol, work, exercise, list making, chocolate, or cheese enchiladas.
Who are you?
Who gets to tell you who you are?
Who do you listen to?
I am a Christian, and I come from a long history of weird beliefs, some of which baffle those who are not Christians. One of those beliefs is that there is a force of evil in the world that is decidedly against me, and against you. And the nearer I get to hearing to the actual answer to the question of who I am, that evil opposes me. In the Bible, that force of evil is called Satan, which simply means the accuser, or adversary.
The accuser’s primary strategy, writes Jonathan Martin, is to get you to believe you need to prove yourself worthy of being loved and affirmed by doing spectacular things. This was the great battle that Jesus faced in the desert during those lonely and frightening forty days.
It is interesting that just before Jesus went into the wilderness (where he was famously tempted by the accuser), he heard God’s voice tell him who he was, in no uncertain terms. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Before Jesus did any of the miracles and the teaching that would make him so attractive to some and so repellant to others, God answered the great question for Jesus. Who are you? You are my son, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.
What do you believe you must do in order to believe that you are loved? Seriously, make a list. Who needs to approve of you? Whose yes must you secure? What project do you need to complete? What vice do you need to abstain from and for how long?
I notice that I incessantly check twitter, Facebook, and email in the hopes that someone will answer that question for me by proving to me that I am important. How ridiculous! But why else would I do it? I don’t really care that much about other people’s babies or cats. I want to know I am needed, and am admired. I want to get the question answered.
When we are listening to the accuser, the voice will always tell us we need to prove our worthiness of being loved by what we do. The voice of the accuser invites us to ask a different question. “What must I do to obtain love and belonging?” This creates a complex web of fear. Martin writes this next truth with startling clarity and brevity: “Satan’s voice is recognizable because it always plays to our fears.” He later writes, “This, incidentally, is one of the clearest hallmarks of the devil’s work – the voice of the accuser is always compulsory and aggressive, whereas the voice that calls us beloved always leads us gently.”
We can recognize God’s voice by listening for the small voice, which calls us beloved before we do anything to earn it. The whispering voice of God leads us away from the clamoring throngs of admirers and haters and towards an embrace, which we did not earn and cannot break out of.
We can recognize the voice of the accuser by its demanding, demeaning tone, which always creates more fear and more hustling for approval. It’s nuanced and insidious, which is why it’s tempting to believe it. But it’s aggressive and leads us to empty places of unfulfilled longing.
We are most like Jesus when we rest in God’s relentless love for us, just as we are and not as we should be.
And that is good news.
I leave you with this stunning reminder from Jason Gray:
(If you can’t see the video above, open this post up in your browser by clicking here).