All my life I've struggled with the temptation to repress my strengths. Growing up, I was singled out for being smart and talented. I always felt that I had tons of admirers, but nobody to really call my friend. I used to wonder, "If I didn't have the ability to do this or that, would people would still like me? Why can't people just like me for who I really am?"
Once I became a Christian, I tried to find ways to embrace my talents for God's glory. Sadly, I discovered I had a new predicament. Instead of being admired for my abilities, I was hated. Other women in the church were jealous that I was stealing their spotlight. I saw the problems that it was causing, and so I tried not to be too good at certain things. I would purposely sing out of tune. I pretended not to know the answers to questions when I really did. I stopped wearing makeup. I was afraid that if I showed people my good qualities, they would not only fail to see the real me, but they would hate me altogether!
My talents weren't my only problem. My personality came under fire a lot, too. I remember a time about ten years ago, someone told me, "The reason you have no friends is because you talk too much, and people find that to be really annoying. Try to be more quiet and people will like you more." I knew there was some truth to this. After all, the Bible says, "Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you" (Proverbs 25:17). I decided not to tell so many funny stories. People might find that annoying. Worse, they might think I was self-absorbed. It was probably best not to share so many of my joys with others, or to laugh too loudly about them when I did.
Striving toward these unrealistic self-improvements was a way of life for me, and it was exhausting. On one hand, some people would only like me for my positive traits. On the other hand, some people would hate me for having those very same characteristics. It seemed that the only logical solution and way of escape was to completely divorce myself from my good qualities. And that's exactly what I did, until about three weeks ago.
In spite of the fear that nobody would like the real me minus all the "frills," I was plagued over the knowledge that God had gifted me, and that I was wasting those gifts by hiding them from the world. I begged Him to show me how to manage this dilemma. He said, "My child, you ask why people can't like you for the real you. I tell you, those good qualities are the real you. If I didn't give you those qualities, you'd be someone else entirely."
God doesn't say silly things like, "Oh Jennifer, the only reason you worship Me is because I am all-powerful and sovereign. Why can't you just love Me for who I am?"It's true. Our strengths are part of who we are, and we cannot separate ourselves from them. God Himself is a unique being who possesses many wonderful attributes, and the Bible tells us that He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). If He were any less loving, merciful, powerful, or creative, He would cease to be God! God doesn't say silly things like, "Oh Jennifer, the only reason you worship Me is because I am all-powerful and sovereign. Why can't you just love Me for who I am?" How ridiculous! That is who He is! So it should come as no surprise that our good qualities are part of who we are as well. Should people admire us for some skill we may possess, we need not worry, "If I didn't have this ability, would they still like the real me?" The question is an impossibility. That skill is the real you. Trying to divorce ourselves from that skill would break up the complex combination of strengths that God has brought together in order to make each of us a unique creation.
And what about those people who may experience a little jealousy over our strengths from time to time? Does God allow that to bother Him? Of course not. Everywhere you go, there are people who utterly despise God because He is holy, righteous, and just. They do not like the fact that He is the ultimate authority. And so how do these people manage those aspects of God that they dislike? It's simple: they divorce Him from those attributes. They say things like, "MY God would never send anyone to hell." And they are right. Their God wouldn't send anyone to hell. But their God is not the God of the Bible!
As reformed Christians, we can get so caught up in our awareness of the sin of pride that we end up repenting of things that aren't even sin, for fear that we might become prideful. We put ourselves through a legalistic series of attempts to prevent any possible future occurrence of sin, and we do so in our own strength. Yet this is an exercise in futility because Christ has already taken care of that by dying on the cross. In the case of divorcing myself, I wanted to shut down in order to prevent people from getting jealous over my gifts, and to prevent myself from becoming too prideful about my gifts. So I went around hiding those parts of myself that I felt would cause trouble. I created a fake Jen, and I was essentially saying that the fake Jen I created was a vast improvement upon the real Jen, whom God created. Now THAT is pride!
Are there any aspects of yourself that you have you been trying to divorce? Is it your hearty laugh, your opinionated views, or the wisdom you have to offer? Have you been trying to squeeze your femininity into a one-size-fits-all container? Whose idea of biblical womanhood are you trying to imitate? If it's not sin, don't try to rid yourself of it. God has made you just the way you are for a reason, and there is nothing you can do to improve upon what He has done. So laugh, smile, speak your mind! It's not a sin to shine.