Looking to the Right Source for Our Identity
By LESLIE LUDY
When I was growing up, my mom was considered by most standards to be a health nut. My friends’ lunch boxes contained white bread sandwiches, greasy potato chips, and Little Debbie cupcakes, while mine was filled with whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, and sugar-free granola bars. In our house, eating “sugar cereal” like Fruit Loops or Captain Crunch for breakfast was akin to cheating on our homework assignments. Kids who ate that kind of “garbage,” we were told, ended up in detention and remedial reading classes, not to mention frequent and painful trips to the dentist’s office to have their many cavities filled.
So to my great consternation, we ate cream of wheat or oatmeal nearly every morning, a habit which my mom assured us would lead to good grades, healthy teeth, and respectable behavior at school. I constantly complained about having to eat healthy food, and balked at every green item my mom put on my plate, be it peas, lettuce, or spinach. To say that I was a picky eater was putting it mildly.
By the time I was thirteen, my mom was sick and tired of fighting battles with me over food. In a moment of frustration she declared, “Okay, Leslie, from now on I am not going to force healthy food on you. You decide what you eat. But you reap the consequences.”
At that age I wasn’t thinking too much about consequences; I was simply overjoyed that my mom had given me the freedom I had been dreaming of for years. Finally I was allowed to buy my own box of Lucky Charms (I had to use babysitting money because my mom wouldn’t touch the stuff) and eat as much as I wanted! I could splurge on a huge bag of M&M’s and keep them in my locker at school! Most of my friends had grown up eating junk food, but I had been deprived. Now, I needed to make up for lost time. And that is exactly what I did. I don’t think I so much as touched a vegetable for about two years. I splurged on candy and ice cream whenever the mood struck. I ate pizza for lunch almost every day. My health suffered, but I was so addicted to the pleasure of eating whatever I craved that I didn’t care.
When God got a hold of my life several years later, He began to gently put His finger on many areas that needed to change. My diet was one of them. I read in Philippians 3:19 that sinful people made “their stomach their god,” blindly serving the cravings of their physical bodies. And I realized this was exactly what I had been doing.
So, by the grace of God, I purposed to honor Him in my eating habits instead of indulging my selfish whims and desires. As I developed greater discipline in my eating habits, my health and energy level improved dramatically. Both physically and spiritually, I saw enormous benefits from removing my addiction to junk food and choosing not to be enslaved to my personal appetites and cravings. But what started out as a step of obedience to God soon grew into something very different.
The more I studied nutrition, the more intrigued I became. Reading through health books and websites, I learned how toxic the standard American diet was, to the point where I became horrified at the thought of ever eating at McDonald’s again. I discovered the incredible benefits of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and began to go to extremes to get these nutrients into my diet, drinking raw vegetable juice concoctions several times a day, eating only salads for lunch and dinner, and forcing myself to drink a large mixture of barley green powder every night before bed.
The more I read the latest news in nutritional research, the more paranoid I became about what I ate. I had never worried about serious diseases, but now I found myself believing that if I didn’t eat exactly the right way, my body would fall apart. It was all up to me to protect my health. After all, didn’t God want me to take care of the body He had given me?
Time that should have been spent in God’s presence was now spent in studying health trends. Hours that should have been given to serving others were now spent shopping at the health food store, preparing healthy meals, and juicing raw fruits and veggies multiple times a day. I couldn’t travel without bringing an entire suitcase filled with my healthy food. At parties or dinner engagements, I couldn’t eat what was served because I knew how bad it was for me and I was convinced it would make me sick. My identity became wrapped up in my healthy lifestyle instead of in my relationship with Christ. I found myself subtly looking down on other people who didn’t place as high a value on healthy eating as I did.
Instead of simply being all about Jesus, I had become all about healthy eating, with Jesus somewhere in the background.
Once again, God convicted me. Healthy eating was fine and good, as long as it didn’t become the center of my life. Before I’d been addicted to self-indulgence, but now I had become addicted to self-protection. Both attitudes stood in the way of my ability to seek Jesus Christ with an undivided heart. As I yielded to the conviction of God’s Spirit and studied His Word on these points, I came to the realization that food had become a form of idolatry in my life, dividing my heart and stealing my focus away from Christ. I repented of my sin, and began to put Jesus Christ first once again.
Now that I’m a mother, I’ve realized that I must constantly be guarded against idolatry in practical areas like this one. As I seek to care for my family and manage my home with excellence, it’s easy to start placing my identity, confidence, and security in “good things” — such as healthy eating, frugal living tasteful decorating, or homeschooling — instead of the very “best thing,” which is Jesus Christ.
Even good desires and pursuits can morph into idolatry if we are not on our guard. Often, the biggest threats to seeking Christ with an undivided heart are not overtly sinful things, but good and God-given desires that subtly start to claim too much of our focus and affection. When this happens, we begin to place our hope and identity in earthly things instead of in Christ. Our confidence no longer comes from Him, but in a specific area that we excel in — be it healthy cooking, natural remedies, saving money, or even godly child training.
Here are a few common examples I see often in motherhood today:
1. Obsessive Frugalness
Extreme couponing and thriftiness is a trend in our culture, and many moms are jumping on the bandwagon with both feet, to the point where their entire lives are built around the pursuit of a good bargain. Stewarding God’s money is one thing, but when we becoming consumed with frugal living, coupon clipping, sewing our children’s clothing by hand, and making our own napkins out of tree bark (okay, maybe that last one isn’t really possible), our identity is no longer in Christ alone — but in our ability to live frugally.
2. Health Food Preoccupation
As I said earlier, I’m no stranger to this pitfall! I love caring for my family with natural remedies and nutrition, but I must always be watchful not to become preoccupied with the latest studies in nutrition and avoiding every chemical, additive, and artificial ingredient like the plague. Trying to follow every raw food, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, non-GMO, organic, grass-fed, 100% natural food diet trend is exhausting and distracts me from my true calling in life — knowing Christ and making Him known. Taking care of our family’s health is important, but we must be careful not to build our lives around it. Otherwise, we will become a stronger evangelist for health food and essential oils than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Becoming a Homeschool Super-Mom
In our quest to give our children the very best education possible, it’s all too easy to get swallowed up in the pursuit of homeschool super-mom status. We dream of putting all those public school families to shame as our kids graduate high school at the age of fourteen, win debate competitions, and dazzle the world with their amazing intellects. While homeschooling and giving our kids a great education is wonderful, we must be wary of letting our identity become wrapped up in our homeschooling achievements rather than in the fact that we are daughters of the King.
4. Being a Decorating Diva
With the Pinterest craze in full swing, there is a constant temptation to get swept away in the tidal wave of impressing other people with our creativity and homemaking skills. No longer do women merely decorate and organize their homes to bless and serve their own families — all too often, they do so in order to be seen and applauded by thousands of strangers on the Internet. While there is nothing wrong with decorating our homes beautifully and sharing our ideas with others online, we must always be sure that we are using our homemaking skills for God’s glory instead of our own.
Long and short, a Christ-confident mother is one who finds her hope, identity, security, and joy in Jesus Christ — not in any other pursuit or preoccupation. Anything “good” that she invests her time and energy into is merely an outflow of the most important thing in her life — her relationship with Jesus Christ and a desire to please and honor Him.
As mothers, we must remember that our ultimate calling isn’t to homeschool, feed our families healthy food, or decorate our homes beautifully. Our ultimate calling is to know Jesus Christ and to make Him known. (See Luke 10:41-42 and John 20:21.) Anything else that we do in life should enhance our ability to fulfill that call, rather than distract us from it.
So just how can we learn to find our confidence in Christ and avoid the many pitfalls of motherhood idolatry? Here are two important steps to take:
1. Place Christ Above Personal Convictions
Personal convictions are important and necessary in every Christian’s life. As the saying goes, “If you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything.” It’s vital to know what we believe and to let our lifestyle choices flow from those beliefs. I have adopted many personal convictions that have come from reading Scripture and responding to the work of God’s Spirit within my soul. But as healthy as personal convictions can be, they must always be an outflow of our love for Jesus Christ, not what we find our hope and identity in. When personal convictions are placed above Christ, they make us susceptible to self-righteousness and spiritual pride.
Have you ever seen a woman who was known more for her personal convictions than for her love for Jesus Christ? I once attended a large homeschool conference in which most of the women wore long, homespun dresses, somber expressions, and had a trail of kids in tow. The majority of these women seemed to only acknowledge those who behaved and dressed the same way they did. In the restrooms and hallways, I heard several derogatory comments toward public-school families and toward those who didn’t share their same convictions about family size and clothing choices.
While I saw nothing wrong with their convictions about homeschooling, having a lot of children, or dressing a certain way, I also realized that many of these women had begun to idolize their lifestyle choices above Jesus Christ. I couldn’t help wondering how a non-Christian would respond to the Gospel if he or she encountered these women. Would a non-Christian notice the nature of Jesus shining through their lives and examples? Or would he or she only see prideful personal convictions being paraded about?
When others think of you, do they think more about your personal opinions and lifestyle choices than they do about Christ? If so, that’s a sign that you might be placing too high a priority on your own convictions and opinions. Of course, that is not to say that people can’t be impacted for Christ by seeing you living out your convictions. But people are far more likely to be drawn to the Gospel when they sense the attitude and nature of Jesus Christ exuding from you, rather than just noticing that your kids sit still in church or that you always wear long skirts instead of pants.
Make sure that any personal convictions that you adopt flow out of your personal relationship with Jesus Christ and are a means of showing love and honor to Him. Personal convictions should never become a means of righteousness in themselves. And again, they should never become a spiritual statement to the world around you — a way of trying to demonstrate that you are more godly than someone else. People should primarily see you as a Christian, not as a homeschooler or courtship advocate. If you find more satisfaction in the fact that you are a homeschooler, a conservative thinker, a modest dresser, or some other conviction, than you do in the simple, amazing, astounding fact that you are a daughter of the King, then your convictions have most certainly become an idol in your life.
That doesn’t mean that homeschooling or dressing in a certain style is wrong. (Personally, I have loved homeschooling my children and I am passionate about teaching young women how to dress modestly for Christ.) Your choices in those areas may be steps of obedience to God. Just be sure that you don’t exalt your lifestyle choices above the Source of true life.
If you are ever imprisoned for your faith in Christ, it will certainly not be your example of homeschooling, wearing long skirts, or teaching your kids to sit still in church that will impact the prison guards and other inmates for the Gospel. Rather, it will be your hope, your faith, your gentleness, your courage, and, most importantly, your love. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, every other demonstration of our Christianity is meaningless without this all-important foundation.
How can you tell whether a conviction has become an idol in your life?
First, evaluate your beliefs about where your righteousness and justification comes from. Do you believe that you are accepted by God because of your personal lifestyle preferences, or simply because you are “in Christ Jesus”? (See Romans 8:1.) If you are looking for spiritual security in anything outside of Him, you are not walking in the reality of the Gospel. Take some time to become rooted in what it means to be clothed in His righteousness and not your own.
Second, ask yourself where your identity is coming from. As I said earlier, if you are more known for specific lifestyle choices than you are for your example of Christ, it’s likely you need to re-adjust your priorities. That doesn’t mean you should throw all your convictions out the window and go to the opposite extreme in any area of your life. But it does mean you need to shift your focus. Ask God for the grace to center your life upon Him, to make Jesus Christ and Him crucified your true North Star. And whenever you start to veer away from that true North, ask Him to gently pull your gaze back to where it belongs.
Finally, ask God to give you His heart toward Christians who don’t share your same convictions. Yes, certain foundational principles of Christianity are truly non-negotiable. And we must be willing to divide and separate over those points, or even die to preserve them if necessary, as Christians have done throughout the ages. But many other areas of life are not a central part of the Gospel, yet we often try to make them so. If you are convinced that no one can be a Christian unless they homeschool, sing only hymns, dress a certain way, and so on, then you need to gain a better understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take some time to focus on the glorious, life-changing reality of the Cross and the transforming power of the Gospel. Let God build your convictions upon the things that truly matter in light of eternity, and allow the peripheral issues to merely be icing on the cake.
2. Let Your Life Proclaim Jesus
I once heard a true account about a pastor in a restricted nation who was imprisoned because of his faith. One of the cruelest prison guards — a devoted communist — ruthlessly persecuted this pastor day in and day out, determined to make his life miserable. One day, the communist fell into bad graces with the government, and he was thrown into prison himself. The other prisoners isolated and mistreated the communist because he had been so cruel to them when he was a guard. But the pastor loved him, shared his food and blanket with him, and continually told him about Jesus. Everywhere the communist went, the pastor followed him, preaching the Gospel and exhorting him to give his life to Christ.
Finally the communist could stand it no longer. “That’s it!” he told the pastor in frustration. “I’m tired of hearing about this Jesus of yours! I will give you one sentence to tell me who Jesus is, and after that you should never speak of Him again!”
Without hesitation, the pastor replied, “He’s like me.” After a moment’s pause, the communist’s eyes filled with tears and he said, “If He’s like you, I’m ready to give Him my life.”
That story is one of the most powerful and convicting reminders that my life must always proclaim Jesus. When people observe my attitude, words, and conduct, they should see His nature and light shining through. If I am consumed with earthly cares and preoccupied with the logistics of everyday life, I won’t be able to shine as the bright light God has called me to be. Managing my home and caring for my family is important, but if it remains my primary focus in life I will become “distracted with much serving” just as Martha was. (See Luke 10:40.)
Second Timothy 2:4 reminds us, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”
And in Luke 21:34 Jesus exhorts his disciples, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with…cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”
As you seek to become a godly “keeper of the home” be guarded against being weighed down with earthly cares. If you seek to proclaim Jesus with your life, then it doesn’t really matter whether your dinners always turn out perfectly or your homeschooled children graduate early from high school. What truly matters is that you are fulfilling the ultimate calling that He has placed upon your life — knowing Jesus Christ, and making Him known.