Between Two Identities: Letting Go and Trusting God
Grief is the one pain that heals all others. It is the most important pain there is.
-Dr. Henry Cloud
I’ve heard it said that people pursue the field of psychology and counseling because they are trying to heal their wounds and work through their problems. It’s true.
Here I am, 25 years into studying the human soul and psyche, and I’m still seeking answers that seem elusive. I buy books that promise to unlock the key to the universe, and, after a quick skim, I’m left wanting. I’ve attended countless conferences and trainings, sought therapy, heard thousands of sermons, attended numerous bible studies, and engaged in rigorous self-examination.
But I’m not fully whole, I always feel like a novice, and my soul is still asking the same questions I had in my youth.
My daily morning practice is to identify the thoughts, feelings, and images of the previous day and bring them into the presence of the Lord through journaling. To recognize the parts of me that ache when I consider the gap between my idealistic expectations and unvarnished reality.
Although it seems inhumane in our present culture to deny yourself any desire or delay the fulfillment of any need, the one thing I have learned in my search for wisdom is that the ritual of surrendering unmet needs, unfulfilled longings, and unanswered questions is the only ointment for our wounds.
Learning to live within my limitations and weaknesses has required me to cultivate a realistic sense of who I really am without pretending to be someone I’m not.
In my body, in my soul, in the setup of my life and my present circumstances, I accept who I am and who I will never be. I acknowledge what I have been given and what has been withheld from me. I assent to whose approval I have or have not received. I celebrate the seasons of fruitfulness and mourn the seasons of apparent futility.
God wants us to deal with suffering by naming our losses, grieving them, and letting them go.
Moving from the “bad pain” of being stuck into the “good pain” of growth is a conscious step. It’s an act of the will as much as an engagement of our emotional world.
We choose to enter grief, much like jumping straight into a rising wave that threatens to engulf us. Successful grieving happens in a relationship where we can express our pain and receive comfort from another’s presence.
When you surrender in this way, embracing the emotional discomfort of grief, you may notice that parts of your soul are suspicious of God’s love. This will bring you to a turning point where you must choose whether you’ll risk trusting the Author of your story.
Wrestling With God
The battle in our souls is a wrestling match of sorts, and it starts with our first cries that protest discomfort. As infants, we are totally helpless and dependent on others to care for our every need. Yet, as our identity develops in childhood, we yearn for both connection and freedom, attachment and independence.
The “terrible twos” reveal that, from the beginning of our psychological development, we desire autonomy. Just look at the exhausted parents of a toddler! Our early fight for self-rule reflects God’s image and is a critical developmental task as we seek to become our own authority with a distinct individuality.
Yet, just as we naturally begin to challenge our parents’ governance, so we question our Creator and how he has appointed the setup of our lives. The love we did (or didn’t) get, the lack of fulfillment of our hopes and longings, the pain of brokenness and loss—these all fall under God’s sovereign control.
As we move forward on our journey, we come to understand that the complaints we have about the plotline of our lives rest squarely on the one who has authored our story.
Consider the unapologetic way that Paul states this reality in Acts 17:24-28:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being.”
The wrestling match between our will and God’s will over unwanted or unpleasant circumstances is something we encounter in many biblical narratives.
From Moses’s demotion to a desert shepherd, to Jacob’s divine confrontation that leaves him limping, to David’s anguish over his failures, to Job’s fury in the face of devastating loss, or, most poignantly, to the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane—the Bible shows that surrendering to God churns the soil of our hearts in a way that feels like we are dying to ourselves.
Do you have a complaint about your life that you’ve never expressed to God? What are some losses you have suffered?
Take some time to identify unmet needs or unfulfilled longings that bring disappointment or hurt. The Psalmist models this in Psalm 142:
With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
With my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
Mattering to God
As I live suspended between two identities – the “old” self and the “new” self – I continue to bring the parts of my soul that contain self-doubt and insecurity into God’s presence.
Sometimes, I wonder if the voice that carries the question “do I matter?” will echo in my head for the rest of my life. Because this question has shaped my goals, life purpose, and self-perception, I truly don’t know what it would feel like for that part of me to be fully seen, known, and loved.
We know that Jesus mattered to God because he talks about his relationship with the Father in the most intimate of terms in John 17:22-23,
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Yet as perfect as the love between God the Father and God the Son is, we see that something – or someone – mattered enough to create a temporary break in their relationship.
What (or who) was so important that God, Jesus, and the Spirit decided that they would willingly suffer and enter shattered shalom with a rescue plan? What (or who) mattered so much that Jesus would freely lay down his life and surrender his body to be tortured, crushed, and crucified?
Paul points to the answer in Ephesians 3:8-10,
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The God of the universe who created all things has revealed his plan that spans the ages of time. This plan? That the life, death, and resurrection of Christ guarantees that you will never be separated from an eternal love that surpasses all knowledge.
The hope and light of the gospel message is the confident assertion: “I matter to God.”
If this is true, then submitting to God as the ultimate authority of your life is an act of receiving a new identity as his child that comes with an eternal “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for you. (1 Peter 1:4)
Surrendering to God
It’s difficult to surrender to someone you don’t trust or to someone you don’t believe has your best interest in mind.
Living east of Eden in shattered shalom has persuaded us that perfect love does not exist. So, this level of vulnerability can be frightening—especially if we have only known authority as a source of fear, abandonment, or punishment.
Knowing your own story helps you understand when and how your distrust toward God first took root. And it helps you wrestle with the ways personal heartaches have impacted your soul. At the same time, knowing the biblical story helps you understand the length, height, and breadth that had to be bridged to convince you of God’s love.
Unanswered questions may still plague our minds, and many things remain a mystery. This is where we depend on the practice of contemplation, meditation on scripture, and the work of the Spirit to illuminate our hearts and give us a glimpse of how much we matter to God.
But this posture of humility – that God is king, and we are humble creatures – sets us up for the treasure of spiritual wisdom.
Part of finding your identity in Christ starts with trusting the plan he has for your life. Read more about how to trust God's timing even when it feels hard or imperfect.
Don't miss each part of this blog series by Lynn Roush:
- Between Two Identities: Discovering Who You Are According to God's Story
- Between Two Identities: Starting Your Self-Exploration at the Beginning
- Between Two Identities: Recognizing the Real Enemy
- Between Two Identities: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness
- Between Two Identities: Finding What You're Searching For
- Between Two Identities: Lingering in Lament