Compromising Your Identity For Love

The season of singleness is notorious for being taken for granted. Whether we treat our singleness recklessly or simply despise this season of life altogether, we rarely find ourselves making peace with our single statuses. Too often, we rely on the thought of a significant other to motivate us to become our best selves. This could manifest in the most ordinary ways, like wanting to get in shape to attract a mate to, more dangerously, changing the sweet eccentricities of our character to fit into someone else’s mold of what is desirable. When we are not careful about guarding our hearts, we can actually lose our grasp on who we are at our core, which is God’s Beloved.

When I experienced my first love as a budding adolescence, I thought I had a pretty firm grasp on my own character. Just because I had a vague idea of the person I wanted to be at that time, I didn’t think twice about giving such a significant portion of myself to another person. To please my young love, I would listen to music that I knew he liked. I began wearing makeup for the first time because he hinted that he wanted to see me with makeup on. I wore clothes that portrayed a certain image because I knew that he was attracted to girls who looked a certain way. This desire to please him escalated to the point where I gave up more than just my body, my image, and my interests; I ended up surrendering my values as well—all in the heavily misconceived name of Love.

losing-control

Late one afternoon, he offered me half of what looked like a Tylenol. I immediately felt a rush of adrenaline because I knew what was coming. He was introducing me to drugs. I refused to take the pill again and again, but the more I refused, the angrier he became. In the end, I ingested the broken ecstasy.

Weeks flew by, and I slowly found myself growing more comfortable in the cocoon that I’d spun. I enjoyed applying makeup, wearing spaghetti straps and sweat pants, listening to his music, and reveling in our lustful relationship. I didn’t stop for even a second to think who I would be without him because I was so overwhelmingly and painfully in love and interested in us. Just as I grew snug in this new character that I created, my young love decided that he got bored with me and left. It was as simple and matter-of-fact as a slap in the face.

Overnight, I went from loving my direction in life to not having a clue as to who I am. I became self-destructive from feeling so incredibly lost and abandoned. Little did I know, however, God was actually planning to work through all of my sins and mistakes to bring me back into his loving embrace. I failed to guard my heart and this terrible foolishness led me astray, but God reached out to me at my darkest moment and reminded me that I am fearlessly and ferociously LOVED. With God as the one who determined my identity, there was no longer any need for me to find my identity in other people.

true-source-of-worth

In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul records that the wisdom of the Lord advises us to be different from the world. The word of God doesn’t ask us to judge the world or point fingers at the world, but rather stay away from its filthy temptations and guard our spirits and bodies out of our respect for God, who created us in love (2 Cor 7:1).

What does it mean to guard your heart, spirit, or body, you might ask? In the framework of romantic relationships, guarding yourself means that you choose to surrender your desires and temptations to God’s will. It means that you will seek His wisdom and guidance first before you pursue any man or woman, and that you will obey the good things that He has to say even if it’s against what you want in the moment.

Giving up your identity, your calling, or the gifts that make you so unique in order to win over a significant other is dangerous and simply does not work. As demonstrated by my testimony and the testimonies of countless others, wanting to please people by exchanging our identities for their love will always end in turmoil. It is foolish to look for love and worth in places other than God because everything and everyone else will always falter. We will keep collapsing and breaking if we continue to build our foundation on the inconsistent and sinful heart of man.

character-of-god

The old saying is right: God is good, and He wants us to experience life to the abundance. He’s already proven to us that He is trustworthy by sending His only Son to die in place of us so that we could be won into a relationship with Him. If God loved us so much that He would trade the life of His own Son for us, what makes us think that He would suddenly hold out on us when it comes to our romantic lives?

Indeed, it is against His character to hold back good things from us. So, rather than throwing away our identities in exchange for the love and acceptance of mere people, let us remind ourselves that we are already loved and accepted by God. Because He loves us so relentlessly and unwaveringly, we don’t need to be bitter towards the people who have hurt us in the past. They’ve served their purpose in bringing us closer to God. Once we truly decide to let go of our desires, cravings, bitterness, and regret, we will be able to grab onto His hope, peace, love, acceptance, fellowship, and healing. In the end, we will finally get to hear the truth that has been nudging at us this whole time.

This is what the scriptures reveal about the divine fatherhood of God and who we are intrinsically. He proudly proclaims, “I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).

The Rust of Pornography

“Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents

and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires

that wage war against your very souls.”

-1 Peter 2:11

I once held firmly the belief that all men watch porn. All through high school, I had never met a male who denied watching porn. I had accepted it as the norm. Whenever my female friends expressed their frustrations after “stumbling” upon a few suspicious URLs found on their boyfriends’ laptops, I convinced them to shrug it off because I, myself, was convinced that it was something perfectly inevitable for all men.

I didn’t understand why these girls had to make it seem like such a big deal. It was just porn, you know, like a routine haircut, a dose of cough medicine, or a cigarette smoke after a long day—not that I knew what that was like. I only ever saw people smoking around me and only ever heard of people watching porn. I was detached from those things personally, but my mind was conditioned into thinking that it was normal. And normal was good.

This perspective worsened when I became involved in a few serious relationships with men who viewed pornography as something normal, just like I did. It became so cringingly “normal” to me that at one point, I actually decided to give it a try for myself. What’s the big deal? They’re just videos of normal people, my high school brain had thought.

My first time watching it out of curiosity was terrifyingly embarrassing, even though no one was around. I felt my cheeks flushing red as I scrolled through all of the most vulgar, self-deprecating thumbnails and titles that made my inner feminist wince. I was not a Christian at the time, and although I’d like to say that as soon as I encountered God I had never watched another video again, that was not the case.

You see- cringing and intimidating as those videos were, they also gave me a sick sense of satisfaction for having tackled the topic of porn all by myself. Me—a girl—watching porn! How taboo. I wanted to see what those guys were all googly-eyed over—what their rite of passage entailed. I wanted to be their equal—to finally, with confidence, say that porn is not a big deal and that there is nothing to fuss over, ladies.

But before I knew it, porn had seeped into my perspective on love, trust, marriage, and the tipping balance beam between men and women. After experiencing porn for myself, I found it difficult to trust any male figures in my life. The porn videos were not ‘just videos of people doing each other,’ like I had thought. They were much more disturbing and head-cockingly aggressive than that.

I noticed that there were so many different, twisted categories to each porn site that I’d curiously visited. It occurred to me that people actually developed fetishes for these shocking, pedophilic categories of porn. There was no way I could ever look at another boyfriend, pastor, or male friend the same again. The thought of pastors retreating into their dark offices to watch these girls get yanked and pulled and beat like animals made me want to puke. And the thought of husbands—men who have vowed in front of a hundred family members and friends to commit to their wives for the rest of their lives—apathetically opening up a tab on Google Chrome after a usual fight with their spouses made me never want to commit myself to a marriage covenant.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that many girls around me, like myself, had secretly watched these videos as well. Porn was never an exclusive space for men.

Let’s just courageously put this out there: Porn is a HUGE DEAL. It is a huge deal not because of how it gives us such a quick and string-less satisfaction, or how it reenacts all of our sickest fantasies, but because we have integrated it so deeply into our minds and our culture that this corrosion—this addictive, abusive corrosion—should be the norm. Like rust, pornography corrodes our image of what is inherently good.

The human body is so beautiful—made to fit into each other like a symbol of unity and commitment. When two people come together, it is the ultimate emblem of trust and covenant. Porn distorts that image. It makes that image seem silly, naïve, and unsexy. Who wants the mess that comes with commitment when you could just open a tab and watch the best angle of sex that technology has to offer? Those who are broken, addicted to lust, and fearful of a deeply committed relationship with a real human being, that’s who. Sex was designed to be enjoyable and functional, but porn takes what it is beautiful and enjoyable and chokes, jabs, and beats it into a bruised and bloody pulp.

Documented Prostitution

So, here is the truth about pornography: Pornography is, at its core, filmed prostitution. In a TEDTalk with Ran Gavrieli, he explains that Porne is short for the Greek pornographos, which depicts prostitutes. In ancient Greek, a brothel would be called a porneion. Graphein means “to write” or to document. So the etymology of the word pornography literally means, “documenting prostitution.”

When we open a tab and go on these harmful, malefic websites, we are contributing to the abusive and misogynistic industry of prostitution. Don’t be naïve like my high school self and think that such a thing should be supported because the porn actors and actresses have the ‘right’ to exercise their freedom of occupation. Porn comes in categories, and each one sicker than the last.

The reason for all of these humiliating, pedophilic, and violent categories within porn is because there is a demand for sick novelty. Can you imagine? As if the staged penetration wasn’t objectifying enough, our brains became so desensitized to ‘mild porn’ that there is now an innumerous supply of child pornography, BDSM, and a host of other wildly aggressive and tear-jerking categories of porn, ready for pre-teens, husbands, fathers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, and sons to consume freely. It’s a sickening reality. I agree wholeheartedly with Gavrieli when he says, “Porn is not an embodiment of freedom of speech or freedom of occupation… No. It’s an embodiment of sex-exploitation, working side by side with human trafficking, raping, pimping, [and] solicitation.”

In biblical terms, porn is synonymous with sexual immorality. I personally feel that it actually epitomizes sexual immorality. If you are in a relationship with a significant other and you are giving into your addiction to porn, you and your significant other should identify it for what it is: you are addicted to sexual immorality. It is as clear as day. Just because “everyone does it” does not nullify the essence of what it is. You are a consumer of online prostitution. It is that serious, and so it should be treated with the appropriate severity.

I’m not saying this to condemn you in hopes that you’d go wallow in shame, but so that you could feel the urgency to confess openly with your significant other and then go seek spiritual and emotional counseling with someone that you trust (ideally, a professional). I know that for many people, the addiction to pornography worsens during the depressive or stressful stages in their lives. This is because when we are at our weakest points, we tend to run to the easy, quick fixes. Porn is unbearably easy to access and so tempting, just like how all addictions are. I get it. I really do understand your struggle, but this is something you should not tolerate in your life. It is both morally and spiritually wrong, and it will do physical and emotional harm to you and/or your partner.

LiveScience published an article explaining how even watching porn in moderation could lead to brain shrinkage, the same way alcoholism and depression shrink certain areas of the brain (Ghose, 2014). Psychology Today offered a reliable and horrifying article suggesting how the addiction to pornography decreases our commitment in a relationship and could lead to real-world cheating (Streep, 2014).

There is a verse that always gets to me. It says, “You say, ‘Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.’ (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can't say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:13, emphasis by me) Thank God for claiming our bodies as his own. We were bought at such a high price, so why should we give ourselves to sin so cheaply?

I encourage those who struggle with pornography to take a stand for your true identities. You are the sons and daughters of God, and you do have the willpower to quit this corrupted habit if you commit yourself to the Lord. Perhaps the most important first step is to seek help from your spiritual counselors. From my personal experience, I don’t think that merely reading about the subject would do the most help. Confessing it to others, on the other hand, does a much better job at keeping us accountable to our goals. I hope with all of my heart that you will experience the liberation from pornography and declare that you’ve triumphed over a powerful addiction. I will end with a prayer, taken from the apostle’s encouragement in 1 Peter 2:9-11. Let’s pray together.

Dear Lord, I want to experience life the way you intended it. I don’t want my mind to be twisted anymore. I don’t want porn to hijack my self-control.

I know I am not like that, for you have chosen me. I have been adopted into your royal family, a holy nation; your very own possession. As a result, I can show others your goodness, for you have called me out of the darkness and into your marvelous light. Once, I had no identity as a person, but now I am a part of God's people. Once, I received no mercy, but now I have received your full mercy. Dear God, I pray that I will be like a temporary resident and a foreigner to this world, so that I could keep away from worldly desires that wage war against my very soul.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

A Letter About Love

I want to write this letter to you to let you in on a sobering and heartbreaking realization. This is not a love letter; it’s a letter about love. I’m curious about your thoughts.

What does being “loving” mean to you?

Do you believe it’s harmful to form loveless relationships with others? Why or why not?

Why might having a life void of love make someone feel like they want to end it all (commit suicide)?

Why does God choose to be called “Love” out of all of the other potentially good things, like Justice or Power? It would certainly make sense to say that God is Power, or God is Justice, but He has chosen to be called “Love.” Why is that?

I’ve thought about these questions a lot, and it’s led me to some pretty devastating realizations. But before we go into that, this is what the scriptures have to say about love:

1 Corinthians 13 (NLT)

Apostle Paul – “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance […] Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

No wonder God has chosen to be called Love. It’s hard to imagine how someone of His magnitude could ever be constrained by a single word or concept, but He actually thinks that this one word is worth describing Him—a word that we toss around so freely yet mean so rarely.

Apostle Paul says that if he knew everything that man could ever wish to know, but didn’t love others, he would still amount to nothing. In fact, he says that even if he knew everything that God Himself knows, but didn’t love others, he would still be empty and unfulfilled. Could you imagine that? Human beings have strived for complete knowledge since the beginning, thinking that it will somehow bring us a lasting satisfaction. However, Paul explains that on the off chance that we actually do get to know every single secret to life, like how big the universe is or how small particles could go, we would still be unsatisfied if we didn’t have love. A life that is filled with every piece of knowledge or materialistic thing that a person could possibly desire, but lacks love, would still seem like an unfulfilled life. Why is that?

I believe that we were purposefully wired that way. You and I are both creatures seeking to give and/or receive love. We were born into the world with a God-sized hole in our hearts which gets bigger and bigger as we grow older. Sometimes, this endless void gets so close to eating us up that we become desperate to fill it with anything and everything: drugs, significant others, accomplishments, materialism; you name it. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but here’s an assuring reminder: we were made that way on purpose so that God can fill the God-sized void in our being. The void reminds us of Who we’re made for. It’s a birthmark of our identity as His children. Just like how a puzzle would not be complete without the critical last piece, our lives would always feel like something is missing or things are never enough when we leave out the critical last piece—our Maker, whose name is synonymous with Love. He is the only one who can provide the perfect, unconditional love that we long for.

Here’s my heartbreaking realization: If love is so important, why is it that we take it out of the equation when we interact with others? Think about that for a moment. If love is so detrimental to our wellbeing and is actually the thing that fulfills us, why do we choose to form loveless relationships and friendships with others?

It could be that we are so broken and torn up that we actually want to revel in our brokenness. I’ll be first to admit that when I was at my lowest point, it gave me a sick satisfaction to do self-destructive things and engage in toxic relationships.  I wanted to push my boundaries and go as far as I can because I thought I had nothing to lose. Maybe you’ve felt that way, too.

Another reason why we might choose to leave love out of our lives is because we’re afraid of getting even more hurt. Love takes trust, and trusting in people could get painful. People are imperfect, and even the most trusting person is bound to disappoint you eventually. If you’ve read the Psalms, you’ll see that David is all too familiar with brokenness and disappointment. Reading Psalm 116 makes me feel like it’s my own heart that’s spilling out on the pages. David cried out, “I believed in you, so I said, ‘I am deeply troubled, Lord.’ In my anxiety I cried out to you, ‘These people are all liars!’” I can’t read those words without feeling like I’m going to choke up. Those cries really hit home for me.

Even more so than King David, there is yet another person who I would say knows brokenness like no other. No matter the level of rejection or backstab or hurt that I’ve experienced in the past, I know that this person has definitely experienced it all the more. The book of Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). The man that the Bible calls “the man of sorrows” is actually Jesus Christ. You think he was a happy-go-lucky guy who ate it in the end for doing something wrong? Think again. The hurt that you’re either experiencing now or have experienced in the past—Jesus had all of that in mind when he endured the cross. He knew the pain that would be inflicted on you, and he knew the pain that you would inflict on others. Still, even in our darkest and lowest moments, he was willing to take our sufferings for us. That is what I call a friend. I’m not about to dedicate my life honoring and worshipping some distant god in the sky. The God I worship is the One who was actually willing to come down, take my place in punishment, and show me a life that is rich in love, peace, joy, purpose, understanding, compassion, and grace. My God proved to me in the most painful, sincere, and heart wrenching way that he loves me.

I want to write this letter to you to encourage you that you truly are loved, and the love that is reserved for you knows no boundaries. No angels, demons, trials, pains, tribulations, injustice; heck, not even death can separate you from this love. So with the complete and fulfilling love of God to keep you whole, you can freely extend this love to others. I am willing to claim that those who do not show love do not know that they are vehemently loved this much. If only you could accept that unchanging and unshakable love for you, you would be more willing to extend that love to others. I always wondered how Jesus was able to mutter, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” even during the hour of his death. It was the very people he loved that nailed his wrists and ankles to that cross, yet he mustered up the energy to say those loving words. I believe that is because he knows how much God loves him. He is fully secure in God’s love, so he is able to draw from that unending well and extend God’s love to us—even during betrayal, rejection, and death.

If there were anyone who could understand how difficult it could be to genuinely love people who forsake, abandon, and betray him, it would be Christ. If something like that could happen to someone like Jesus, it would be inevitable for us to also feel forsaken, abandoned, and betrayed at one point in our lives. During those times, when you feel so hurt and so torn that you just want to forget the entire world and start over, I want you to remember that you have a well of living water to draw from. Run to God’s well to be refreshed and you will never run dry. You don’t have to be afraid to love others because the one who loves you most will always be there to restore you. You don’t have to revel in your brokenness because the one who loves you most will bring you healing. You don’t have to throw away your life because the one who loves you most already gave up his life to save yours. So if we live from this well and drink from this well, we can extend the uncompromising love of Christ to those around us—especially the people who hurt us—without fearing we will run dry in the process.