By Jaime Sherman
When I was a child, people used the adjective “shy” and “timid” to describe me, and by mere repetition of the adjective-turned-noun, I believed those descriptors were who I was to my core. Talking to people terrified me and trying new things brought me to hysterics. In fifth grade, my grandfather, a journalism professor and newspaper editor, sent me on my first Q & A assignment. I was to call a nature photographer and ask for an interview with him at the shopping mall, where his work was on display. I remember crying — and screaming — at my parents because I was so terrified and wanted to escape the assignment, but they wouldn’t let me out of what a teacher in his wisdom had assigned me.
I survived the interview and the next one of talking with a homeless family camped illegally along the McKenzie River. I can’t say I enjoyed morphing into one who could ask questions, pen narratives, and present in front of various crowds, but I learned “shy” and “timid” weren’t names that needed to define what I could accomplish or how my God saw me. God had plans for me that would have laid dormant had I clung to the names describing my younger self.
Pause to ask yourself: What have others (friends, family, teachers, coaches, strangers, personality assessments, resumes, grades, etc.) named me both positively and negatively during my life? How have these names or descriptions colored my days?
In the story of Naomi’s journey to joy in the book of Ruth, we see God had an identity for His people that far outweighed anything culture named them or they named themselves, but the truth of who they were in Him was often hard for them to see in the face of hardship.
When Naomi arrived back in Bethlehem after a decade in Moab, she told the women of the community, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi; when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Naomi believed God’s hand was against her from the days of famine in her homeland to the disobedient residency in Moab, where her husband and two sons, who had both married Moabite women, died. She returned to her people with the false belief that hope was for everyone but her.
With her gaze on her sorrow and hardship, Naomi took her eyes off the truth of who God said she was as His child. She had buried her hope bit-by-bit with the famine and as the men in her life died, and she struggled to see resurrection coming out of her current situation. She renamed herself and leaned into that name believing it determined her worth in the final days of her story.
Pause to consider: Do I see myself in Naomi? What have I named myself in the different seasons of my life? How has that impacted my life today?
At some point in our lives, we have all taken characteristics or adjectives that described moments in our lives and allowed them to become our identities. I am no stranger to renaming myself. Even after I left behind the descriptive names “shy” and “timid” that the people had given me as a child, I struggled to throw off the things I called myself. For years I believed the “F” of failure was permanently smeared across my forehead, like the charcoal dust of Ash Wednesday, for everyone to see. I allowed my inability to live up to the idol of perfection, which I had erected bit by bit in my life, to cloud the beauty of God’s grace bestowed upon me from the cross.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God created mankind to be His image bearers (1:27), with a purpose (1:26), and as “very good” (1:31), but just two chapters later, the first of His created ones decided to rename themselves, their worth, and their calling. The result was the staining of their perfect natures. Sin brought a tension and mankind has since tried to be “very good image bearers” out of personal strength and faltering wisdom. What we think about ourselves or others label us fights with God’s truth to determine how we will live.
We forget that a new Adam, a perfect man, came to reclaim our original image. God in His perfect timing sent His only Son Jesus to sacrifice His life to wash clean and to declare as holy His created ones — to see each of us as He sees His Son. In Jesus’ death, we are named His children and His friends (I John 3:1, Romans 8:16-17, John 15:15), forever linking our identity to His (I Corinthians 6:11).
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We are being renewed in the image of our Creator, who sees inside the cocoon wrapping us, and speaks words more beautiful than the butterfly that will emerge.
Looking ahead: Next week you’ll find posted here — and in your email inbox if you sign up to follow this blog — a deeper look at who God says we are in Him. Naomi believed lies about God’s character and how He views His children, and she had to be reminded of truth — just like you and I have to be. As you ponder the questions above, I encourage you to read through Psalm 139 and Isaiah 43:1-7 as often as you can — and at least one time out loud in front of a mirror — to allow the words to sink in.