A Lesson in Identity - Shay Arthur

What is the greatest lesson I've learned?

I must say that this is a question I knew I could easily answer when I was first asked. Then, after giving myself time to sit and really ponder about the possible responses, I was left feeling like those ice cream shops with over 50 flavors to offer. How do I choose just one answer? I was led to many lessons I have lived out that are so relevant for others to learn, yet there is one that can’t go without. So grab some coffee, tea, or that strange pink drink at Starbucks and let's chat for a second or even 7,000!

The only story that is mine to offer the world is my own.


With that in mind, I should share a bit about myself purely for the sake of context before diving into the lesson. This way, where I am presently can actually give you hope and not just provide another moment of inspiration. So many times, we celebrate where someone is victorious but don't take the time to ask how they got there. You are never too smart to learn from others (something that I have become great at).

I was raised by a loving family. Outsiders saw what seemed to be an amazing family that prayed together, served at church together, supported each other and did lots of activities together. We enjoyed laughter and always knew how to have fun. If fun was a career, we would all be billionaires! We were the family that everyone loved to hang out with. I still love that I can say that about our family. 

However underneath it all, there was something happening well-hidden from view.

Before your predictions form about how this story ends, please just stop and read on. :) 

As much as my family loved and supported me, there was always something within me preventing the full acceptance of that love. I spent most of my life feeling like I never measured up; in my eyes, I was constantly failing. Intellectually, I knew that my family had to love me, but at times actions spoke much louder than words. Those moments began to grow, and before I knew it, they were speaking much louder than the truth.

My mom and I didn’t have the healthiest of relationships. The constant tension of each others’ issues left me viewing her as someone she was not. I saw her woundings, and I was more than happy to poke around in them. I felt it was my job to show her where she was falling short, and instead of being a healing balm to her heart, I chose to abandon our relationship in my own heart. It was a divorce of sorts. Yes, we lived together, and I knew how to make it look like we had the greatest family in the world, but I had already checked out.

Why did I do this?

There are many smaller reasons, but instead of focusing on the fruit of something, it’s always more beneficial to look at the root of why something keeps on happening. I thought that things would change when I left home and moved away as my mom always seemed to be the issue. Yet that hope came tumbling down when nothing changed, leaving me with two options. I could either choose to spend the rest of my life blaming my mom and culture for proving that I never measured up and that failure was inevitable, or I could stop in my tracks and realize that I am only responsible for myself, and I needed help. Thankfully I chose the latter, but it has taken years of facing countless moments of pain and tension that I allowed myself to trek through.

It wasn’t that my family didn’t love me; the problem was how I didn’t allow myself receive the love extended to me. I had allowed so many pressures and expectations to attach themselves to me. I looked around and saw that I would never measure up, so I told myself to play it low and never shoot big in anything.

I allowed self-hatred to dictate who I was and what I was worth... 

So many people have experienced this and may be currently walking this road. This trap is so easy to fall into. Many times, it can be the most subtle mindsets that determine your identity. But, maybe you have allowed culture to label you. Maybe you are comparing yourself to someone and see that you will never be them, thus allowing lies to control your thoughts about yourself. In my case, and I think in most, it is both.

I had a mom that seemed to have it all together, and I never did. She was thin, tiny and beautiful, and I seem to be the other side of the stick. They labeled me as just “big-boned” as if that actually would make me feel better. I spent the majority of my life succumbing to the lies that I was limited in both what I could do and how I could do it. I lived in the land of limitations and honestly never thought anything differently. I chose to live my life in a way that would capitalize on everything except my physical body. I would be a great spiritual person and do my best to put everyone else above myself. I would pursue spiritual and emotional excellence, but as far as the realm of my physical body, “it just wasn’t meant for me.”

So, after all that, what is my greatest lesson?

Learn to love yourself early in life! And I don’t mean the self-love that the world tells you about. I don’t mean eating jugs of ice cream and watching 500 Netflix shows. I mean really learning to love yourself, to value yourself and then be willing to open up enough to allow others into that place you would rather remain hidden. Love yourself enough to get help and reach out when you need it. Love yourself enough to value the restoring of your soul. Learn to value your life with those who you allow around you. See yourself as a worthy cause to fight for your healing and freedom. Love yourself in such a way that draws others to love themselves as well. Value your purpose on this earth. Don’t treat your heart lightly. Don’t let others treat your heart like a welcome home mat. Don’t let others determine your value. Don’t let those who haven’t earned their way into your heart easily influence you. 

We frequently give away permission to the world to give us our identity and dictate what we should and shouldn’t do with our bodies, lives and voices. I lost my voice in the midst of this, and I don’t want that for anyone else. It has been a long road of recovery and healing to get to the place I am now where I can look in the mirror and appreciate who I am and how I look. I am not pretending that I have arrived or that I have some special formula to help the world. I am still very much on a daily journey with this. Go ahead and ask my best friend; she walks with me and guides me through moments of great triumph but with every triumph comes a moment of testing.

So I would tell you to learn to value yourself the way you value others. You can only love others to the degree that you love yourself. I know that seems crazy because I always thought I did love people well up until now. What I didn’t realize was that I was loving them while protecting myself, leading me to never actually let anyone in and choking the depth of potential relationships. I have learned that genuine love is when the depths of one reaches out and the other person reaches back! I finally allowed myself to reach out in the way I always needed,  and I was met with the unconditional loving arms of a Father.

This has been the revelation that has changed me. To reach out and know I am worth that reciprocated reach! I am worthy of the fight for freedom and healing. I matter. There is only one Shay, and she needs to be the most healed version of herself to love herself and share the great love she has encountered.

She doesn’t fit the standards of this world because she was meant to surpass them; even they will hold her back from the fullness she was created for.

You are worth the fight to face yourself, allow the light in and do it with the Lord and great safe people holding your hands through the process. The greatest lesson I have learned and am still learning is that my identity is in Him and living from that place is crucial. It is my greatest hope that we could together wage war against the systems of pressures and false expectations that have been placed on us and instead live from a place of freedom and wholeness.

- Shay Arthur (@shayarthur)