Although I grew up in a home where my parents affirmed me and taught me what it means to have God-confidence, I wrestled with deep-seated insecurity.
As a third-culture kid who was half-American and half-Chinese but living in the Philippines, I didn’t quite feel like I fit in, racially speaking, anywhere. I was too Asian looking to be called American, and I was too foreign looking to be called Filipino. A street kid once yelled into our car window, “Pekeng kano (fake American)!”, and it actually troubled me.
When I got older, I entertained thoughts such as, Dad is prouder of my siblings more than he is of me because they are smarter, more accomplished, and less “sinful.” Although my parents always assured each one of us that we were equally loved, I compared myself to my brothers and sisters.
Since childhood I also struggled with body insecurities, which plague me to this very day. Anytime I weigh myself and see that I’m more than 118 pounds, I panic and feel like I’m fat and should punish myself by eating less or exercising. Since I have never been completely happy with how my body looks, I sometimes think of a hundred things I wish I could change.
Furthermore, I continue to have skin that is prone to break outs, which began in my teens, and blemishes tend to steal my peace as well. (How ironic that I became an endorser for Cetaphil! That’s God’s grace. Their products have helped me a lot.)
Edric, on the other hand, has smaller pores than I do. He doesn’t have skin problems which sometimes makes me so envious. About ten years ago he had a mole on his face that kept growing and I was really concerned about it, so I suggested that he get it checked. Since he wasn’t the kind of guy who fussed over his skin, he ignored it. Miraculously, the mole fell off! No scar. Nothing. Like the mole was never there. I thought, Wow, that’s not fair. Lord, how come he’s the guy in our marriage and he has the nicer skin. Why not me?!
One of the more serious symptoms of my insecurity was seeking the approval of people. For example, as an eight year old child, I wanted all my classmates to like me so I lied about having a variety of animals in our house. I made it sound like we had a zoo! Unfortunately this bloated narrative prevented me from inviting my classmates over because no such zoo existed in our home. Thank God my parents homeschooled me the year after so I never had to show proof of this zoo!
When it came to friends, I got into drinking just to feel like I belonged. While drinking isn’t wrong per se, it was my motivations for doing it. One year I went on a long trip to Europe with some of my girl friends and almost every night we would go to clubs. Though wildly fun, I never felt at peace each morning after.
At one point, we were hanging out with all kinds of guys and the guys would flirt with us, and one of the guys asked if he could take me home to his place. I knew what this meant, and I told him, “No, I’m not interested.”
After rejecting his proposal, he made me feel like a loser for turning him down. This was one of the moments that got me thinking, If I continue down this path, if I do things to earn people’s favor because I want them to think I’m cool or fun then I’m going to destroy my life. Furthermore, and most importantly, I called myself a Christian, yet I didn’t honor Christ with my life. Plus, behind the exterior of my good girl façade, I knew there was something spiritually wrong with me.
Because I was always looking for affirmation, this carried over into the way I related with guys. I liked the attention I received from guys. It made me feel important and special, and I attached my self-worth to this.
So in high school I dated a guy who was popular, athletic, intelligent, and funny, even if my parents discouraged me from doing so. Our relationship became very physical. I let him manipulate me emotionally. If I wasn’t physical with him, he would ignore me, give me a hard time, or make me feel guilty, like I was a bad person. I allowed myself be treated this way for at least two years. After we broke up, he visited from the U.S. a couple of times and our encounters would turn physical again.
Ultimately, it was my choice to do the things I did because I desired my boyfriend’s approval more than obeying God. So I compromised to keep him interested in me, even if it was a very unhealthy relationship.
I struggled with purity again when I got into my second serious relationship. This time it was with Edric in college. However, this time I wasn’t forced into it. I willingly committed immorality and at times, initiated it. Although Edric and I didn’t have actual intercourse, the Holy Spirit kept convicting us of our sin. Both of us knew we weren’t pleasing God.
Due to the series of unwise and sinful choices I made, I felt like a spiritually broken person after my college years. The disconnect between my private life and whom I claimed to be, bred fear and robbed me of peace. I didn’t want my parents, family, or friends to know my secret sins, so I hid for many years, by avoiding conversations about my relationships, or I lied to preserve my image. But this charade grew tiring, even for Edric. We could no longer stomach the spiritual fatigue of a sin-confess-sin-confess lifestyle. In order to honor God and seek after His will for us, we finally broke off our relationship two years into it.
When a friend of our family approached my mom and said, “I had a dream about your kids, all of them had a candle, except for Joy,” I secretly panicked. Deep down I knew that having NO candle basically meant that I had not been a light for Christ. So I wanted to change, but I felt like such a failure.
Still battling this demon of insecurity, another unhealthy perspective began to surface in my life – that I was the worst of the “Tan-Chi” kids. My siblings were all better than me. I would never be as good as they were. They qualified as blessed but not me. Once again, it was all about comparing myself to others. So, I had to come to a point in my life where I saw myself as God saw me, not as I saw myself in comparison with others, or how I felt others saw me.
First, I was a sinner. There was nothing good in me apart from Him. But He loved me and died for me. Even if I had made the mistakes I had as a professed follower of Christ, even if I had been so displeasing to Him, He would love me still and He would forgive me if I truly repented. So my sense of security wasn’t in what I could do to perform or earn back God’s love, God’s grace. It was in what Jesus had done for me. I felt like the prodigal coming back to Him. But dealing with my wrong thinking was a process for me.
Second, I had to remember that I was a child of God, therefore my purpose was to represent Him, glorify Him, and lead others to Him. After Edric and I broke up, I recognized how directionless my my life was. My choices revolved around what made me feel good about myself, what made me feel significant or important.
Therefore, it was time to make my own decision to follow God, not based on my family’s convictions, but my own. I had to accept God’s plan and purpose for my life– whom He created me to be and what He created me for. This conviction had to be birthed out of a true understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Although I had been raised in a Christian home, did I really believe that following Christ was the best life to live? Did I really believe that I was set apart as 1 Peter 2:9 says? “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God for He called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
Today, I still struggle with my insecurities. At the root of it is pride, being self-focused. I once told someone, I think the struggles that we have as children, the weaknesses and character flaws that we dealt with when we were kids will continue to be the things we wrestle with even into our adulthood. Therefore, we have to remain dependent on the Holy Spirit to be victorious until God calls us home.
More recently, when I married my husband, Edric, my insecurities revolved around money. I knew that we weren’t starting off with a lot of money. As a starry-eyed bride caught up in the romance of our relationship, I wasn’t that worried. Maybe we wouldn’t be rich but I was certain we would have enough.
Well, reality set in within the first year of our marriage. It wasn’t easy having just enough. Admittedly, coming from a family with means felt like a big contrast to what we had. Enough didn’t quite feel enough. I couldn’t travel. I had to stick to a tight budget. Even if I didn’t grow up seeing my parents spend on luxury goods because that wasn’t a value of theirs, we lived very comfortably because my dad was a successful businessman.
When I compared my state in life to my siblings and parents, jealousy and disappointment would settle in. Not having a lot of money actually made me feel insecure once again.
God had to remind me repeatedly, I am your provider. I will take care of you and Edric, your family. You focus on honoring me and obeying me.
After nearly sixteen years of marriage, I have seen his faithfulness in the area of provision.
Yet it’s no surprise that to this very day, I have to combat insecurity. Here are some practical measures that help me to embrace my identity in Christ and focus on living for Him:
Confess my struggle. When comparing, jealousy, approval-seeking, and fear of people begin to take root in my heart, I have to weed these out by coming before the Lord and admitting my weakness and negative thinking. Then I ask for His forgiveness, for my mind to be renewed.
“if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Ephesians 4:21-24
Detox from social media and other media. I intentionally avoid looking at things that fill my heart with discontent, that put in my heart an appetite for pursuits that aren’t aligned with God’s will for me. This past Holy Week, I took a break from checking social media. How liberating it was to leave my Instagram and Facebook accounts alone!
Be grateful. “Thank you, Lord, for who I am, whom you made me to be, for the life you have given to me, and for empowering me to do the things you want me to.”
Someone once told me, “God has given you everything you need to do what He wants you to.”
I’ve never forgotten that statement. The family I was born in to, my genetics, racial background, appearance, resources, the talents and abilities that God has given me, as well as my inabilities, are everything I need to fulfill His calling and plan for my life. Most important of all, I have the Holy Spirit to empower me. As Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Look to the needs of those around me, instead of focusing on myself. How can I be a blessing to others? How can I be a messenger of the gospel? How can I point people to Christ?
My mom has often encouraged me, “When you are with others, think of how you can bless them, how you can reach out to them.”
It’s a great cure for self-centeredness!
Evaluate my choices and motives by asking the questions, Am I doing this for God’s glory or for my own glory? Is there anything I am doing that is dishonoring to God’s name?
For example, whenever I read negative comments from readers that target me personally, I have to think through how I will respond because the tendency is to react and be defensive. Therefore I have to mentally review…Why am I doing what am I doing? Whom am I trying to draw attention to?
When I started this blog, my desire was to point people to Christ. So when people make an obvious attack on my biblical worldview, then I try not to take it personally. However, if it is an accusation that addresses a character issue I need to fix, then I have to apologize and change.
It’s very easy to be cruel and vengeful on social media or on the Internet, so I remind myself that I represent Christ. Everything I do online and offline has to glorify Him. My persona online has to be consistent with my identity in Christ. Whatever platform I use and whatever platform God has given to me, the intention must be to glorify God.
Maybe you grew up in a good Christian home like I did. You were exposed to ministry experiences where you saw your parents wholeheartedly serve God. Or maybe you witnessed hypocrisy, with your parents preaching and teaching one thing and modeling the opposite at home.
Whichever category you fall under, I hope you will understand that you and I can’t make our choice to follow God dependent on our parents’ faith. Their passion for the Lord isn’t a genetically inherited trait. And their lack of passion isn’t an excuse for us to deny who we are and what we were made for. Each one of us has to ask the question, “Who am I?”
Colossians 1:16 tells us, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
Every one of us was created by God and for Him. So it boils down to a personal decision – Will I embrace the identity that God made me to have? And will this identity define how I think, speak, and act? Or will I continue trying to find my identity apart from God?
As for those of you who are parents like me, let’s not give up praying for our kids and affirming who they are in Christ. Although our children are accountable to God to make their personal faith decisions, we are also accountable to do our part to raise our children to know, love, serve, and obey God.
My parents loved me unconditionally and walked along side me during my wayward years. They continued to pour into my heart and mind spiritual truth. Yet I am convinced that it was their faithful praying that saved me from the course I was on. By God’s grace, their prayers worked, too! There is hope in Christ!