If you are in the midst of hard circumstances, it is easy to let them define you. To give up and let them be the book on you, rather than a brief whisper in your very long line of sentences. Perhaps you are struggling with money, so you count yourself into a shapeless, unknown crowd of people in poverty, and all the shame that accompanies being in that mass, especially if you buy the lie that if you had only worked a little harder, done a little better, you would be all right. Or you are going through a tricky time with your kids, so you stamp yourself as a bad parent. Or a bad friend, and on and on.
But you are not what happens to you. The truth is that you are radiant, you are beloved, and Jesus wants to walk beside you because he loves you. Your circumstances are like a sidewalk that you are walking along rather than a blanket that has been thrown over you, or even a house that you live in. Cracked and dirty, or shiny and glittery, the sidewalk is separate from you and can change without changing you. The core of you, the person that you are, can pass through trouble, not unscathed, but intact and free of shame. Telling yourself that you are poor (or letting other people say it) defines you. But the truth is that you are having a hard time with money. Such a different thing, because you are not taking on a definition, but walking through a circumstance. Living with money problems is stressful, living with the shame of poverty and all the blame that can be heaped onto it is crippling. Money comes and goes (as anyone who lost a fortune in the recession can tell you) but you are there and your life is a continuous unfolding of trust in God to guide you down many different sidewalks.
It’s the same with relationships, whether it is a marriage (you are not a bad marriage, but a couple walking through a bad area of town) or parenting (there are going to be a hundred tricky spots, it doesn’t change the fact that you were given to your child to love them through it all) or boyfriends and breakups and friendships. Or the other circumstances; sickness or mental illness, career success or failure. Making mistakes can blindside with you with shame unless you truly learn to keep walking with God down that sidewalk, learning and trusting and being loved.
Allowing your circumstances to define you causes you to feel undue shame or self congratulation depending on what is happening at the time, when actually, the true you, the deepest you is in there in both circumstances, just being you. That deepest you needs to grow toward God, like a plant growing toward the light, wherever you are, whether your circumstances are great or difficult. The great work of life, in knowing God, is to learn to be loved and to love, whether or not you feel like you deserve it, and that is why your circumstances cannot define you.