For thirty years, I have journeyed with people through the difficult seasons in their lives. I have seen them face catastrophic losses, traumas, and addictions. I have had the privilege of witnessing remarkable courage and resilience in people as they persevere through unimaginable circum- stances. At the same time, and more often than not, I have also witnessed brutal destruction and heartbreak, crippling people and keeping them stuck in the depths of their suffering. For many years, I have wondered, What can relieve people in the midst of their torment and give them a greater sense of hope?
In counseling we seek to understand and identify the underlying causes for a person’s distress. After more than ten thousand counseling sessions, I have come to realize that at the core of most of these concerns is the problem of identity. And even further, I believe the problem of our identity is a spiritual problem.
When sin entered the world, humanity internalized shame. We are now born with an inherent sense of shame that forms the foundation for who we are. As a result, we are engaged in a quest to rectify the shame within us, often seeking to fix it on our own. Unfortunately, our efforts to fix our shame and obtain a stable identity inevitably fail. Why? Because who we are—our worth, purpose, and meaning in life—is only received in relationship to our Creator.
Our Creator’s solution to our identity problem is not a structured method of redemption from shame, but a person—our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. When we engage in relationship with him and come to truly understand the gospel, God’s message of grace through Christ, we are affirmed in our identity in Christ. When we receive our identity from God, that inner struggle against our internalized shame is relieved. The external crisis, no matter how devastating or frightening, can rage on, because knowing who we are will empower us to face whatever challenges come our way. Having said that, knowing who we are is not something that we can live out easily or constantly. It is a process of gradually working in and internalizing who God says we are by identifying and removing the barriers that keep us from fully living out who we are.
Over several decades of counseling, I’ve observed that simply knowing the solution to the problem of identity does not immediately translate to resolving the problem. The reality is that we face insurmountable obstacles to obtaining a stable identity. We live in a broken world, regularly experiencing the effects of sin. Moreover, we ourselves are infected with sin in body and soul, and this obstructs our own way to freedom from our perpetual quest for identity and resting in Christ. Yes, the problem of identity is ultimately a spiritual problem, but helping people receive and internalize what God says about them takes intentional effort. We must walk alongside them as they uncover wounds and detangle beliefs, gradually reversing the curse of the fall through the process of internalizing the gospel.
For more than twenty years, our team at Redeemer Counseling has worked to identify ways to make the gospel more real in people’s lives. We’ve learned that the first step toward that goal is to define the problem thoroughly and comprehensively. We’ve observed that every counseling approach presents a theory of what is wrong with us, the central “pathology” that is at the root of dysfunctional and destructive behaviors. To “fix” anything, we first need to know what is broken. Although our physical and psycho- logical brokenness are readily acknowledged in counseling practice today, our spiritual brokenness is often overlooked, or at least is not taken seriously enough. So our aim is to bring the best of biblical and clinical insights to the practice of counseling. As a result, we developed a framework we call the Gospel-Centered Integrative Framework for Therapy (GIFT). This framework provides a way of defining what is wrong and shows how we can contextualize the solution to best help people experience the gospel and lasting heart change.
In the GIFT, it is recognized that to make sense of what is wrong and what can help us, we need to pay close attention and be curious about our own life stories. Everybody has a story, a context of how we came to be who we are today. Our stories introduce us to important characters who have influenced us, key events that elated us, and those that harmed us. It includes critical moments in our history that shaped our dreams, set our course of direction in life, and transformed our relationships. There is so much to our life stories! In all my years of working with people, I’ve never heard stories that are exactly the same, and I’ve never heard a story that didn’t intrigue me—including my own. Our stories are made up of unique experiences that shape and influence who we are in the present. The uniqueness of our stories is not only what we’ve experienced but, more importantly, how we’ve made sense of our experiences. In each of our stories, we see how our identity—our sense of self and self-worth—is shaped and reinforced. By better understanding our stories, we can work toward removing the barriers to obtaining our true and stable identity.
I am convinced that our best hope for addressing our real problem, the problem that underlies such things as our self-doubt, our loneliness, our broken relationships, and our lack of faith, lies in obtaining a stable identity as we internalize the gospel. Throughout this book, I share some of my own story as well as composite stories from my counseling experience to illustrate the concepts and processes I address. This book begins by looking at what is wrong with us, the obstacles that lie in the way of understanding our true identity. In part 2, I describe what can make us right, the gospel that is progressively internalized. Then, in part 3, I explain how we can internalize the gospel, and I suggest a few practical ways to do that.
At the end of each chapter, I invite you to take time to reflect on how to better understand your own life story. You can use these reflections on your own to journal or take notes about what is coming up for you as you reflect, or use them with a group as you process with trusted friends who are also reading the book. My hope is that by engaging in this process of reflecting, you will discover more about who you are.
Excerpted from Who You Are by Judy Cha. Copyright 2023. Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission. www.harpercollinschristian.com