To Be Known and Loved: Self-Esteem and Identity, Part 2

"To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us." - Tim Keller

To be

Neither known nor loved;

Loved but not known (admired superficially);

Known and yet not loved; or

Known and loved.

Which are you?

Me?

I know which one, or ones, I was -- or thought I was – until these last few years.

On the subject of self-esteem, I shared last month about my junior high experiences that spawned some well-hidden but seemingly insurmountable and recurring insecurities, self-doubt and loneliness.

During those formidable years of youth, I was convinced I was neither known nor loved, at least among peers. When I left my hometown behind for college, there were moments I felt loved, but looking back, I don’t think I was truly known…by any one person at the time. Like a chameleon, I tried to melt into my surroundings, camouflaging any perceivable flaws, quirks or cause for rejection or judgment. At the same time, I tried to shine in ways that aren’t meaningful – external, outwardly things like being entertaining or pretty or stylish or “cool.” I did my darndest to hide the ugliest parts of me – any base, prideful, selfish, lustful, mean or ungrateful thoughts or actions. 

To the extent my cover-ups succeeded, I sometimes managed to win groundless affection or admiration from others. In fact, I recall the silent shame I felt at my well-attended bridal shower when no one, not even my bridesmaids, scored very high in the “Who Knows The Bride Best?” game.

And then, there were many times, even after opening up and being vulnerable and real with certain girlfriends, that I felt known yet not loved…or at least, not as loved as I loved them. Most of my life I’ve been the friend who’s diligent about keeping in touch but rarely the friend on the receiving end of “I’ve been thinking about you” or “I miss you” calls. I often hear, “Anita, you’re so good about calling,” or “I was just thinking about you the other day,” or “I was just gonna call you.” But those “I was just going to…” calls seldomly actually ring. So sadly, if I stop calling, and I have with some over the years, the communication and friendship slowly dies out.

Point is, I know what it’s like to be in any of those three unwanted places – unloved, unknown or “loved” only superficially or for a short time. They all blow.

But this is where things get good, or better than good. In my last post, “The Fat Kid In All Of Us: Self-Esteem and Identity, Part 1," I mentioned that something has changed everything, but I couldn’t get into it just then. Well, this is it:

“I am fully known and truly loved.
I’ve always been known and loved.” 

I just hadn’t believed it, or trusted it.

Not so long ago, I hit rock bottom. I’d made plenty of mistakes in my life and felt lost and horrible about myself - unworthy, hopeless, ugly inside. As per my lifelong modus operandi, I tried to fill my days with endless errands, frivolous pastimes and unnecessary busyness. It kept my mind off unwelcome thoughts, loneliness, shame. For awhile anyway.

But you can only run for so long, especially from yourself.

Eventually, I was forced to face a question I wasn’t all that comfortable with: “Who are you, Anita? Do you even know??”

My eyes fell and I couldn’t hold my chin up.

So God answered for me, with resounding love.

You are My beloved daughter. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’ (Jeremiah 1:5) And because my Son loves you as much as I do and gave His life for you, you are forever goodpleasing and unblemished in my sight. I proudly claim you. You are a daughter of the king of kings. Claim it, Anita. Lift up your chin, child, ‘cause I love you beyond measure.”

And just to make sure I got the message, He’s been reminding me, time and again.

Over the next six months, several people - some close, some practically strangers- said to me, separately and in different settings, “I have a word for you. I felt God saying He loves you so much, Anita. He wants you to know that,” or “God loves you, Anita. Really, really loves you,” or “God is so pleased with you, Anita. He knows your heart and He is pleased.”

Now when I pray, God corrects me, “I know. You love me, Anita. You love me with well-intended but wavering, sometimes failing, love. But I love you so much more, with a perfect love. And I love everyone you love – your children, your husband, your parents, your relatives, your friends -- so much more, too. So trust and abide in MY love, not yours.”

Now when I listen to worship music, God’s love in the lyrics comes alive -- my heart heaves, my soul melts, and my eyes well up with tears.

Now when I read His Word, He keeps drawing me to Scriptures of His love:

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39)

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

And then. As if He hadn’t been reassuring me enough already…

One Saturday, my folks forced me to come clean my old “junk” out of their garage. Among other things, I found two dusty 20+ year old boxes. But inside were notes passed in class when I was just a girl; letters, handwritten and typed (like on a typewriter!), dating anywhere from my junior high to post-grad years; printed emails (when email first became a thing!); wallet-sized solo and group portraits of us in our awkward, preteen years and then in our vain teen years; and journals - journals I'd long forgotten existed!

As I went through the unorganized contents, reading each letter and skimming through each journal, I began to weep, then sob. For, even more than the cute, funny, sweet, naïve, painful, desperate, insecure, confused or scared sentiments they betrayed -- I became profoundly aware of the extent of God's hand, His tender care and concern, over every aspect of my life. Each step of the way. Even when I didn't recognize or appreciate it.

What touched me so deeply on this detailed trip down memory lane was that God didn’t just love me directly but had also used so many different people over the years to show me His love. In each instance, God put “the right person” at “the right time” in “the right place” to share His love with me. He placed them in my life “just so” and “just when” and “just how” to encourage me, lift me up, pray for me, bless me, press me onward.

In fact, if you can believe it, a few of the very girls who tormented me in junior high became my dearest and most encouraging friends during high school and the first couple years of college. I found the letters they’d written seeking forgiveness, reconciliation and a fresh start, and letters confirming that “it’s been in God’s will for us to become friends all along,” and letter after letter in which we encouraged one another to stay strong in the Lord no matter what troubles we faced.

As I reread these old letters, this time as a 40-year-old woman, I felt healed and renewed all over again. Only God can turn experiences and relationships that hopeless and traumatic into something so rich and beautiful. It’d been years but I had to tell these former enemies-turned-sisters right away about the treasures I’d dug up. I love them for playing the parts He gave them in my life.

Oh, how I'd forgotten. All the good God did in my life, to my life, for my life. All the love He’d poured out without reserve.

I so wish I could adequately convey the experience each time I hear, sense, discern the awesome magnitude of His love for us.

To be fully known and truly loved. That’s what we are.
It’s who we are.

This past year, God broke me. And healed me. All with His love. After all, no one knows me, or ever can or will, the way He does. And yet, He loves me – truly, deeply, unconditionally.

Maybe I’m just more messed up than you are, a "worse" person. (At times, I feel I'm the worst.) Maybe, unlike me, you’re a "good person" or totally confident you are.  At least, “good enough.” Good enough to deserve favor and love and only good things.

If so, being told and shown by God Himself that He loves YOU, that YOU were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” that Christ died for YOU so that YOU could be good, pleasing and unblemished in His sight -- may not mean much.

But if you’ve examined the deepest recesses of your heart and found any fault, and if the hidden (or not) thoughts, feelings and actions that came out of all those times you were angry, offended, frustrated, envious, greedy, ungrateful, selfish, proud, thoughtless, impatient, uncaring or false, if these things grieve you – then God’s unconditional and unwavering love for you can only overwhelm you, break you and heal you, too.

Until the assurance – God loves you so -- becomes real to you, until He opens your eyes and your ears and your heart and your soul to experience, accept and trust His love up close and personal, and in all circumstances –good and bad, I can’t promise you that your self-esteem, self-confidence, self-awareness, or self-love won’t fail you. They failed me. Big-time.

But what can never fail us is God’s love. I now know it’s not about self-esteem. Self-esteem is fickle, unreliable, vulnerable.

It’s about identity. Who are you?

My identity is rooted in Christ. If and when all else fades away, His love for me will stand forever. It is enough. No, it is much, much more than enough.

A sassy but soulful attorney-turned-cray-at-home mom, Anita tries to be a good wife, mom, daughter, friend, neighbor, citizen and rep for Jesus. She succeeds roughly 63.4% of the time. The other 36.6%, the selfish, impatient and impulsive girl inside takes over and she has to start over again, with the help (and by the grace) of a faithful God. She might have a redeeming quality or two, but most importantly, she is redeemed, thanks to Jesus. Click here for more blogs by Anita Lee.