“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut
I know what you are thinking. I’m not pretending to be anyone. Yeah, I’ve said that too.
I used this quote to make you pause and think for a moment. We all pretend to be a different version of ourselves daily. To deny that is to lack awareness, which is fine because I did for years. Think about it, we all wear masks, facades, of the person we think other people want us to be. We pretend around friends and families because they both expect us to behave in a certain way. For the most part, societal pressure is the most influential factor in forcing us to pretend.
There is a phenomenon called masking. Masking is a process in which an individual changes or “masks” their natural personality to conform to social pressures, abuse, or harassment. We become the person other people want us to be.
Moses dealt with this. Perhaps this is why he struggled so mightily with his identity. As a child, he was nurtured to be a Hebrew. Then, he was nurtured to be a Prince. As an adult, he was nurtured to be a shepherd. Always conforming to the identity other people projected on him. How do we know that Moses had no idea who he was? Scripture tells us.
In the forty years that Moses was a shepherd, Israel’s plight intensified. So much so, God said he heard their cries and became concerned about their circumstances. God visits Moses on the backside of the desert in a bush that is on fire, but not consumed. When God knew He had Moses’ attention, He called Moses by name. He tells Moses that he was right all along! You are a mighty deliverer! You will bring my people out of Egypt.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11 NIV
Moses had spent his entire life pretending to be the version himself that everyone else wanted him to be, that he forgot who he was. So, Moses asked a question that has plagued humanity forever, “who am I?”
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Many people cannot answer that question because they have spent their entire lives pretending. The warning of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote is simple: don’t become so immersed in our façade that we lose our real identity. Please don’t get so used to wearing the mask, that the cover becomes who we genuinely think we are. If we are not careful, we can become nothing more than a mimicry of other people’s thoughts.
Moses had spent so long wearing a mask that he no longer could see himself for who he was.
Notice the sequence of events that transpired at the burning bush. Moses had a negative self-image. After the years of trials, doubts, and fears, Moses created a negative self-image. His self-image was built in his insecurities, not in facts.
Moses, you have a negative self-image. I can’t use you in the capacity I’ve called you until I change your perception of yourself.
Now, if God operated with us the way we do with others, He would have responded to Moses’ identity crisis in Exodus 3:11 by trying to pump up his confidence, build his brand. Didn’t Moses realize what a great guy he was? Handsome, smart, talented. Well-educated, rich in experiences.
Here’s the thing, God doesn’t want us anchoring our identity in the strength of whatever gifts and good things are part of your success.
“What do you have that you did not receive?” – 1 Corinthians 4:7.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”- James 1:17.
Your identity is found in Him, the Giver, not in you as the receiver.
So when the Lord saw him struggling with a negative self-image, He knew what Moses needed was not a more positive view of Moses. God’s answer to your and my identity issues are not statements about who we are but about who He is, not about what we can do but about what He can do. “I will be with you,” He said to Moses (Exodus 3:12)—not “You are so awesome, Moses”—because when God says, “I will be with you,” this single issue should settle every problem you face with your identity and insecurity.
The central promise of the Bible is not “I will forgive you,” although that promise is there. It is not the promise of life after death, although we have that as well. The most frequent promise in the Bible is, “I will be with you.”
God gave Israel the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, manna, the temple, a pillar of cloud, and another pillar of fire, like so many Post-It notes saying, “Don’t forget. I am WITH YOU.”
When God Himself came to earth, His redemptive name was Immanuel – God WITH US.
When Jesus left the earth, He promised to send us His Spirit. Why? So that, “I am WITH YOU always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
At the end of time, when sin is a distant and defeated memory, and forgiveness is obsolete, it will be sung, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell WITH THEM. They will be his people, and God himself will be WITH THEM and be their God.” – Revelations 21:3
God had said to Abraham years before, “I will be with you and will bless you,” – Genesis 26:3.
He said it also to Jacob: “I will be with you” – Genesis 31:3.
He said the same thing later to Joshua: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” – Joshua 1:5.
Here’s what I learned through my own experiences and the experiences of Moses. You can’t have the right view of yourself until you have the right view of God. He is where your identity begins and ends. You can’t know who you are unless you know who God is.
When God told Gideon that he was a mighty man of valor, Gideon’s response echoes Moses’. Gideon’s initial reaction is, “God is with ME?! If God is with me, then why is all of this going on?”
Gideon was allowing where he was to determine who he was. Where he was, that’s a seasonal experience. The season he was living in was a season of loss, despair, and defeat. That was NOT who Gideon was. Yet, his identity was connected to his circumstances. Here’s the truth, you cannot believe what God says about YOU until you accept what God says about Himself.
When Moses questioned God, God responded with an emphatic statement, “I will be with you.” That should’ve been enough for Moses, but like Gideon, Moses struggled with His true identity. Moses had to learn that this was not about how great He was; it was about how great God was. As long as God is with me, I can do anything He asks.
Moses, when you were in a Hebrew camp being nursed by your mother, I was with you. When you enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of the Egyptian palace, I was with you. When you fled to Midian and tended Jethro’s flocks for forty years, alone on the backside of a desert, I was with you.
As with Moses, God is with you too.