“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1
Before I leave the house, my husband always asks if I have my wallet. I forget it all the time, and he says it’s good to have your ID with you so you can identify yourself. He’s right—when I don’t have my wallet, I’m lost, in a sense. If someone asked, I couldn’t take proof out of my pocket and point to who I am.
The definition of beloved is “to be dearly loved” or “pleased with.” From the moment we were merely a thought in the mind of God, each of us were marked “beloved” as the very core of our identity. It’s not simply something about us—it’s our identity. There’s nothing we’ve done to earn it. There’s nothing we’ve done or that’s been done to us that can take it away. Beloved is who we are. And yet, how many of us live our lives out of that truth?
Five years ago, I was introduced to a book called Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that changed my life. The book revolves around the idea that every day we’re surrounded by voices. The voices of society, negativity, lies we’ve believed, our peers, etc. What would it look like if we could silence the noise and listen to the voice, that at the center of our being, calls us “beloved”? While reading the book, I realized that instead of owning and living out of my belovedness, I was only owning my mistakes. My journey is far from over, but I work every day to own the truth of who I am.
The problem is, we can be our own worst enemy. Negative self-talk has plagued humanity since the beginning. Too often, all we see in our reflection are the things we’re not, rather than embracing all that we are. Anything can set it off. A bad hair day, how you reacted to a situation at work or school, accidentally snapping at your spouse or child, an interaction with a friend. We own our negative qualities far too quickly, and we allow those thoughts to control our actions and our beliefs about ourselves. Before we know it, we’re beating ourselves up without putting up a fight. If a friend said some of the things to us that we say to ourselves, she would no longer be our friend. And yet we allow our internal chatterbox to persist, often without even realizing it.
Our identity isn’t based on our accomplishments or failings, what people think about us, or how we view ourselves in the mirror. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of a relentless Father who loves us unconditionally.
I’m reminded of a stained-glass window in a chapel in which I used to spend a lot of time. The image was of Jesus holding a sheep close to his chest. This is the goal of a Christian. To be so close to the heart of the Shepherd that you hear His heartbeat and can conform your life to that rhythm. When you do this, you’ll go into each day knowing you are loved, not looking for ways to earn it. This is freedom.
I wrote the song “Belovedness” first and foremost because I needed to sing it. I needed to remind myself of these truths. When you sing truth over yourself, it releases something internally. My prayer for you when you listen to it, and what I hope you’ll pray for me, is that we see ourselves and others the way the Lord sees us. Beloved isn’t a badge to earn, a club to join, or a gift to withhold from others. It’s our identity, it’s our name, and it’s the strength we need for the journey.
You are beloved. Period. Full stop. There is nothing you’ve done, nothing that’s been done to you, nothing that’s been said to you, no lie you’ve believed, no mistake you’ve made, no sin you’ve committed, no past or future thing that can take away your identity as a beloved child of God. It’s time to silence the chatterbox and allow the truth to grow. It’s time to own our belovedness.
You've owned your fear and all your self-loathing
You've owned the voices inside of your head
You've owned the shame and reproach of your failure
It's time to own your belovedness
You've owned your past and how it's defined you
You've owned everything everybody else says
It's time to hear what your father has spoken
It's time to own your belovedness
He says, "You're mine, I smiled when I made you
I find you beautiful in every way
My love for you is fierce and unending
I'll come to find you, whatever it takes
I’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday—my 50th. As I survey the landscape, it’s looking like pretty fertile ground for gratitude. There are some hard-won interior victories that have allowed me to see progress in areas of my life where old patterns remained for far too long. I lost years of joy by allowing other people’s opinions of me to dictate my sense of self-worth. My mood and self-esteem would fluctuate according to how this or that person saw me and treated me. It was a seesaw life emotionally. But after some deep soul work, I have been tasting freedom in this area. I’ve been better able to live for an audience of One, getting a little closer to being able to say along with St. Thomas More, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
Some of my favorite things about starting this new decade:
A friend of mine read my list, and asked me to help her brainstorm a list for her. She, too, was celebrating a milestone birthday, but said that, while she wished she could just take my list and run with it, her story was unique. There are challenges she is facing that are different than mine. I suggested the following, with hopes that she’d use the list as a springboard to personalize it, tweak it, and come up with her own ideas:
Getting older brings all sorts of things we don’t want (failing eyesight, colonoscopies, and overall sagging, to name a few), but there are a number of things that are undeniably better if we have been good students of life. Suffering can make us more mature or more bitter; it’s up to us which we become. Gratitude factors in here in a big way. The perspective we choose is critical. If we are continuously on the lookout for disappointments, failed dreams, inadequacies, and times that people and life have let us down, we’ll find ample examples. Focusing on them will feed the heaviness. But if we will do the work of finding the good in our current set of circumstances, if we thank God continually for those things, we’ll start to notice all sorts of other small and surprising blessings.
How about you? Can you make a list of your favorite things (lessons learned, victories achieved) as you head into this new decade? May gratitude serve as a catalyst for happiness in 2020 and beyond for each one of us.
Pretty much all of my life I have wanted other people's approval to a degree that hasn't always led to the best decisions. Wearing acid-washed jeans and curling my bangs sky high in high school come to mind as examples.
This desire hadn't lessened when I moved to Germany as a newlywed. I wanted my husband's family to like me, my neighbors to be glad I had moved next door, and the lady checking me out at the grocery store to think I was a great asset to the community. This might have been setting my sights a little high, but you can't fault me for trying.
I packed my suitcases full of all manner of trendy, American 90's clothing and enthusiastically landed in Düsseldorf where everyone wore black or dark brown. I remember wearing a particularly favorite outfit one fall day when I met my next-door neighbor. Proudly sporting a bright, floral Laura Ashley romper (picture a button down one piece with slightly ballooning pants coming in tight above the ankle with a coordinating tee shirt underneath- there was even a matching hat, Lord have mercy), I answered the doorbell with my husband Leo wearing a wide smile. Our neighbor, Frau Hoffmann, launched into an explanation of something in German, and since I didn't understand a word of it, I figured the best response was to give her the biggest smile I could muster so she would know I was friendly. It turned out that she was explaining to us that her husband had just suffered a massive stroke. My reaction was perhaps not the most appropriate one.
Determined that she would like me, I decided to make her some homemade cookies and bring them over. I knew that her husband had fought in WWII and wasn't really excited that “the Allies” had moved in just when he was ready to really enjoy retirement. Not to be deterred by this, I headed over.
I knocked on the door, and heard her call out, “Ein Minute, bitte!” Since I spoke all of NO words in German at this point, I just waited, feeling a little self-conscious, because maybe she had just told me to come back later. But no…I could hear her on the stairs…and then the door opened. There stood her seventy-year old self, in all her glory, buck naked, holding a little bathmat in front of her. May I stress the word little. It didn't cover much. She insisted that I come in (I could figure out what she wanted by her gestures and truly did not want her to get more expressive with her hands - she was barely holding that little bathmat in place), so I followed her naked, saggy rear-end up the stairs to the second floor. She excused herself a moment, put on a robe, and came back to receive the cookies. Since she didn't speak English and I didn't speak German, the whole thing was unbelievably awkward to say the least.
And I learned a little lesson. While it isn't good to spend your whole life trying to get people to approve of you, a little bit of concern probably serves one very well. I cared too much what people thought of me, but she didn't care quite enough (in my ever so humble opinion).
The place to be is in between those two extremes. If we desire to a people pleaser more than anything, then any failure in that regard will be crushing and criticism will derail us. But if we say we don't care what anyone thinks, we'll inadvertently put a wall around our hearts. We won't be vulnerable. And as a result, we'll miss out on true connection with people that only comes from a place of authentic openness. We need to stay in the middle ground where we aren't being a people pleaser but also aren't so hard as nails or loopy that we just don't care what anyone thinks.
We find some very good guidance about this from St. Paul in Galatians 1:10. I know this verse very well because when I was at a Bible study in college, a random person came up to me and handed me these words. Once you read them you can imagine how fab that made me feel. I'm sure my face went red and I felt totally self-conscious (as in, what did I just do that made this quiet observer see that I needed this reminder) but it also opened my eyes to an area of my life that definitely needed a bit of correcting. So here is what was written on that little piece of paper:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
This verse tells us that we have to choose. Either we run after pleasing people, seeking their approval and letting their expectations dictate our behavior, or we run after pleasing God. Simultaneously pleasing all the people in our lives is utterly impossible. We will invariably disappoint someone, no matter how hard we try. By contrast, God promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) He knows our limitations and our weaknesses, and He will never ask us to do something that He doesn't equip us for. He gives grace when we are weary. He gives strength when we feel like giving up.
Freedom is found in living your life for an audience of one. Live it to please God. If at the end of the day you figure He is happy with you, that's all that matters. Because ultimately, what we'll want more than anything will be to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
I'm praying that the choices we make-from what we wear to who we are-are all pleasing to the One whose opinion truly matters.
And I'm praying that when making those choices disappoints people we care about (and I promise you, at some point, it will), we'll have the maturity to LET IT GO.
With you in that struggle,