sarah + mcdugal + coach + pray + abuse + abusive + abused + relationship + controlling + control + solidarity

God Wants You to Keep Your Identity

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So you’re dating this guy, and you’re getting along like a house on fire. Then one day you turn on some music, and he starts to sulk. 

“What’s wrong?” you ask, instantly running a mental check to see if you’ve done anything to hurt him or cause a rift.

“I guess I just thought we would like the same kind of music,” he shrugs. “I assumed you liked quality music like I do, not this… what do you call this?”

Affronted, you aren’t sure whether to push back or apologize.

Do you change the playlist?
Do you explain why you love this song?

You settle for reconnaissance instead. Maybe he doesn’t realize quite how he comes across. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way. 

“Who’s your favorite artist?” you ask. “I bet we can find some songs we both like!” 

For the next ten minutes he shares enthusiastically about his favorite pieces, favorite composers, and also fills you in on several reasons why he thinks they’re really great. 

That night, as you drift off to sleep, your mind churns through the encounter and you’re wondering why you feel unsettled. It’s just music, after all. It’s not a big deal. He’s obviously really passionate about this subject, and part of getting to know someone is discovering their passions, right? You shake it off, and go to sleep. 

But it’s just the beginning. 

A few weeks later, he’s at your house this time, and you turn on some other favorites. Conversation keeps flowing, and then turns to the music again. “I know you like this genre,” he says, “but I’d never listen to this in my house. I only listen to classical and hymns. Haven’t you read the studies about how any other type of music can negatively affect your brain?”

“Well, I’ve read some of those, yes…” you stammer. “This is just folk music though. Would you like me to find some Bach?”

“Great,” he responds. “Actually, next time, I’ll bring some of my music. I’m sure you’ll like it better. You’ll feel better when you listen to it, too. Not like you feel when you hear this stuff. Besides, it’s so much nicer to experience amazing music together. The shared enjoyment makes it even more beautiful!”

It Has To Go Both Ways

Awwww, you think to yourself. He wants to share his music with me and experience it together! He’s so sweet! Stars are dancing in your eyes, telling you to ignore the little flutters in your stomach that mean you’re now hesitant to say anything about what you like, because it probably won’t meet his approval.

Congratulations. You’ve just taken the first step in surrendering a little piece of your identity, letting go of the beautiful uniqueness of who God created you to be. 

sarah + mcdugal + coach + pray + abuse + abusive + abused + relationship + controlling + control + identity

Everything else though, still seems amazing.
You both love God.
You share similar ministry goals.
You both enjoy deep conversations and prayer time and community activities.
Your goals and aims in life are well-aligned…
…minus that pesky ongoing issue of divergent musical preferences. 

At some point, it becomes an all-out argument. You aren’t really so far off in your convictions, they just don’t happen to be identical, and you start to feel like maybe something deeper is going on here. 

“Can’t you just respect that we have different tastes?” you ask one day. “Why do we have to like exactly the same stuff? We have so many other, bigger things in common, can’t I just be free to like my own music?”

“Well,” he says, “of course you can, but that probably means we aren’t going to be compatible in the long-term. I mean, experiencing things together is really important to me. It makes me feel loved and valued when we share something together. So if you’re off enjoying your own music, I will feel lonely.” 

Awwwwww! He wants to experience everything WITH me! And I wouldn’t want him to believe we’re incompatible over something as silly as music. I don’t want him to feel lonely, either. That would make me a pretty horrible girlfriend.

You feel treasured for a fleeting moment. 

The Diminishing Begins

Except, wait… if shared identity is so important to him, why can’t he join the experience of you loving your music? Why can it only be his music the two of you share?

“Because my choices in music are better for your brain,” he answers confidently. “I did the research. And since then, I only listen to the best music, at optimal volume, during ideal times of day, on low-EMF speakers of course — to avoid any brain radiation! I really want you to share the experience with me!” 

“Whoa, wait a second,” you push back on this. “Now you’re telling me I can only listen to your favorite music, and I can only play it just so loud, on specific sound systems, and at certain times of the day? What on earth?!” 

“But I’ve thoroughly researched it!” he’s getting irritated. “It’s significantly better for you this way! Why are you being so resistant to doing what’s best for your brain? You must not truly value spirituality and godliness as much as you say you do. I don’t know if I can be with someone who doesn’t care about being a good steward of their brain.”

“You know what,” you try to calm him down. “Can we just turn off the music and talk about it another time? Maybe we’re saying the same thing and we just aren’t understanding each other very well.”

He agrees. 

You shut off the music. 

There’s silence for a few moments. Then you brightly suggest playing a game, or reading that book you’ve been talking about together? He says he’d rather go for a walk, so you put on your shoes instead. Anything to break the tension. 

Besides, it really is just music. Surely you can agree to disagree without it being a dealbreaker.

The next time he plans to come over, you find yourself glancing out the window to check for his car. When he pulls up, you grab your phone and pause your playlist. This time, you’re just going to skip the whole argument by listening to nothing at all. 

Better, right?

Weeks pass… The music issue disappears, mostly because you never turn on your playlists when he’s around. It’s a small sacrifice to just let him be the DJ, since it’s so important to him. 

Music used to be important to you too, but you prefer harmony over control, so you find yourself going along with his research, even when you feel like you’ve lost the freedom to choose anything for yourself. 

Until one day, when you’re meeting up with some old friends. You’re excited for them to meet your guy, right up until he starts planning what music to play. 

“Oh, I already did a playlist for tonight,” you say. “Songs I know they love, memories from times we used to spend together.” 

He’s not thrilled. 

“You mean, they’ve never done the research on what non-classical music does to your brain?” he acts shocked. “How can these people even be friends of yours if they don’t know basic vital facts about the effects of music?”

“Because not everybody feels like you do,” you’re getting frustrated. “Not everybody chooses the same exact thing as you. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Some people like folk music, or praise music, or other equally appropriate genres — and it’s not acceptable for you to force your ideas on everyone else all the time!”

“I’ll tell you what,” he compromises. “How about we do a playlist with some of both. I’ll add a few better quality songs to the ones you planned, and it’ll be better.” There’s not much left to say, and you still don’t understand why everybody can’t just enjoy their own music, but you’re too weary to fight over it, so you acquiesce. 

Later, you’re all relaxing together when an old favorite comes on. You and your friends jump to your feet and start twirling around the room, caught up in old memories and playful enthusiasm. He stands up suddenly and you stop mid-twirl, feeling instantly and utterly judged. 

“I thought we agreed the other music was better for us,” he says quietly. “I chose better songs especially for you, and it hurts my feelings when you enjoy other music instead of what I picked out for you. I’m just trying to be a good leader in our relationship… You know, part of why I’m so strict on this for us, is because I actually do like folk music better than classical. But since the research says classical is best for the human brain, it’s important for me to stick with it. So you see, if you listen to other music then I might be tempted to listen to it too. You need to keep me strong by avoiding it with me.”

At this point, you’re really not sure what to say. You partly feel like somehow you’ve betrayed him on a foundational point of importance. But then there’s this other part of your mind screaming, it’s just music! And it’s not even “bad” music. It’s just a little bit different from his personal preference. 

The thing is, you like classical music. And you love hymns. Quite a lot, actually.

In fact, you wouldn’t mind listening to them more. It’s not his tastes you object to, it’s the way he feels entitled to control your tastes in return. It feels like your identity is being peeled away, layer by covertly controlling layer. 

Is Shared Identity the Goal?

You’re struggling with the premise that you aren’t capable of choosing for yourself. You’re not allowed to have your own favorites, to be your own person, to operate in your own identity. Somehow the idea of solidarity and shared experiences seems to only apply if it is spinning on his axis. His preferences. His likes and dislikes.

sarah + mcdugal + coach + pray + abuse + abusive + abused + relationship + controlling + control + identity

When you express identity differences from his, he implies he can’t stay with you because, despite your shared goals and dreams and desires to serve Jesus — you’re just “not alike enough”. It feels like the only level of compatibility he will accept is total sameness. Which leaves you feeling obligated to become someone you’re not, even on peripheral issues, because there’s a void of mutual respect and healthy individual freedom. 

And yet, he also says wonderful encouraging things like “I just want you to be yourself! How could you ever be with someone if you didn’t feel free to be who you really are?!”

Your confusion grows. 

Where does shared preference rank among the primary goals of a healthy relationship? What about other important things like shared purpose, emotional maturity, mutual respect, tenderhearted love, and free choice? 

Common ground is a wonderful and desirable relational state. 

In a thriving, mutually respectful relationship — similarity is the glue bonding two people together in shared purpose, built around living a service-driven life with Christ at the center. It’s what keeps two people working faithfully alongside each other even when the going gets tough. 

Gary Thomas writes about the solidarity of mutual purpose. “Marriages without a [shared] magnificent obsession are racing toward boredom. … A successful marriage is not only supported by a kingdom pursuit, but in many ways the pursuit is a prerequisite for post-infatuation intimacy.” (1)

Agreement on key issues is a core foundation of healthy relationships. Things like understanding the gospel, showing empathy to others, compatible worldview and healthy conflict resolution skills.

“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3) 

Of course not, because if you’re not headed in the same direction, then you’re not actually walking together at all. And if you’re headed the same direction but arguing the entire time, then there might be some serious issues with trust and respect. 

We all love connecting with someone who thinks and talks and laughs like us. It feels good to be reminded that other people there get what makes us tick. But did God intend shared experience and mirrored preference to be a primary goal? Or is it more likely to be a tactic for one person or the other to exploit control?

Idolatry Breeds Contempt

Go back with me to the Garden
Eve was deceived. She ate the fruit. And then, in a misplaced hunger to share, she took the forbidden fruit to Adam so he could taste it too. At this point, Adam could have chosen to obey God alone. 

He wasn’t deceived.
He knew it was forbidden.
He saw what was at stake.
But it didn’t matter. 

When he looked at Eve and thought of staying in the Garden alone — his fear of loss prompted him to choose solidarity over obedience. 

In doing so, Adam placed Eve on the throne of his heart. 

He no longer loved her purely, as God designed him to do. Adam now idolized her above obedience to the Divine command. In those moments, he worshipped Eve instead of God. (1)

But his adoring idolatry didn’t last long. 

His misplaced value of being the same as Eve promptly turned to contempt, just as soon as God called their names in the twilight. 

In the world’s first act of domestic abuse, Adam reacted to his own guilty conscience by projecting the blame onto Eve and by default, onto God. “It was the woman You gave me!” (Genesis 3:12) 

It’s actually your fault God, because you made her, and I couldn’t resist her, and so I can’t be held responsible. 

And yet, all of Scripture refers to this moment as the sin of Adam (not Eve), placing the responsibility for his knowing and calculated choice to disobey God squarely on his own shoulders for all of time. 

Adam would have liked to place blame anywhere else. But who was really at fault? “Surely not the Creator, for man must be free or never happy for happiness can spring alone from free unconstrained choice, and where choice is, there is freedom.”

The Pursuit of Sameness Brings Fear

Since that moment in the Garden, humans have in one way or another, idolized our own preferences, sought to control every situation, and attempted to shift blame away from themselves. The peace and harmony once existing between Adam and Eve before sin is forever shadowed by fear — just as Adam felt when he realized Eve had tasted the fruit.

Fear of loss.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of abandonment.
Fear of loneliness.
Fear of failure.

But God doesn’t want us to be afraid. His “perfect love casts out all fear”. (1 John 4:18) Jesus offers total freedom from fear through His “love, power, and sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

When we chase sameness with anyone but Jesus, we end up living in fear. 

The primary goal in a relationship is not to become a mirror of other people, although shared experience can be a beautiful by-product of a joyful bond. But the primary focus of healthy solidarity is to share the experience of transformational connection with Jesus. The biblical goal is to come close to Jesus and follow Him, regardless of what anyone else is doing. 

When another person is pursuing Jesus and you find yourself on a shared path, you develop a three-way solidarity. The more you each pursue Christ, the closer you will be drawn to each other. This is the goal of a spiritually and emotionally healthy relationship — to share mutual and edifying experiences in the service and pursuit of Christ. 

sarah + mcdugal + coach + pray + abuse + abusive + abused + relationship + controlling + control + identity + intimacy triangle 

Compatible vision, mission, purpose, and goals are essential in any successful marriage, lasting relationship, or even just a vibrant friendship. But these can never be successfully achieved by trying to change the other person or control them. 

What about having the same likes and dislikes, you ask? Isn’t that important? 

Of course it’s easier to share a life with someone when there’s plenty of common ground. And yet, just like God never slapped the fruit out of Eve’s hands — Christlike love never seeks to control another person. That sacred gift of individual identity applies equally to both men and women.

“A woman that will submit to be ever dictated to in the smallest matters of domestic life, who will yield up her identity, will never be of much use or blessing in the world, and will not answer the purpose of God in her existence. … God has given each one, men and women, an identity, an individuality, that they must act in the fear of God for themselves.” (3)

It doesn’t mean two people who love each other shouldn’t desire to please and serve and edify each other. When either person in a relationship insists on the other person being just like them, or meeting their exact standards, that’s idolatry. They’re not worshipping the God who created diverse humanity, they’re worshipping their own preferences. Or their own idealized illusions.

The magnificence of shared purpose should never be confused with the bondage one person dictating shared preferences or shared perspectives.

Growth and improvement are important aspects of a spiritually bonded relationship, but they must never be approached without kindness, respect, free will, and each person being convinced in their own mind without outside control. (Romans 14:5) 

What About Your Free Will?

Only one power in the Universe seeks to control and manipulate the mind and conscience of others rather than living according to the mandates of their own conscience — and that power is Lucifer. 

“God might have created man without the power to transgress His law; He might have withheld the hand of Adam from touching the forbidden fruit; but in that case man would have been, not a free moral agent, but a mere automaton. Without freedom of choice, his obedience would not have been voluntary, but forced. There could have been no development of character. Such a course would have been contrary to God’s plan in dealing with the inhabitants of other worlds. It would have been unworthy of man as an intelligent being, and would have sustained Satan’s charge of God’s arbitrary rule.” (4)

Just how strongly does God feel about extending total freedom to humanity? He would rather risk losing His own Son than violate the divine law of free choice. 

Only Lucifer controls.
Only Lucifer dominates.
Only Lucifer blames, manipulates, pressures, cajoles. 

Jesus? Never. 

Jesus wants no love from us unless it is freely given. No worship that is not freely offered. No gift that is not freely sacrificed. Anything else is coercion, and coercion is the playground of Lucifer.

“God will win you to His heart with love, or not at all.” — Ty Gibson

Does that mean, in our human interactions with each other, that we should not hold each other accountable? Seek improvement? Enrich each other with edification?

Of course not. 

It does mean that shared experience for its own sake, the pursuit of being similar, cannot result in freewill love or emotional safety. Instead, the pursuit of alikeness becomes toxic, controlling, distrustful. It leads to loss of identity and autonomy — and ultimately to the idolization of shared experience over obeying God. 

Breaking Your Identity Apart

When we try to achieve sameness instead of oneness, we end up drained and weary. For the one who seeks to control, it becomes exhausting to work with anyone different from ourselves because we feel constantly obligated to change them into versions of us, so we gravitate toward people who mirror our preferences because they’re less work. If you’re the one being pressured to conform, you will end up being systematically disassembled and broken apart.

Both mindsets lose sight of the richness of Christ’s creative beauty showcased in our variety. It means we overlook the treasure of character development and diversity of experience that results from respecting how God created other people in other ways.

sarah + mcdugal + coach + pray + abuse + abusive + abused + relationship + controlling + control + identity

Writing to young women who might feel pressured to let go of their autonomy in their quest for love, one progressive 19th century female writer  advised: “Will she be allowed to preserve her individuality, or must her judgment and conscience be surrendered to the control of her husband? … These questions have a vital bearing upon the well-being of every woman who enters the marriage relation.” (5)

Just as Adam idolized Eve when he chose shared experience over obedience, so the goal of human sameness becomes idol worship, taking the place of conscientious self-governance and radical fearless surrender to God. It gives others an unhealthy power over us, making us susceptible to crippling fear of their rejection or abandonment. That’s why Adam’s idolatrous act of joining Eve in eating the fruit, turned to blame for her failure to not tempt him. 

God doesn’t want us to live in fear, but we often choose the comfort zone of fear and control over faith. When we don’t fully trust God to give us the power to follow our conscience independently of those around us, we resort to controlling those around us to make our environment feel less threatening to our conscience. 

Curiously, it seems easier to try and control other people, than to simply control oneself.

Dictating the parameters of our environment, rather than quietly and securely following our own conscience and letting our example do the preaching, means we might be less tempted to do wrong — but we also will drive away those we might influence. Too often we sacrifice true love and closeness on the altar of superficial connection.

And then we wonder why we ache with emptiness and isolation.

Intimacy’s Cheap Substitute

When we fear to stand alone, we are actually fearing to trust God with our decisions. We are afraid of feeling alone if no one else chooses the right thing along with us. But what if Daniel had waited for someone to join him in daily prayer because he didn’t want to risk being alone in the lion’s den? He didn’t need affirmation from those around him, because solidarity with Jesus was sufficient. His own clean conscience was enough. 

Surface solidarity chases uniformity instead of offering respect and freedom for individual conscience. Intimacy is found in the meeting of minds and hearts through shared purpose and compatible uniqueness, not through becoming identical.

Uniformity is a cheap counterfeit of true, intimate, authentic solidarity. When solidarity is defined as uniformity in experiential reality, it becomes toxic. Since no two people are alike, we can have no true solidarity without admission of, and respect for, diversity. 

To demand anything else is to act in direct contradiction of God’s character.

“You belong to God, soul, body, and spirit. Your mind belongs to God, and your talents belong to Him also. No one has a right to control another’s mind and judge for another, prescribing what is his duty. There are certain rights that belong to every individual in doing God’s service. No man has any more liberty to take these rights from us than to take life itself.

“God has given us freedom to think, and it is our privilege to follow our impressions of duty. We are only human beings, and one human being has no jurisdiction over the conscience of another human being.… Each one of us has an individuality and identity that cannot be surrendered to any other human being. We are individually the workmanship of God.” (6)


(1) Gary Thomas. A LifeLong Love, pp 28, 86
(2) The Advent Herald, and Signs of the Times Reporter [Himes], vol. 7 April 3, 1844, page 67 par. 1
Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 25 (1885)
(4) E White. Patriarchs and Prophets 49.1
(5) Testimonies for the Church 5:362 (1885)
(6) E White. — Letter 92, 1895. 

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