Our February plenary session and pre-readings took me down memory lane. I realized that we all have the innate need for acceptance, approval and love. This need is amplified especially in the fiery kiln of the painful experiences that are part of life. Although my father was absent for the majority of my life, I was raised by a strong, independent, loving and God-fearing woman who loved me, encouraged and accepted me. It never occurred to me that these three needs had not been met. However, a look at my decisions and actions in the past reveal a need for acceptance, approval and love, and I sought these things from outside.
In one reading, the author mentioned that in western culture people draw their identity from within. In African culture this would be considered rebellion since we are trained to draw our identity from outside and by default, we learn to seek approval and acceptance from outside. Unfortunately, these are the three things that man can never give you in full and though he may attempt to, it will be flawed and will never satisfy. Acceptance, approval and love exist in the purest form in God and thus should be sought for and received from Him alone.
Names and titles are powerful. Bishop Dr. David Oginde spoke on “A Gospel-Centered Identify: Who Am I?” He shared that this is what distinguishes us from the next person. We almost always respond to the name we receive and the voice of the person or thing that named us. How else would you explain why cousin X behaves like the relative he was named after? However, we can refuse certain names and we have a choice to respond on not to respond. In my case, I chose to respond to what my friends and family called me, whether true or false and my world would shatter when these voices would turn against me or whenever I failed. Some of the words used to describe me were a strong, intelligent, hardworking and generous Christian woman who was passionate about youth and governance and did everything with excellence until I made a mistake and then I was made to feel like I was not. Until I got acne and suddenly, I was not beautiful.
The names and titles I had been given were true and still are true but back then, they were not my truth but served as masks. They hid the fact that I did not have the courage or the energy to pray every time I made a mistake because I felt that God had let me down so many times and would eventually leave me like my dad did. Every morning for about two decades, I would mask the low sense of worth with high achievement, I would mask the fact that I never experienced mercy for my mistakes with perfectionism and excellence.
Bishop Oginde did mention that our identity affects our service. I would mask my poor self-image with the latest fashion, and I would dread the night where I had to stare in the mirror and look at my naked self. Unfortunately, just like Adam and Eve, these masks or fig leaves I had sewn for myself in the form of people’s descriptions of me eventually became inadequate and I found myself crying to God for help.
Our true God given identity is not found from within ourselves or from external sources but in God through Jesus Christ. My journey started with confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in my heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). With that I became a child of God (Gal 3:26, John 1:12) I was important enough to die for (John 3:16). His word told me that nothing would ever separate me from His love. This assurance delivered me from the need to perform or do stuff to qualify for God’s love or acceptance. The more I read the Bible and talked to God, the more I realized that He did not want me to live in fear of being left, disowned or abandoned but that I was part of His family, not as a maid or a visitor but as a SON with an inheritance to boot since if we are children then we are heirs, heir of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).
He promised that He would never leave me or forsake me, and He has been faithful. This also gave me peace about provision because God owns it all and as a co-heir, I need not fear lack for He shall supply all my needs. Bit by bit I began trust God to provide rather than rack my brain or lose sleep over money and provision.
I was surprised to learn that God thought about me (and you), nothing shady but that His thoughts and plans for me were to prosper me, were full of peace, hope and future oriented. That his thoughts were higher than mine. I was curious and I really wanted to know what these thoughts and plans were, so I began to seek God regarding my purpose. Some of the things He shared were mind boggling and fear would often creep in, but I found solace in the fact that He had not given me a spirit of fear but one of love, power and a sound mind. That all I needed to do was to trust and obey. Whenever I failed, I was reminded that He is a compassionate God (Psalms 103:3) and He is faithful and just to forgive.
Eventually, I had to redefine success and review my motives. I no longer look at success from the lenses of money, fame and all things shiny and expensive but from the lens of the word of God. To me:
Success is walking in purpose daily as a child of God. Doing what He wants me to do every day.
Success to me is transforming lives for God’s glory.
It is taking responsibility for my action rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame.
It is remembering to ask for forgiveness and extending grace when I have been wronged.
It is living a life of purity by God’s grace, receiving healing for headaches, being a good steward at my work place, sharing my faith with the cabbie, encouraging the neighbor, getting up and moving on despite the failures and remembering to thank God for the good, the bad and the in between. Money, fame, 5-year plans are good, but all these are by the grace of God and for his Glory.
Finding my identity has been a colorful journey. I now know who I am – I am my Father’s child, whose I am - God’s, and why I am – God’s purpose, and I choose to adventure with God, fully submitting to His good, perfect and pleasing will for my life.
All for His glory.
Veronica Nguti is in our first Nairobi Cohort in 2019 and works in administration at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)