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What To Do If You’ve Misplaced Your Identity

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

One of the latest buzzwords in today’s culture is “identity”. Whether it’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, or relationship status, there are so many ways we can identify ourselves.

Naturally, it can be confusing to figure out what our true identity should be. Even as Christians, we can place our identity in things other than Christ.

There was a time in my life where I lost myself in a desire for romantic relationships. When I was in high school, I craved being in a relationship and went through several failed relationships. Some were relationships that didn’t work out, and some were relationships that didn’t happen although I badly wanted them to. During the summer before my senior year of high school, I got to a point where I felt worn out, lost, and far from God.

One day, my thoughts drifted back to the time before I entered my first relationship. I remembered how in my earlier years of high school, I had felt so close to God that I didn’t worry about getting into a relationship. That’s when I realized that I had let my desire for a relationship get between me and God. I had stopped trusting the God of love stories to write my story, and instead had tried to take the pen and write my story myself.

After that realization, I decided I wanted to get close to God again. I wanted to give the pen back to God and trust that His stories for me would be infinitely better than anything I could come up with on my own.

However, this was easier said than done. I needed to re-center my identity back on Christ, and not let my relationship status define myself. Here were three things that helped me

 

1. Process my thoughts with God.

During the time I was trying to put God first again, I found journaling to be incredibly helpful. I’m a writer and word lover, so writing down my prayers to God helped me process my experiences.

I also noted down quotes or Bible verses in my journal that helped redirect my mind towards my goal of getting to know God better. During that time, one of the passages that reminded me of God’s nearness came from Psalm 73:23-26:

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

 

2. Re-orient my priorities.

Part of my problem was that I was focusing too much of my thoughts and energy on having a romantic relationship. My life was centered on my own desires instead of God’s desires for me.

When I realized the need to put God first in my life and get to know Him better, I began to re-orient my life around God. Whenever I started thinking too much about romantic relationships or feeling dejected because of being single, I would pray to God and remind myself that He has a plan for me.

This process is gradual. I still find myself worried, anxious, and uneasy about things going on in my life when I let my own desires take control. It is when I keep God at the center of my thoughts, decisions, and relationships that I experience peace. Even now, I still have to remind myself that putting God first is the most important and most rewarding thing.

 

3. Identify with Christ.

The knowledge that I am loved by God, and that God completes me and is all I need helps me to approach my life in a new way. Instead of searching for a partner to fulfill my own emotional and spiritual needs, I can search for a partner because I’m looking for a companion in the race God has called me to run.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring a significant other, or desiring other things, such as good grades or good friendships. But the difference is that when I identify myself as a child of Christ, I begin to seek those things with a Christ-like attitude of wanting to glorify Him (Psalm 37:4).

 

When I look back on my life, what strikes me most is that God didn’t wait until I had it all together before bringing a significant other into my life. When I first met David, it was during the fall of my senior year, when I was still working on getting closer to God and trusting Him with my romantic relationships.

But the biggest difference between my relationship with David and my prior relationships was that it was God who brought us together. David and I met at a Christian retreat, and were both at a similar place in our faith journeys. Early on in our relationship, we both shared how each of us had struggled in the past with desiring romantic relationships and a lack of trust in God. At the time we were getting to know each other, we had both been praying that God would reveal the right person to us in His time. That was one of the first things I loved about David—that he was trying to be intentional about his relationship with God like I was.

I prayed a lot before entering my relationship with David because my plans had been to wait for college to start dating again. But I decided to trust God with our relationship, and as we grew closer, I felt even more assured that my relationship with David was not against God’s will. I’m now in my second year of college, and I’m happy to say that David and I will be celebrating our two-year anniversary in December.

I do still struggle with misplacing my identity sometimes. It’s tempting to look to David to fulfill all my needs, but I’ve found when we trust in God and turn to Him together, we are then able to love each other best.

Making Friends in College: 3 Misconceptions

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

In a culture obsessed with romantic relationships, the value of genuine friendship often goes unrecognized. However, God created us not just for romantic relationships, but also to have fulfilling friendships. There are many examples in the Bible of great friendships—such as between Jonathan and David, and Jesus and the disciples—that show friendship is important to our Creator.

Yet as we grow older, friendships don’t seem to come as easy as they did when we were children. Making new friends can be a daunting task, especially when entering a new situation, such as a college or working environment. For example, last summer, as my freshman year of college was approaching, I began to feel increasingly anxious about making new friends.

At the small, public high school I attended, my core group of friends were non-believers. Please don’t get me wrong, they are great people, and I love them dearly. Throughout our years together, they taught me much about what it means to love people who think and act differently from myself, and to this day I am thankful for my continued friendships with some of them. As college approached, however, it was my desire to find friends who could encourage me spiritually and walk alongside me in Christ.

Transitioning to college was probably the hardest thing I had done so far in my 19 years of life. Moving to a different state where I didn’t know anyone and would be hours away from my family was a frightening thought—making my desire to find good friendships even stronger. It was definitely challenging at the beginning; there were many days filled with loneliness, and several moments of tears and anguish.

I started a new job to fill some of the empty hours, and I tried to avoid being alone as much as possible. Those moments of feeling alone and missing my family also drove me to be intentional about meeting people and making new friends. I realized that I couldn’t let the difficulties of the transition to college overwhelm me, and that I needed to actively pursue those friendships that I so desired.

However, the friendships I ended up with turned out to be much different than I expected. Sure, God did provide me with good friendships. But looking back on my freshman year, I realize that I had gone to school with several misconceptions about what making friends in college would be like.

 

Misconception #1: I won’t make any friends in college.

This was my biggest worry as I prepared to leave for college, and probably the worry most frequently discussed at freshman orientation. Like many of my fellow freshmen, I was fearful of either not making friends, or of not finding like-minded friends that I could share my struggles with.

I am here to say, however, that you will make friends in college. The process will take time, and some friends may come and go, but ultimately you will find friends who will walk alongside you during this phase of your life. Some may even become lifelong companions.

 

Misconception #2: l will only make friends with people who have the same interests as me.

In my first semester of college, I chose to take a science class revolving around dune research to satisfy a core science requirement. Through this class, I met three of my closest college friends. Ironically, none of us were geography or geology majors, but through trekking up and down the dunes each week, we formed a close friendship. I also met another of my closest college friends in a Latin class that I took as an elective. Though we all shared the same faith, we all had different majors, and even different interests. But God in his infinite wisdom brought us together using circumstances we wouldn’t have thought would lead to friendship.

Of course, I did make friends within my major and areas of interest, but what I learned through these experiences is that friendship can come from any situation. The key is being willing to join new communities and try new things.

Misconception #3: My college friendships will look exactly as I imagine them.

Your college friendships probably will not look exactly as you imagined they would. You might not be best friends with your roommate, or you might find friendship in unexpected places, such as a dune research class.

You might not even find your closest friendships in the college setting. While in college, your close friends might come from an off-campus job, or a local church in your area. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that there is no cookie-cutter for the college experience.

 

The college phase of life is a time of self-discovery and possibility. Instead of being a source of anxiety, making new friends can be a great opportunity. When I reflect on my first year of college, the friends I made and the adventures we had together are the sweetest and most treasured of all my memories. Though transitioning to college was difficult, in the end, it was a rewarding experience precisely because of what I was initially so worried about—making friends.

Is Dressing Modestly Overrated?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

I’ve always felt uneasy about the topic of modesty.

Growing up in church, I heard many different rules and principles about modesty. However, I often had difficulty accepting some of them—something I know other Christian girls have dealt with as well.

In high school, I witnessed the shame and degradation my friends felt when they were punished for dress code offenses, such as wearing leggings or shorts that were too short. They were often sent to spend the day in the administrative office or forced to wear clothes from the lost and found box over their offensive attire.

I never saw any of my male classmates punished for dress code offences, and the females punished were often of a larger body type. To me, this made the dress code system seem incredibly unfair. Seeing my friends humiliated for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing led me to conclude that strict principles of modesty were unfair, and their application resulted only in unnecessary shame.

As I grew older, I continued to struggle with these ideas of modesty. How were we supposed to know where to draw the line? And why? Some principles about modesty made sense and were easy to understand. For example, dressing with the purpose of seduction is clearly wrong.

But other reasons for dressing conservatively didn’t make sense. For example, I was told that I needed to cover up so that people wouldn’t assume the wrong things about my reputation, because my body belonged to my future husband, or so that the men around me wouldn’t be tempted to sin.

But that’s where the problem begins—when a woman is held responsible for the thoughts and actions of the men around her. In many societies, when a woman is sexually assaulted, she is told it is her fault because of how she dressed. I cannot disagree more. In fact, studies have shown that most people are sexually assaulted by someone they know, and that clothing is almost never a factor. Teaching young women that they need to cover up so the men around them will not sin contributes to a culture that normalizes and diminishes the significance of sexual assault and blames the victims.

Some ideas about modesty also suggest that the way a woman dresses can indicate how promiscuous she might be. This kind of thinking is dangerous, because it can encourage judgment and condemnation over mercy and grace.

So, is modesty important then? Though I’ve struggled with some of the principles and ideas that I’ve heard about modesty, I believe that modesty is important—but not because of what I’ve been told. Rather, it’s important because God calls us to be good stewards of the things He has given us, including our bodies.

I act and dress in the knowledge that my body is a temple to the Lord and a gift from Him. I choose to honor God and myself by dressing in a way that is appropriate, but also in a way that makes me feel confident in the skin God has made for me. This means I wear clothing that I feel confident and beautiful in, and yet keep certain parts of my body covered up. As the steward of my body, I have chosen to save those parts of myself for my future husband. I do this not because my body belongs to him, but because I want to be a responsible and wise steward of my body.

Proverbs 31:30 states, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” While this verse is not saying that wearing cute clothes and looking good on the outside is wrong, our main concern must be with inner beauty. Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the “wife of noble character” as a woman who is compassionate to the poor, trustworthy, wise, kind, and provides for her family.

When it comes to being a Christian woman, the way I dress is important, but it is only one aspect of living the life of a Christian. Being a Christian—man or woman—is about so much more than clothing. It’s about living each day as passionate, creative, intelligent, merciful, and generous image-bearers of God that we are created to be.

Experiencing Lent for the First Time

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

This year marks the first time I’m actively participating in the season of Lent.

Apart from it being an annual liturgical season, I originally had little idea what Lent was about.  However, a few weeks before Lent rolled around, I found myself being asked by many fellow students at my small, Christian college what I was giving up for Lent. Initially surprised at the question, I would usually flip it back to the one who asked, to avoid having to respond to it myself.

I was intrigued to hear that many of my friends were giving up things like chocolate, sweets, or other unhealthy practices. It seemed to me that Lent was simply a second attempt at a failed New Year’s resolution; a time for Christians to pledge themselves to being healthier, exercising more, and giving up unhealthy habits.

With this initial skepticism, I almost didn’t go to the Ash Wednesday service being held in my school’s chapel that Wednesday morning.  Like a typical college student, I was also exhausted, and wondering if my morning chapel break would be better spent napping on the couches in the library.  However, curiosity got the better of me, so I went.

Lent, as it was explained during the service, is a time of self-denial that helps us remember the suffering of Jesus and prepare our hearts to commemorate His death on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty day period prior to Good Friday.

Lent was starting to make sense to me; after all, giving up chocolate for 40 days certainly ranked as suffering in my book. As the service went on, however, I began to realize that Lent had a much deeper meaning than merely giving up a daily comfort. It is not so much about giving up something as it is about starting something new; it is about denying ourselves in order to become closer to Christ.

The time came for the receiving of the ashes at the end of the service.  During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, there is a point in the service where the participant has the opportunity to have their forehead marked with a cross of ash.  The ash symbolizes grief at our sin and grief at the suffering Jesus undertook to redeem us from the eternal consequences of our sin.  The practice of giving up something from our lives, and then standing up to receive the ashes, encapsulates the Lenten experience in a symbolic gesture of penance and remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection.

I still felt unsure if I should participate though; I had never been to an Ash Wednesday service before and I didn’t have something in mind to let go of yet. However, the risk of being the only one still seated prompted me to get up like the others to receive the ashes. When I reached the elder holding the basket of ashes, I bowed my head towards him and waited. “Because of your sins you will die, but because of Jesus Christ you will live,” the elder proclaimed over my bent head as he painted the symbol of the cross on my forehead.

Later that day, I sat down to reflect on my Ash Wednesday experience. It made me want to participate in the Lenten experience of suffering with Christ. I wanted to grow closer to God through denying myself of something harmful in my life, something that hindered my relationship with God. I was reminded of the verse in Hebrews 12:1, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

In the end, the decision was clear to me. Earlier that week, I had read through an article on Facebook about things to give up for Lent other than chocolate. Based on some of the ideas from that post, I decided to give up . . . worrying. I know that doesn’t sound like denying myself of something special or enjoyable. However, God has been working in my heart since the beginning of this year to surrender my worry to Him and trust in Him. I have come to realize that excessive worrying, while not exactly nice, is in reality a self-indulgent practice. God was calling me to give up feeling sorry for myself and taking a twisted attitude of pride in being more stressed-out than others. He was calling me to put those actions and attitudes aside, and to trust in Him.

Giving up worrying has been especially relevant in this Lenten season as changes in my family and school situation have led to a lot of uncertainty for the coming year. Now, more so than ever, I’m tempted to fill my days with worrying over the future and being stressed about what is to come. However, when I reflect on Jesus’ coming and resurrection, I am reminded that because He lives, I don’t have to worry. I am loved by a God who cares for me beyond what I can ever imagine and I know that I can trust Him with my future.