Once upon a time, I was confident enough of my identity in Christ to not take criticism so harshly or let it control my actions or feelings. I knew my place in serving Him. I knew my strengths and I knew my weaknesses. I loved serving in creating ways, caring for the hurting, and singing on worship team. Nothing felt more "real" than to using my voice to sing praise to God.
I don't have all that many talents. I'm not a great speaker, or writer, or teacher. The words come out all wrong, my face seems to show the wrong things, my tone isn't quite right and my grammar... well... but heavens, I can sing. I love it. Even if I couldn't actually sing and all I did was screech, I'd still love it. It makes my soul feel lighter. It instantly makes me feel connected with God. -- Peaceful. Passionate. Personal.
The start of my identity crisis began when I was really young, but laid dormant until a sudden spike in emotional chaos, in late my later high school years, put severe insecurities and doubts in my head that contradicted my heart. Sermons and comments (not necessarily directed at me) about pride and showing off started working their way into my head, making me unsure if my motives were right. I took a few steps back to prove to myself that I was perfectly content with praising God without being in a position of leadership. Soon after, a couple of uncomfortable experiences with very very charismatic worship, left me unsure about my interest in participating and left me questioning the line between passion and distraction. Later on, some seemingly unenthusiastic praise experiences ended up leaving me wanting more passion and joy.
Around the same time, an individual in my life (that I no longer trust for any amount of advice or direction) would say all the right things and sing all the right songs and quote all the scripture verses very conveniently in the right settings and around the right people. They would seek "counseling" but weren't willing to accept responsibility. They forced me into counseling, declaring that I was the problem. They would constantly push blame on everyone else, labeling them as hypocritical, arrogant, ignorant, and cruel. They attacked my emotions, insisting that feeling anything other than what they wanted me to was sinful and hateful. They attacked my interests, my service, and my Christian friends. They made me feel guilty and shamed about things that weren't wrong or disrespectful. They threatened me and they made me feel worthless, useless, and fake. They allowed me to be emotionally abused. They were emotionally abusive (which ultimately felt like spiritual abuse). They attacked my core. They attacked everything that I once knew to be true, all the while, putting on this wounded, yet God-seeking front. Lies.
Later on, after most of the chaos had subsided and boundaries had been set, they would somehow link all experiences into some sort of personal sermon and it ultimately left me dreading (no hating) the idea of worshiping with them, or near them, or listening to any advice from them. Their constant spiritual "act" left me angry (no livid), and confused, and hurt, and guilty, and anxious. To this day I absolutely dread conversations and church-goings with them.
All these things left me unsure of who I was supposed to be. I knew I that needed to be genuine and I knew that I needed/wanted to love God, but what did that mean now? How do you pick through the lies and options and half-truths?
Are emotions sinful? Is passion inappropriate? Is quietness cruel? Did talking about or believing biblical things make silly or unreasonable? Did singing and serving make me seem ingenuine? Did feeling make me weak? Did disagreeing make me disrespectful? Does talking about my problems make me a shameless victim, desperate for attention? Does asking for help make me irresponsible?
--with respect to worship-- Are drums, guitars, and colored lighting too provocative? Is technology too "showy". Are hymns and organs too bland? Is quieter worship unpassionate?
From simple to complex, nothing was off limits from the slaughterhouse that was my mind.
I wish I could say that I wrestled with all these questions and identity issues and came out stronger than ever, but I didn't. I let them boil beneath the surface for years, and with each new question and concern, I took another step back from serving for fear of being misunderstood or misrepresented, or becoming truly prideful. I fear judgement. I'm afraid of being joyful. I'm afraid of being attacked. I'm afraid of the guilt and shame being valid.
There is an underlying level of irrational fear, guilt, shame, and anger that exists beneath my desire to serve. I constantly feel as though everyone is looking at me, judging me as harshly as I judge myself. I am ashamed to lead because I'm afraid that anything I do will potentially harm the very cause I'm fighting for. I'm afraid to give anything my all for fear that I'll lose myself if that thing gets attacked. -- That, on top of my knee-shaking, heart-pounding, stage-fright doesn't exactly make me first in line to volunteer to be in front of a crowd of watchful eyes.
All of that to say that I have been actively seeking a "safe" place to connect with God again, to worship God ... away from people that I know (even if they aren't judging) and away from comments about too many pretty girls and "rock concerts" and big productions. I have decided to reclaim my identity in Christ and not put my identity in other people's opinions of what they like or dislike, or assume is prideful.
I am trying to become the "me" that God desires. Part of that is tapping back into passion-evoking things that stir up desire within my soul. God created me with a passion for song and a deep deep need for worship. I will not let Satan steal my joy. I will not confuse passion with pride and I will not let others' opinions dictate my beliefs and feelings. I will believe the best about others and I will rely on God to show me if my motives are corrupt. No one else can judge my heart, and I can't judge theirs.
My first step in my identity overhaul is changing my worship.
I've decided to go after what I like for now... because worship is personal.
I like to be completely immersed in worship. I like to feel "close" to God. I like to raise my hands occasionally, in worship. Not for show, but for me. I like to close my eyes and stand still. I like to sway to the music. I like loud and I like quiet. I like to stop singing and listen to all the people singing together. I like to pray in my thoughts and thank God for being so personal, so wonderful and so awe-inspiring. I like to smile and sometimes I even end up wiping away tears. Music moves me. And none of that is wrong.
I am ready to let joy in. But opening myself up to the good also makes me vulnerable and I'm scared. So I'm protecting my heart for now and I'm going to be "wonderfully alone" -- with God -- for a while.
I'm praying that by changing my environment and my perspective, my heart might follow ...and gain the breath of life it needs. I'm asking for God to show me who he is and what he desires for me. I am also praying that the people I love are not offended by my choices and needs at the moment. My motives are true, none of this is coming from a place of judgment or disapproval. I'm just doing what I believe is best for my spiritual growth and rejuvenation.