Isn’t it fun to get carded if you’re over 21?
Even if you’re in your 20s, you like whipping out your ID and proving to the questioning authority that you’re clearly “legal.” If you’re over 40, and anything like me, you shriek with excitement. Feeling youthful, you slowly reach for your driver’s license while slyly asking “just how old do you think I am?” You then boldly reveal the truth about your age like a boss—proudly wearing your birth year like a badge of honor.
Aside from people thinking I’m younger than I am, it’s also been fun to watch people’s reactions when they learn I’ve been a basketball coach for 16 years. They size me up and then laugh in disbelief. I can usually see their preconceptions about me shift. Upon entering a gym, I’ve been mistaken as the cheer-coach, an easy win, and a probable push-over in practices due to my blonde hair, small size, and peppy personality. But again, it’s one of those cases of “mistaken identity” that really hasn’t been offensive to me. If anything, it lit a fire in me to prove that I can coach and had earned the right to be on the court.
But there are other types of “mistaken identities” that haven’t been flattering to me—instances that have cut me, stabbed me, and left me for dead. Those encounters have left a rocky, rut-filled road map of scars. They’ve debilitated me, depressed me, and distorted my view of myself, reality, and God.
My introduction to adulthood was becoming an unwed teenage mom. I had my oldest son when I was 18 and immediately labeled an “unfit mother.” I wasn’t just called “unfit” by someone who didn’t like my parenting style on the playground. My son was literally taken from me in the delivery room by a Judge. To get him back, I had to prove in a court of law that I was able to be a fit mom. Talk about having to present proof of your parenting abilities!
Or, how about the stares given and the assumptions made time and again when I mention that I’ve been divorced twice—not once—but twice, and that Tullian is my third marriage. Labels like “slut”, “bad wife”, “adulterer”, “failure”, and (my personal favorite) “gold digger”, ring in my ears.
I know my own road to failure and every stop I made along the way. I know it so well I can drive it in the dark, backwards, with my eyes closed. Those tags have added turbulence to my travels in the form of shame, guilt, doubt, fear, embarrassment, insecurity, humiliation, resentment, regret, and so on and so forth.
Being mistaken as a dumb blonde, whore, or gold digger is absolutely NOT reassuring to me. But being mistaken for my age is. I prefer those types of assumptions. They can make me feel better about myself.
But don’t both instances have equal power to superficially shape what I believe about myself and my identity? Even the most positive names I’m called, or award myself, have the power to define or disillusion my identity. The truth is, I can be a victim of identity theft in either direction, and have been on a regular basis. In fact, I have painful proof of this and it has made me a professional in the business of marketing myself.
When I am mistaken for my age, it makes me think that I’ve done something routinely well over the years in order to look younger than I am. After all, looking younger and retaining beauty meets a measure of “success” that society teaches us, doesn’t it? My value and worth are possibly placed in my youthful appearance. And as a result, my looks have the potential to become an idolatrous commodity that I work hard to sell in order to keep the compliments flowing and my stock rising.
In contrast, when I am referred to as a “whore”, “liar”, “adulterer”, and “failure”, it reminds me of my sin and incites deep emotions that range from guilt and depression, to rage and vengeance. It also spurs me on to contradict the negative names attributed to me.
I am instinctively and constantly in the business of personal PR. In fact, it is painful proof of my sinister system of checks and balances.
And God agrees.
In His economy, I am bankrupt. I am every label that has been attached to me: idolater, liar, adulterer, coveter, thief. The collateral I have collected is worthless against my debt. I have earned every red cent I owe—boldly laboring as a sole proprietor in my own corrupt marketing business. I write checks as if I have endless acres of money-trees. But in reality, even when I think I’m in the green I am completely in the red—broke and working a dead-end job selling a worthless product.
And because of my bankruptcy, God sent Jesus as my substitute, not only to pay my debt in full but to make a deposit of righteousness that will never run out.
All the titles we spend a lifetime trying to make or break, Jesus says “charge them all to me.” He announces his one job in Luke 4: to set the captives free. Free from our foolish attempts to fool ourselves and others. Free from the bondage of business gone bad. Free from the mishaps of mistaken identity. Free from the rise and fall of our stock. Free from the terrible titles we achieve in public or private. Free. He provides permanent labels of identity for us like; forgiven, righteous, accepted, beautiful, and beloved forever—no matter what. For me, knowing that His identity gives me mine is the biggest and best case of mistaken identity there is.