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Lesson 1: My Identity

Moses is a source of encouragement for many of us who feel we have missed our opportunity to live a life of purpose. His adulthood mistakes included the murder of an Egyptian taskmaster, which became public knowledge and had the potential to cost him his life. Realizing his actions had gone viral, Moses became so terrified; he re-established his life in the distant plains of Midian, picking up a new career path as a shepherd.

This new life was a form of security for Moses. He had run far from the failures of his past and had been given a second chance at a new life as a husband and father. When he got ready for work every day, he grabbed his staff, which represented financial security, emotional security far from his failures, and relational security with his father-in-law.150 He embraced his quiet, new identity as a shepherd and refused to dream of doing anything else.

One day, while tending his sheep on the backside of Mount Sinai, he noticed a blazing bush that remained completely intact. It was the place he first heard God’s voice. As he stepped forward, God called him by name and asked him to take off his shoes. He was standing on holy ground.

It probably felt like a run-of-the-mill day until that moment. The reality is, God can show up anywhere, at any time in our life—in our car, the bathroom while we’re getting ready for work, even at the kitchen sink. No place is devoid of His presence, and He wants us to acknowledge His presence with us. For Moses it required taking off his shoes.

God told Moses He had been listening to the cries of His people and was intent on delivering them from their bondage. Of all the people God could choose, He announced to Moses, “I am choosing you to deliver them.”

Moses came up with every reason he could think of that would disqualify him from this God-sized invitation. God didn’t agree or disagree with him. He simply responded, “I will be with you.”151 So many of us carry dreams and a sense of God’s purpose for our life. Yet, when we look in the mirror, we know who we are in the light of our God-sized destiny. Much like Moses, we find ourselves severely lacking. God’s words to Moses reflect His heart to us today: I will be with you.

He is not impressed with our accomplishments or deterred by our failures. He wants us to realize it’s never been about who we are, but it is about whose we are.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that God is the One who will accomplish His purposes through our lives.

Now may the God of peace…equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. HEBREWS 13:20-21 NLT

Moses chose to lay down his security and identity as a shepherd to pick up his new identity found only in God. The same hand of grace extended to Moses on Mount Sinai is extended to each of us today. All we have to do is receive it.

We may sense God’s nearness in the most obscure places and during the mundane moments of our life. We may feel the need to kick off our shoes just to acknowledge our awareness of that holy moment in His presence.

Like Moses, many of us think that God can’t use us—that our past experiences disqualify us from being useful for the Kingdom of God. We don’t want to think this is true, but it feels true. Fighting against the pain and stress of our past will only drive us deeper into unhealthy behaviors. We need to lay down our wounded and broken identity and pick up the new identity we have in Christ—our true identity

Today is a day like any other day. I stopped to pick up groceries on my way home from work. I took off my designer shoes, hung up my little black leather purse, and slipped off my jacket. Walking past the mirror in the hallway, I looked at my outfit, reassessing the cuteness, and decided it was definitely a repeat outfit. I wonder if anyone noticed me today because my outfit was so cute? While I love how it feels to be so put-together, some days it was just exhausting.

With groceries in hand, I began taking out food to prep dinner. I turned on a podcast to keep me company as I cooked. It was a lot of effort to cook dinner for just one person, but I am tired of settling for easy dinners. I love the taste of healthy food, even if it takes more preparation. While I sat there eating dinner at my dining room table alone, I began to feel overwhelmingly sad. Most days were good but some days are so hard. It is hard to be alone. It is hard to be 38 years old and have settled into this single life—my “single” identity—without hope that it will ever change.

I’ve been on a handful of dates since college but nothing ever went past a first date, and I haven’t been asked out in over five years. I found myself trying harder to get the attention of men, but I was continually left feeling more disappointed. Tonight was one of those nights. What I hated most was the feeling that everything would be better if I acted out and masturbated, just this once. This was becoming a persistent evening feeling and I tried hard to resist it. Most of the time I could resist but only for a couple weeks; then I would give in, only to get the urge again a few days later. The cycle was never-ending and left me feeling horrible every time I acted out.

Tonight I was determined not to give in. I finished eating dinner, cleaned up, and then changed into my workout clothes. I needed to get my head in a better place. I needed to shift gears and get my mind thinking healthy thoughts. I tied my shoes and took off down the street for a brisk walk. As I walked, I took deep breaths and immediately started feeling better. Relaxed breathing always helped. When feeling triggered, I tried to go on walks and do meditative breathing. Walking and breathing was one replacement behavior that really helped me.

When I got back home. I opened the door, stepped in and took one last deep breath. I looked around my home and was grateful for having such a nice place to live. While still feeling discouraged from loneliness, I felt determined to work to broaden my perspective of healthy living, even as a single person. Although I felt exhausted from always trying to attract the attention of men and could not understand why they didn’t like me, I was going to pray for patience for God’s plan. As I prayed, tears streamed down my face. The sadness came and I allowed myself to feel the pain. I didn’t try to numb it by acting out. I didn’t try to run away from it. I felt it.

Susan

SOOTHING STRATEGIES

Stress seems to be constant in life. How we deal with stress is learned behavior. It is the ability to gently calm ourselves when we are triggered by what is happening around us. Depending on the type of environment in which we were raised, we may have learned how to soothe ourselves when feeling discomfort, pain, and anxiety. Our parents may have used distraction or a favorite toy to help us calm down when experiencing stress. Through this parent-child interaction we learn how to self-soothe, so that as adults, we are able to calm ourselves when feeling the pressure of our environment

Unfortunately, not all children had this experience. Not all children learned how to self-soothe. Instead of developing healthy ways to soothe themselves, they turned to unhealthy behaviors in times of stress. Instead of learning how to calm themselves in a safe environment, they learned to survive by whatever means possible in a chaotic, unstable environment. Their self-soothing behaviors—disassociating, isolating, and medicating their pain—helped them survive an ongoing stressful lifestyle. Even as adults, this is their method of self-soothing.

• Numbing out on video games
• Binge watching Netflix, Hulu, videos, or TV
• Eating too much food or junk food
• Refusing to eat any food
• Finding new friends on Facebook
• Spending too much time on social media
• Obsessing over relationships
• Staying busy all the time
• Trying to control everyone and everything in our environment

As we learned in chapter 2, when we experience stress—something in our environment that indicates a threat—it produces a cascade of physiological responses that initiate our fight-or-flight system. If a person was raised in an environment where they didn’t learn healthy self-soothing strategies, their sensitivity to stress becomes acute to the point that even the smallest amount of stress will trigger a stress-response that is out of proportion to the situation.

At some point, whether we live with stress on a daily basis or encounter it occasionally, we will recognize the need for healthy strategies to combat stressful experiences. We have to develop a plan for self-soothing ahead of time so that when stress finds us, we can proactively work to calm ourselves.

Here are a few quick and easy methods for self-soothing:1

• Take a few deep breaths—this is one of the quickest ways to initiate a relaxation response in the brain.
• Prepare a hot beverage for yourself and drink it slowly, focusing on its smell, temperature, and taste.
• Wrap up in a warm blanket. Warm a blanket in the dryer and get cozy.
• Play calm and soothing music.
• Go out in the sun.
• Take a short walk.
• Talk to yourself in a positive and comforting way: “It’s going to be okay.”
• Laugh—YouTube your favorite funny video or find something to laugh about.
• Take a warm shower or bubble bath.
• Light a candle or diffuse essential oils. The scent of lavender is often used for soothing anxiety.

Following a stress-response, it is important that we complete a self-assessment, analyzing where we are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Is our body feeling tense? Where are we emotionally—how are we feeling? What do we need spiritually? This self-assessment will help us determine the areas where we are still feeling stressed, allowing us to implement the proper self-soothing strategy. We need to take a holistic approach when developing our soothing techniques.

Now that you’ve created your list, share it with two trusted people who know you well enough to know when you’re feeling stressed. Then, ask if they will remind you to use your list of self-soothing strategies when feeling stressed.
 Who did you share your list with? ________________________________________________________
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Remember, we can’t do this alone. Along the way, we need others to help us stay on the path toward lifelong health.

Looking Ahead

Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.

Assignments