What do you contain?

Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

Picture yourself as a piece of molten glass, your form determined by the movement and the pressure of your maker. When your maker is done, you are crystal clear and uniquely shaped. Beautiful to behold and created to contain and display what has been placed within you.

Your family values, spoken and unspoken, your God-given temperament and personality determined the shape of your container; but what do you contain? What information have you stored away? What messages have been absorbed into your identity? Who tells you who you are?

The feedback we receive about who we are and whether or not we are valued has a large influence on the contents of our container; maybe I should say it has a large influence on how we feel about the contents of our container. Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is a story told by Guy Doud, teacher of the year in 1986. He says he didn’t know he was fat until he entered kindergarden. Up until that time, he knew only what his family had told him about himself, he was loved, smart and handsome. In school his classmates told him he was fat, called him chubby and constantly teased him about his weight. These messages were more influential in forming his self-identity than the words he received at home and in church. When he felt bad about always being the last person picked for the kickball team, he would comfort himself with a bowl of ice cream. Told he was fat, he became fat.

For those of you who know me personally, you may be surprised to learn that I was a talker when I was in high school, non-stop chatter was my hallmark. (Please forgive what I’m going to say next, remember it was a long time ago in an era much less politically correct than today.) My Sophomore class raised funds for a school trip by having a “slave auction” (I warned you.) When purchased you had to do whatever your “owner” told you to, within reason of course. I was bought by my science teacher, Mr. Greenberg. As his “slave” he put a piece of duct tape over my mouth and made me wear a sandwich board that read “Supermouth is silenced.” This got me a lot of attention. People expected me to talk a lot, when I did I got noticed, so I committed myself to constant blabbering.

This pattern continued into college, when two popular girls from my church college group quoted their version of Proverbs 27:15 “A talkative woman is as annoying as the constant dripping of a leaky faucet.” They were going to “help” me squelch my talkativeness by simply saying “drip, drip” whenever they thought I was talking too much. Boy, did this shut me up. The world wanted me silenced. I grew quiet and afraid.

God’s voice, speaking of our beauty and belovedness, often gets buried by the influx of images, information and expectations coming at us. But God’s love does not abandon us. God’s inextinguishable spark of life burns within us and by God’s grace burns away all the falsehoods that have entered our souls.

This post continue to answer the question Who Am I? which begins here, and is part of a series The New Old which explores six old familiar topics God wants to make new. Join me each Monday for a new installment. I pray our God, the ancient of days, will make a new day for you to enjoy in God’s presence through this series.

Born to be wild? Born to please is more likely.

It’s in our nature, we love to make the ones we love happy. As young children we live to please our parents. Nothing makes a parent happier than an obedient child, one who willingly complies with the explicit family rules and standards. These rules are created to insure safety, to promote healthy habits and to educate about a moral and ordered life. Parents hope the habits they require of their children will influence their child’s character; that the externally applied rules will be the mold that shapes the interior character of their child.

  • “Look both ways, before you cross the street.”
  • “Brush your teeth before you go to bed.”
  • “Write thank you notes to people who’ve done something nice for you.”

These explicit family rules fall short of their hoped for target. Our interior sense of self is more frequently shaped by the implicit and often unspoken family rules, which demand equal obedience and compliance. Born to please, we aim to satisfy these unarticulated family rules. Usually these unspoken injunctions end up causing harm and brokenness.

Here is an extensive, but not exhaustive list of such rules. Take a look and see if any sound familiar to you. We’ll talk more about it next post.

With you on the journey,


Examples of the relationship between family injunctions, childhood vows and current issues

INJUNCTION – Vow – Current Issues

DON’T EXIST, DON’T BE – I’m not valuable, It’s all my fault, If things get bad enough, I’ll kill myself. – Depression, Self-abuse, Suicidal thoughts or actions.

DON’T BE YOU (The sex you are, the ethnicity you are) – I should have been a boy/girl, No matter how hard I try I’ll never please, why even try? I’m shameful, I’m not good enough – Sexual identity issues, other types of identity issues, Depression

DON’T BE A CHILD – I can’t/won’t cry, I can’t have fun, I won’t ask for anything, I’ll take care of myself – Express rage when sad, Never have fun, Over serious

DON’T GROW UPI”ll always be Daddy’s little girl/ Mama’s little man, I am helpless, I need to be rescued – Separation problems, Fear of abandonment, Learned helplessness

DON’T! – The world is dangerous – Phobias, Other anxiety issues, Control issues

DON’T MAKE IT – I’ll never do anything right, I’m stupid, I’ll show you, even if it kills me, No matter how well I do, I should have done better – Repeated failure or sense of failure despite success, Life-threatening physical illness, Type A personality

DON’T BE IMPORTANT – I’ll never amount to anything – Underachievement, chemical dependency

DON’T BELONGNo one will ever like me, I’m different, I’m better than the rest of the crowd – Feeling of alienation, anger, superiority complex, paranoia

DON’T BE CLOSE I’m unloveable/unattractive, Others are dangerous – Social Isolation, Loneliness

DON’T TRUST I will never be hurt, it might kill me, I must take care of myself – Impaired relationships, Suspicious/paranoid – Extreme independence

DON’T LOVE – I’ll never let anyone close, I must keep my heart safe – Problems with intimacy, Sarcastic demeanor

DON’T BE WELL, DON’T BE SANE – I‘m frail, I’m crazy – Phobias, High susceptibility to illness

DON’T THINKI’m dumb – Extreme emotionality, academic failures, avoid decision making

DON’T THINK WHAT YOU THINK, THINK WHAT I THINKEveryone else knows better than me – Passivity, Non-assertiveness

DON’T FEELEmotions are a waste of time, to feel is dangerous – psychosomatic disorders, inability to connect with others

DON’T FEEL THATI’ll never get angry, sex is bad, crying is weak – Indirect expression of anger, Passive aggressive, Certain emotions are taboo