I failed again today. It happened in a moment of anger with my son. He was baiting his younger brother into an argument (again) and I had had enough. “You are a manipulator,” I told him. “You’re a bully.”

In order to understand how big a failure this was, you have to understand that the dominant ongoing conversation Rachel and I have had lately is around exploring the theme of identity. We’re writing a story in which a character’s accepted identity is the driving force behind her actions, first negatively, then positively. We’ve discussed all those antagonistic voices that speak to us in our culture and the monologues of pessimism that play in our heads like a broken record of negativity.

You know that album, don’t you?

  • You aren’t good enough.
  • You’re a screw up.
  • You will never measure up.
  • Your failures define you.
  • This is who you really are.

We’ve talked about how to block the avalanche of negativity with one simple phrase: I am loved.  No matter what I have done, how mediocre I perform, or how cynical I become, I. am. loved.

We humans tend to define each other by our actions.  We say, “he is a cheater,” or “she is a liar,” or “they are losers.”  And internally, secretly, we believe the same things about ourselves…

The awesome reality of the gospel is that, while those are things that I have done, that is not who I am.  What defines me–my immutable core identity–is that I am beloved of God.  The scandalous nature of the gospel says that the One who knows all those things about me–the One who knows me better even than I know myself–loves me. He loves me because it is His nature to love.  The only sure way to battle the nay-saying voices in my head is to accept my true identity from God.

Despite that being our conversation all weekend long, in a moment of anger I named my son “manipulator.”  As soon as the words cleared my mouth, my brain went into overdrive.  I recognized immediately what I had done.  I had joined the chorus of accusing voices that already rages inside his head. Instead of calling attention to his action, I had re-named his identity, and negatively so.

Moments later, as we sat across the table at lunch, I asked for my son’s attention.  “I made a mistake,” I confessed.  “I called you a manipulator, but that is not who you are. That is something you did.  You are our son, and you are loved, regardless of what you do. You are created in the image of God and your true identity is in Him. That is who you are.”

All of us make mistakes. Especially we parents. Be quick to apologize. Be careful what you name your children.  They’ll wear it the rest of their lives.

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