“Don’t believe anything Joy says. She lies,” Mama would tell people throughout my childhood, whether they listened or not. For Evangelical Christians in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, what you did defined who you were. Maybe that’s still true today. I don’t know. But it certainly was the “truth” then. Good Christians behaved; bad Christians probably weren’t Christians at all. Paul wrote,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NAS).
Real Christians were new creatures; apparently I was just a creature. According to Mama, I didn’t just lie. I was a Liar. That became my identity.
I lied because I was laid on a regular basis, starting as a four-year-old, by my Grandfather the Deacon. Evidently he wasn’t “saved” either, which made two of us, for no one was saving me from rape. My parents didn’t know, and it was my job to keep it a secret, or my grandfather said he would tell them I was lying, and they would believe him. I had no doubt about that. I was a Liar, you know. My family might as well have changed my name, because I was no longer Joy.
Then I diversified in First Grade, and changed who I was according to whom I was with. I had enough outward ensembles to make a Barbie doll jealous. If I pleased “them”, I didn’t get in trouble, no matter who “them” was. Then a devastating thought came to me: they loved the performance Joy’s, not me, because I hid my soul in a self-made sanctuary – the only protection I felt I had from being erased altogether.
In defense of my parents, they had no clue about any of this, except my consistent sin. I think they knew something was terribly wrong, but they never asked why I lied all the time. Knowing wouldn’t put the blame just on me, but on them, too. A child gone wrong was also a stigma on the parents, because “they hadn’t raised me right”.
And yet in many ways, my parents gave me many incredibly positive affirmations of my worth. They loved me very much as their daughter, no matter what. They were proud of my accomplishments as an honors student, soloist in choir, and thespian. But the mixed messages confused me, and what took root deep inside me was that my worth was performance-based and Deceiver was my name. God, what a convoluted mess.
The Biblical character I related to the most was Jacob. He was saddled with the same label as me. Look what happened the day he was born.
After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob [a] Genesis 25:26 (NIV).
- Jacob means “he grasps the heel”, a Hebrew idiom for “he deceives”.
Now, why would a parent name a kid something that meant “deceiver”? Because it was their family heritage, passed down through several generations. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, lied to protect himself, claiming his wife was his sister. Years later, Jacob’s father, Isaac, did the very same thing. By the time Jacob was born, lying was no longer something one did in this family. They saw themselves as Liars, and they literally gave their son the family name. Jacob knew who and what he was from his earliest memories. Everyone told him so each time Jacob’s name was spoken.
Jacob’s mother reinforced Jacob’s view of himself by dreaming up a scheme to help Jacob deceive his father and steal his brother Esau’s blessing given to first-born sons. And for many years as an adult, Jacob took his name to heart and lived into it in increasingly destructive ways. Look how Jacob’s view of his self-worth had evolved by the time he wrestled all-night with the Angel:
[The Man] asked him, What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]! Genesis 32:27 (AMP).
The names we are called repeatedly sink into us with great effectiveness. For example, being called “Smart” all your life can make you feel smart, even if you aren’t. It might even help your GPA. Being labeled “Stupid” tears down self-confidence and has the power to destroy your ability to do well in school.
Like Jacob, I began collecting new names along the way. The first one was Sex Expert, a name I proudly gave myself as I took my show on the road in grade school, teaching Advanced Sexuality to a stunned audience, then acting out the real thing in junior high. By the time I had a driver’s license, my survival skills were professional, and my personas were reduced to two categories: Good and Bad.
I rapidly became Slut, fulfilling only one role with men in bars and hotel rooms – the perfect woman for the type of man who wanted only sex without relationship. Then I became Victim, marrying three men over a 23-year period of time who were remarkably like my grandfather. Somehow I managed to raise three wonderful children during all this, but like I said earlier, I had many positive images of myself, which helped me survive the destructive ones.
Alcoholic was a godsend, but not from God. Alcohol was a fellow Liar, except it was the real thing. All I knew is it helped relieve pain for awhile, which was better than nothing, until alcohol started causing more pain and problems than I had before. Yet I couldn’t give it up.
Maybe worth is Power, I wondered as an adult. So I sculpted myself into Businesswoman, fighting my way into management positions. The pinnacle of my career was as a tradeshow manager for an international company with hundreds of people reporting to me several times a year. Convention centers and hotels treated me like royalty to gain my contract. I was somebody now! But deep inside, I knew I was just an abused little girl dressed in Business Barbie’s suit and heels, desperately trying to gain worth through professional success. But nothing healed, nothing helped, nothing changed for me.
The day came when the walls could take no more. All those years of compressed pain exploded out of control, and I screamed out my anger and anguish to God, because I wanted Him/Her to hurt as badly as I did. What happened took me totally by surprise: God screamed back love for me that had nothing to do with my performance or failures. But God did give me new names:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! You are precious in My sight. You are honored and I love you Isaiah 43:1,4 (NAS).
All those other identities were lies, and my true worth had never been based on them. God said my real identity was Precious, Honored, and Loved, and had been all along. I can’t even write this without crying. My parents had loved me the best they knew how, but I hadn’t loved me at all. I had thought God was Judgment, Anger, and Rejection, so I refused to get close to Him.
I finally know God is Love, Acceptance, Forgiveness – all given to me unconditionally. He had been with me through everything, allowing the pain while protecting me from death, so that one day I would be there for other women who think they are the only ones dying or already dead inside. I have compassion for them, because I know, and every time I help a woman learn her worth isn’t performance based, I give away what I need, and my own self-worth is affirmed.