We have probably heard the notion 'accept who I am' numerous times in all sorts of contexts, whether in self-help books, pop song lyrics or daily conversations and probably conflicts. But what does it really mean?
When do we like to talk about 'accepting who I am'? Well, when things in our lives are not the way we want, obviously. It's life. Ironically, those who say 'You need to accept who I am' are often people who are struggling most to accept who they are. There's always a struggle or dissatisfaction about something within ourselves. Perhaps we are frustrated by our own weaknesses, bad habits, relational challenges, poor body image, low self-esteem or even illnesses. We dread these things. Often we can't even name it. These struggles are part of our life, but are they part of 'who we are? Are they really who God created us to be?
So what are we accepting exactly?
Under the notion 'I accept who I am' lies a grand assumption that I know who I am. Otherwise, what exactly am I accepting? Do I know who I am? Well, I like to think I do. But in reality, I can never be sure. And my perception of 'who I am' changes from year to year. The only thing I know about myself is that I'm not very good at knowing myself. Only God knows completely. Maybe I know myself more than other people do. But maybe they know something about me that I don't!
If that is the case, how do we as Christians decide what to accept about ourselves and what to change? Within Christian evangelical circles, there are often two extremes. Typical, isn't it? On one hand, Christians ought to love what God has created. We are all His image bearer. God said, 'It was good' and delights in His creation. Christ has died for us so that we can be accepted. Jesus loves all the 'problem' people! This is the day the Lord has made and be glad in it! Rejoice!
So should we accept or deny ourselves?!
On the other hand, we are to deny ourselves and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24). We are to repent of all our sins. We might be told that we are suffering from these struggles and weaknesses because we are not trusting God enough. Or we are not putting Christ at the centre of our lives.
But the Bible doesn't give us clear instructions of which of the above categories each of our day-to-day struggles should belong to. Do we love or deny ourselves? Do we accept or get rid of our struggles? Do we embrace our weaknesses to demonstrate we trust God, or we force ourselves to change in order to be a 'new creation'?
The ultimate issue
The Holy Spirit is our ultimate guide. Yet there are a few questions we can use to guide our thoughts. First we need to identify the actual issue that we struggle to accept. Is the struggle I am experiencing the main issue, or just a symptom of another hidden issue? Very often our struggles are merely symptoms of a much deeper, more complex problem. We need to identify it in order to decide whether we should accept it as who we are.
Low self-esteem can be a result of placing our significance in wrong values. Addiction can be the result of a desire to hide past painful experiences. Confrontational styles and fear of conflicts can both be signs of unhealthy strategies in dealing with emotions. Both shyness and being overly hyper in social situations can be a cover of insecurity and fear of social isolation, which are symptoms of many possible hidden issues.
3 questions to ask yourself
So here are some questions for you to reflect upon when you decide whether the struggle you are facing is 'who you are' or a hurdle you need to overcome:
Does the struggle hinder you from having an intimate relationship with God?
Does the struggle hinder you from having an intimate relationship with other people?
Does the struggle hinder you from bearing Fruit of the Spirit? (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. )
If you answer 'No' to all 3 questions, then feel free to embrace it or change it. But if you find yourself answering 'not sure' (which means 'Yes'), then it is a hint that perhaps it is not part of the person God created you to be, and that it's probably something God wants you to work on, by His grace. Only you can answer these questions for yourself, so be vigilant to how your different characteristics affect you in these 3 areas.
Embrace your struggles as important signposts
But do not get rid of struggles immediately. Well, you cannot, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this article. I'll use a physical illness as an analogy here. It's not the perfect analogy but bear with me. ..
Suppose I suffer from chronic migraines. I can accept that I have migraines and that it's part of my life. But I don't accept that's who I am. Yet I don't deny its existence and its agonizing pain either. The most important question is what is causing the migraine, because it is merely a symptom that reveals something is wrong inside me. I can do a CT scan of my head to find out what is really going on in my head. Maybe it's a tumour that needs to be removed urgently. The migraine becomes a life-saving sign that reveals what needs to be done.
Our struggles can be life-saving symptoms that guide us to really know about ourselves and what changes can be beneficial for us. We need to do a CT scan of our hearts, revealing our hidden desires, past emotional wounds that have not been properly dealt with, our real source of security, and often, the idols we are worshipping.
So finally, I will say ironically, I cannot accept who I am until I can look deep into the struggles I do not want to accept to learn about who I really am. So the key is getting to know who I am. Then, with continuous self-reflection of the above questions, self-acceptance will naturally fall into place.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!