All my life, I’ve had an identity crisis. A need for approval and validation. A struggle of never being good enough. We’ve started attending my childhood church again for the first time in a decade. We’ve been back for a month now, and last night I was sharing some of my story with a few folks: the suicide attempt, the exit from ministry, etc. Twice I referred to myself as “a failed youth pastor.” What good is that language for anyone? Who benefits from those word choices? Does anyone find hope or healing for me to say that?
Donald Miller says, “Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if . . . We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever…Much of the time I’ve spent trying to impress people has been a waste. The reality is people are impressed with all kinds of things: intelligence, power, money, charm, talent, and so on. But the ones we tend to stay in love with are, in the long run, the ones who do a decent job loving us back.”
It’s time to let go. Time to stop carrying around my past like a dead baby, awkwardly parading it down city streets and church aisles, looking for attention or approval or forgiveness from people who are truthfully just as broken as I am.
I am not a failure. I am set free. God loves me, not by default, but by choice. I am not defined by my past. I’m not a victim, nor am I a screw-up. I’ve experienced grace and I have a bright future.
He doesn’t view me as a failure, so I should stop calling myself one.
For too long, I have forgotten my true identity as a child of God. I have lived toward this false identity of failure and weakness. I need to stop trying to live up to this false identity I have created and start living out of who I actually am. I’m an Austin: William Lawson was my great-grandfather, Frederick was my grandfather, and Glenn Cecil (as unfortunate as that middle name may be) is my father. Large foreheads, deep-set eyes, and an affinity for overalls run rampant in our DNA.
Thankfully, I don’t think that living out of my identity includes suiting up in a pair of bibs. It also means that I cannot change the fact that I am an Austin. I could shave down this very strong jawline and change my last name, but who I am at my core cannot truly be altered. The good news? God’s truth of who I am cannot be changed either. His plans and purposes for me are secure and good and true. I am who He says I am.
Which means, the enemy can’t defeat me. Think of how powerful that is. He cannot defeat any of us in any battle, so the only way he can destroy us is by getting us to surrender. If we stop fighting, if we give up, then and only then does he win. Yet, this paradigm is one of the most amazing I’ve ever heard: the way I lose is the same way that I fight. I must surrender. Either I surrender the fight and the enemy wins or I surrender to God and allow him to fight the battle for me.
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
So I’m asking God to step in. I’m not fighting these old battles anymore. I’m no longer willing to see myself as unworthy or as an afterthought of some haphazard plan by a God who somehow let me fall through the cracks. He has had me in mind the whole time.
I am forgiven and my eternal salvation rests securely between the outstretched arms of Christ. I owe no penance to my mistakes. I am completely covered by the grace of God. I belong with God. That sense of belonging is a universal need. It drives me, and it drives you too. We belong. In Christ, we all belong.
If God no longer holds me accountable for old mistakes, and the people around me do not consider me a failure or a screw-up, why is this so hard? Because I have to accept myself. I must let go of my past, accept my present, and take the future as it comes, knowing that God’s got it and that He’s got me at the very center of His heart.
I’m no longer telling the story of the failed youth pastor. From now on, I am living out of the identity and the name that He has given me: advocate of grace. I’m going to start by giving myself some of that beautiful, wonderful grace.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s Time for the Church to Confront Mental Health (via USA Today)
Suicide: Let’s Talk about It (podcast)
Pastors and Suicide: How Do We Keep this From Happening Again?
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
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