“You can teach what you know, but you will reproduce what you are” -- Christine Caine
A few days ago, Ellia made an autobiographical cereal box. I loved it. Anytime we use recyclable trash for homework purposes, I’m on board.
She named her cereal Elli-O’s. Obviously.
The rest of the box was covered with her dislikes and likes, hobbies, favorite author and musician (currently Stephen Sondheim, which I would argue is not a normal choice for a 7 year-old).
She wanted her cereal to be about who she is and how she lives. So additional to her favorite color, she wrote on her box in gold Sharpie the three lies she doesn’t ever want to believe:
- I am what I do
- I am what I have
- I am what other people say about me
Brett talked to her about these three self-identifying statements in a recent conversation. He and I are both influenced by Henri Nouwen who discusses these lies on multiple occasions, pointing out how believing them can block us from our true identity as the Beloved of God.
But there was something extra convicting about seeing these words written in 7 year-old handwriting next to the word “Elli-O’s.”
I had some thinking to do.
I’ve realized I talk a lot. And I talk about what I believe. But I don’t talk about what I do.
I talk about what’s right, but I don’t always talk about my actual choices.
I talk about practices I value, but they aren’t actually practices I consistently live.
There is a significant gap between my action and my beliefs.
And this reality, even if written in gold Sharpie, would make a terrible cereal box.
Ellia and Olive both have frequent questions about God, and in my opinion, amazing creative insights on who God is. And often, I will catch myself saying something I believe and yet am reticent to do. I believe God calls us to be his hands and feet to the world. I believe we are meant to be a blessing, to love the unlovable, to be trophies of grace and voices of freedom.
But sometimes, I’d rather just write it on a piece of paper than follow through.
None of us are perfect. I’m not talking about unreasonable expectations or suffocating legalism. I’m talking about the fact that lately, I haven’t been living out of who I am. I’ve recently heard myself make statements that are disconnected from my heart.
Ellia is at a point where what she hears is sinking down into her soul—it’s shaping the way she views herself, her relationships and her God. And she has integrity about it—she wants to align her practice with her beliefs.
Somewhere in the stress of the last year, I’ve forgotten the importance of being a doer of the Word and not just a hearer. I’ve forgotten about the firm foundation on which I say I want to live. Instead of loving, I often judge. Instead of giving, I often take. I’ve given into bitterness or unforgiveness or self-absorption—and I’m not making a lot of effort to do anything about it.
On her final draft of the cereal box, Ellia decided to write out the fruit of the Spirit instead of the lies because she felt that, while she valued both, one fit the food theme more than the other.
And I keep the scrap of paper with the three lies with me.
I want to be able to be who I say I am. I want to take the grace God gives me to change instead of relying on my own ability to repeat statements of belief. I want to be a person who embraces the word of God with integrity—who isn’t willing just to listen—but is willing to love.
Love is hard work. Dying to self is not easy. The things that bring us fullness of life require action.
Dallas Willard said it best: “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”
And I want to be someone who fights to live as one who belongs to God. I want to be someone who looks to Jesus instead of giving into insecurities.
I’m not what I do.
I’m not what I have.
I’m not what others say about me.
My kids remind me not of what I want to say, but of who I want to be—not just what I want written about me, but what I want to be true about me.
And in the midst of the struggle to live in the gospel instead of just observing it, my kids also remind me of the abounding grace available when I mess up.