When I was a senior in high school, I decided to quit the cross country team. It was summer and we had just begun training for the season. I agonized over the decision. I didn’t really like being on the team—it was time consuming and I wasn’t having fun anymore. At the time, it felt like such a hard choice. I felt as though I was giving up a piece of my identity. I know it sounds dramatic, but I was 17, so… it was dramatic. It felt like I was letting go of a piece of myself that I had claimed and held onto for a long time. Eventually, I quit the team—and I turned out fine.
Looking back, I can see (and laugh) at how big of a deal this was to me and how big of a deal being on a high school sports team was—but this is real, right? These are the things that define us. Maybe it’s a sport or an interest. Maybe it’s being smart or funny or pretty. Or maybe it’s not being these things—that can also define us. These things stick to us and are reinforced by our actions and the people around us all the time. Eventually, whether by choice or not, we become them. We simply step into the roles laid out before us.
Our identities are complicated things. They are being formed from the day we are born until the day we die, impacted by all the things around us. We live in this weird space of knowing the truth of the gospel and having an understanding of our true identities, while also needing to make the choice everyday to put on our true identity on as an armor around us.
I want to take the next three days to consider how the habitual cycles of our brains impact our identities and how we can take practical steps with God to walk in the truth of who we are as his children.
Before you read, here is some brief background on the Scripture we will read over the next two days: Elijah was a prophet. He was a man who walked with God, and God worked through Elijah to accomplish his will on earth. God had recently worked through Elijah in a miracle that ended with all the priests of a false god being killed, which angered Ahab and Jezebel, two individuals in power in Israel at the time.
Read 1 Kings 19:1-10.
This point in Elijah’s life was very chaotic. Jezebel had basically put a hit out on him. Elijah thought he was going to be killed, and he believed he was alone. He felt his ministry had been fruitless and he was the last person left who still worshiped the one true God. He was struggling to see what his life would be like beyond this moment. It sounds overwhelming and exhausting and heavy.
Consider this cycle our minds can get caught in: we have thoughts—whether lies from the enemy or truth from God—and these thoughts impact our emotions. Our emotions impact our behaviors and the choices we make. This happens over and over again and works in a circle, reinforcing itself.
Let’s consider the cycle of lies which negatively impacted Elijah’s emotions and behaviors in his story so far:
What are some of the lies you can see Elijah believing about himself in these verses?
How do you think Elijah is feeling here? How might the lies he has believed made him feel?
What is Elijah doing to cope with and respond to these lies?
Consider your current circumstances. Is there anything going on right now that feels overwhelming? Exhausting? Heavy? In what areas of your life are you struggling to see God’s presence?
Read 1 Kings 19:11-18.
How do you see God responding to Elijah in his suicidal thoughts and isolation?
Where does God meet Elijah? What does God do?
How does Elijah respond to God coming to him in a whisper?
God meets Elijah in the cave. We all have “caves” in our lives where we retreat to deal with deep emotions and difficult experiences. Maybe your cave is your basement, where you go to play video games or watch Netflix and just escape. Maybe your cave is sleeping or browsing social media for hours—anything to distract you from your painful or uncomfortable emotions in those moments. We also have internal caves; those places inside us that are so deep and hidden that we don’t even want anyone else to know they exist. This is where we keep our doubts about God, our shame about our choices or what has happened to us, and the darkest pieces we don’t want to reveal to the world. God wants to meet us there—hiding out in the little caves deep inside us. In the basement of our homes, in our beds, in the deepest places of our hearts; God is not afraid of what you have hidden there.
What is your cave? Where do you go to escape difficult experiences or uncomfortable feelings?
Eventually, God calls Elijah out of the cave. Not immediately, but when Elijah is ready, God calls him to step out. God comes to Elijah in a whisper. Not in an earthquake or a fire, but in a soft voice. I often want God to come in an earthquake to jolt me awake—but more often than not, he comes in a whisper. The sweet voice of God meets me where I am.
When is the last time you remember God coming to you in a whisper? What happened? How did you respond? How did you know it was the voice of God?
God gives Elijah a plan. He tells him what steps to take, where to go, and reminds him that he is not alone.
Our goal is to change the way our brains function when they are in this highly habitual and quick-moving cyclical thought process of lies,emotions, and behaviors. In order to do this, we have to break the cycle somewhere. I want to try to break the cycle starting with the “lies” part of this habit. If we can replace the lies that are firing off in our brains and being enforced by the world around us, and replace them with truth—actual truth, not just something that feels good or sounds nicer, but real truth that comes from the Father about our identity—then true healing and transformation can begin.
Process with God where you go to “cope” with challenging experiences or difficult emotions. What is the cave you are running to for false comfort and false safety?
Read Romans 12:1-2.
God promises us that our minds can be transformed. I know that can feel impossible. The lies feel too embedded in who we are to ever remove. They have been reinforced by the words of loved ones, teachers, coaches and strangers. It feels like the truth. It is not. I promise you it is not. Let’s look to the author of truth for our identities and have hope that he promises that the renewal of our minds is an option.
So, how do we actually let God into our caves? Here is what I see Elijah doing in the story that we read over the past two days:
- When Elijah felt God’s presence, he didn’t run away from it
- Elijah was honest with God about his feelings
- When God gave Elijah something to do, he did it (e.g., leave the cave, step onto the mountain, etc…)
- Elijah listened for the whisper of God and believed it when it came
You may be stuck on a habit right now. Our thoughts are happening so often that they are nearly impossible to regulate. You may not even realize the impact your thoughts are having on you, your identity, and your ability to believe the truth about who God says you are.
Let’s break down how to recognize a lie we are stuck in a habit of believing and replace it with truth from God’s Word. Here are four steps to begin this process of transforming our minds:
- Identify the lie.
- Think about when you hear the lie the most loudly. Is it a place? Is it after you spend time with a specific person or do a specific thing? Look for patterns around when this lie is the loudest and heaviest.
- Take action. Actively stop this thought. Literally stay, “stop!” in your brain or out loud when you hear the lie in your mind. Then, replace it with truth that comes from Jesus—not just something that sounds nice. If the lie you are believing is “I am ugly,” don’t just replace that lie with “I am pretty.” Replace that lie with truth that comes from God’s Word: “God calls me his “beloved” (Romans 9:25), I am “honored in his sight” (Isaiah 43:4), I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
- Do this over and over again until the day you die. With every lie from the enemy, speak these truths to yourself over and over until your mind begins to transform and you walk more closely in your true identity.
When you are able to recognize when you are being drawn to your cave to cope or hide, you will be able to begin recognizing which events or things might be triggering and reinforcing some of the lies you are believing. If you are struggling to identify a lie, you may need to start by identifying your common responses to potential lies (e.g., isolating, zoning out, escaping, avoiding). You can start here and ask God to reveal to you the places you might be habitually walking in a false identity.
Let’s process walking through these steps:
- The lie I am believing:
- When I can recognize this lie is the most present:
- Scriptural truth to replace the lie:
It is vitally important to arm yourself with the truth if you are going to walk through these four steps. Spend some time in the Word, identifying truth from God that speaks over the lies you might believe. Make a list of these truths and keep it with you, so that over time, you can use it when you recognize a lie and need to replace it with the truth of God.
Here is a list of common lies that might be affecting you and a connection to scriptural truth about who you actually are. Pick one or two, and try to memorize the verses so when you recognize the lies happening in real-time, you are armed with the truth. You can stop that thought in the moment and remind yourself of your true identity in Christ.
|I am not good enough.||1 Peter 2:9|
|I might fail.||Deuteronomy 3:18|
|There is no way. This is impossible.||John 14:6, 2 Timothy 1:7|
|I will never know which way is the right path||Psalm 119:105, 130|
|I’m not pretty enough||Jeremiah 1, Psalm 139|
|I can sin and no one will know.||Romans 6:23, Job 28:24|
|I am a failure.||John 3:16|
|I am invisible/unimportant/no one notices me||Luke 12:7, Isaiah 43:1-2|
|God does not see/care about my suffering||Isaiah 49:16|
|I will always be depressed/unhappy/miserable||Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 11:28-30|
|Good things to read when you are in the pit of despair and need to be reminded of how God sees you and loves:||Psalm 91; Isaiah 44:1-8|
A Note from the Editor
While some of you may resonate with these stories and experiences, we understand that no two stories are the same. Our enemy is cunning and knows exactly which lies to whisper in our ear to cause us to doubt our identity in Christ. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we encourage you to wield it as a sword against the lies of the enemy—but don’t do it alone. There are times when we are so weary from battling the lies of the enemy that we don’t have the strength to stand. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.” Find friends and a community who will speak God’s truth to you and over you. You are not alone in this fight.
In closing, Please take advantage of some of the resources listed below. In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to work through ordinary people to accomplish his eternal purposes for our good and his glory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned Ecclesiastes 4:9 earlier; the very next verse says, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Too often, we wait until we have fallen and have no one to lift us up before we seek help. God can work through organizations and resources like these to provide you with the tools and friends you need to ensure you have help when you need it. And if we can pray with you and for you, we would love to do so. You can submit your prayer request here.
Image Credit: Emilee Carpenter
Colleen is a Social Worker at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital working on the inpatient psychiatric unit, focusing on crisis care for mental and behavioral health in children. She loves camping and hiking and feels the grace of God is best experienced outside.