Everyone carries baggage from their growing up years. No family is perfect, some are hideous, and all have their oddities. It’s like everyone grows up in the Addams family.
For some people I have known, the Addams family would have been a great improvement. Morticia was a doting mother and Gomez was an affectionate father. Even the children, Pugsley and Wednesday, were well behaved and kind to each other. Fester was, admittedly, a little strange, but doesn’t everyone have a weird uncle?
In the Addams family, dad and mom always supported their kids. They cheered their every accomplishment. Sadly, the same cannot be said for all our families. As a pastor, I’ve met many who would have done better to grow up on Cemetery Lane.
John’s dad was a career Navy man, who was often stationed in far-away places. Whenever he came home, he reasserted himself as family commander. Once, when John misbehaved, his dad picked up a two by four, swung it, and hit him across the back. Even as an adult, John did not recognize his dad’s behavior as inappropriate. He said, “I probably deserved it.”
Susan grew up with a dad who sexually abused her. After her mom and dad divorced, mom routinely brought men home with her at night, and left them there when she went to work in the morning. Susan was repeatedly molested. What scarred her more deeply than the horrific sexual abuse was her mom’s disregard for her. The only thing her mom ever taught her was that she was trash. She told me once that she was a garbage can, filled with rotting things.
James grew up with a dad and a mom and a stepdad and a stepmom. In fact, dad had kids by four different women. It was the Family Circus, without the laughs. James could never figure out where he fit, which led him to the nagging suspicion that he didn’t fit anywhere.
I’ve changed names to protect the identity of these men and this woman. Protecting their identity is something their parents never bothered to do. How much better it would have been for them to grow up with the Addams’s.
Identity – the way people understand themselves – is crucial to success in life and progress in faith. Yet everyone carries an internal identity that contains inaccuracies. No one sees themselves as they really are. Only God does.
How a person sees himself or herself will determine the way they act. Marcus Aurelius was right: “Character is destiny,” but it is not only actual character but also perceived character that influences destiny. Humans were created in such a way that their beliefs (including their beliefs about themselves) determine their actions, which shapes their character, which governs their beliefs, which determine their actions, which shapes their character, and so on.
What we think about ourselves – that is, how we view our identity – inevitably influences our actions though, for the most part, we are unaware of it. We still weigh pros and cons and make the choices it seems incumbent upon us to make, but we make those choices because we see ‘us’ in a certain way. That is true of all people, everywhere, no matter what their race, ethnicity, or religion.
Christians believe that people can receive an identity “update.” St. Paul, after listing the previous identities of some of his converts – for example, adulterers, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers – adds, “that is what some of you were.” The implication is clear: they were so no longer. Their identity had changed.
St. Paul characterized this change – it’s one of the beautiful things in Christian doctrine – as being from Adam’s (not Addams’s) family’s dysfunction to God’s family’s love. With faith in Christ comes a new identity: child of God, productive family member, and temple of God’s Spirit.
A Christian psychologist once summed this up by describing the Christian’s core identity as “the beloved.” If identity influences character and character is destiny, then an identity like this promises a destiny that is incomparable.