“Be yourself,” my mom would say to me when I was growing up. But I wondered, What did it mean to “be yourself”? I wasn’t sure who “myself” really was!
While I struggled to find answers, I was beginning to glimpse a few spiritual ideas about my identity from the Bible and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. Many of the Bible figures were good, honest, intelligent, and loving. And as they understood God to be a constant, loving presence, they demonstrated something of their true, Godlike nature. I realized I could ask, “What does God know me to be?”
I began to find an answer to that question as a college student. I felt out of my element, became doubtful about measuring up academically, and wasn’t comfortable enough to make new friends. A few weeks into the first semester, my professor gave an assignment to write an essay analyzing a literary work. Sure I would fail unless I wrote something insightful, I picked out several library books and transferred those ideas to “my” paper. When I got an “F” and a note about borrowed material, I was abruptly awakened to the gravity of what I’d done.
Overwhelmed with a sense of failure and remorse, I felt lost. I reached out to someone who had previously been of comfort to me. As we talked I sensed that this person was looking past the surface of my human actions and discerning my spiritual, Godlike nature. This helped me see how unnatural and wrong this behavior had been, and stirred me to think about how God, the only and wholly good creator, has made each of us in His image and likeness, as Christ Jesus proved in his healing ministry. Our true, spiritual self, God’s very own expression, can’t be separated from good and doesn’t include anything that isn’t good. As we read in the Bible, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38, 39).
I’d been identifying with self-doubt as though it were an aspect of my nature. But inadequacy is never part of any of us, God’s perfectly complete creation. In cheating, I had not been acting in accord with the reality of my true being.
I realized that we are all God’s perfect reflection, and that this meant I could demonstrate ability, honesty, intelligence, forthrightness, and goodness. The fear of not being able to measure up, and the sense that I needed to act dishonestly (that was engendered by this fear), began to lift.
Science and Health states, “Honesty is spiritual power” (p. 453). I felt this strength rising up within me. The clarity I was gaining about who man truly is, and our ability to live in accord with this spiritual identity, brought with it the moral courage to go to my professor and face up to what I’d done. Even when he explained that I could be expelled, I knew the most important thing was to be true to who I was as God’s likeness, to express qualities such as honesty and humility.
The professor then said he knew I’d learned a valuable lesson and recommended I stay in school. I was grateful to him for seeing my sincere desire to be forthright. But more than this, I felt sobered by the huge lesson I had learned: My only identity is in how God made me – spiritual, with integrity, perfect. The insights I gained from this experience supported me through the whole year. I excelled in a couple of classes, and new friendships developed.
We may sometimes feel inadequate, but Christ Jesus’ life showed what is possible for everyone to know and put into practice in our lives – that as the child of God, we’re each endowed with Christly qualities and capacities. This understanding impels us to be and do good. When we define who we are mainly on our human performance or on what others think of us, we may not act in accord with our true nature; but when we are clear about our identity as God’s loved idea, we realize we have the courage and ability to be true to who we are, to what God naturally made us to be.
This article was adapted from an article in the Oct. 12, 2015, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.