Who you are determines what you do. But so many times we view it backwards—what we do and what others say about or do to us determines who we are. At birth we have about 2500 synapses per neuron in the cerebral cortex—which plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. A few years later there are about 15,000 synapses per neuron. As we age, these growing synapses are pruned—eliminating weak connections and preserving stronger ones. In essence, our brains are literally molded by our experiences and are capable of change throughout our lives. It makes sense why name-calling, rejection, abuse, alienation, and a host of other painful events sear negative data onto the synapses of our brains. Yes, the molding capability that experiences have on our clay-like brains can be detrimental. But the good news is, our brains are ever changing, and with new experiences our synapses change and get pruned. (What great evidence of God’s power to renew our minds in biology!)
What happens to us informs who we are (although, we often allow circumstances to dictate who we are). I can’t tell you that life events—painful or joyful—won’t impact your identity, because they do. Sexual abuse, peer alienation, a distant father, spending a summer in amazing Utah, and receiving several accolades for vocal performance have all informed who I am today. I’d look a bit different if none of these occurrences had happened. I’d relate to and sympathize with others differently, and my perception of the world would vary slightly. But, though my life experience has informed who I am, it does not dictate my identity.
I stayed away from deep connection for several years. Sometimes I wondered how I had any friendships at all. I didn’t trust people and I thought I was equivalent to waste—only meant for a garbage heap. I called myself worthless, so why would I pursue relationship I didn’t deserve? I called myself effeminate, so why would I even attempt to try “manly” things? I called myself insecure, so why would I take risk at all? These were all names I called myself based on a build up of embedded negative data in my brain from all the painful experiences that hurt me. The synapses grew stronger and stronger, and I gave in to believing nothing could change. I called myself unchangeable and continued on with the same old broken experiences, constantly molding my brain into its same old defeated self.
One day I realized my “brain talk” wasn’t doing much of anything for me except keeping me on the outside of life, looking in. Something had to change. Then, I heard God tell me who I was. I was His, a saint, beloved, a member of the royal priesthood. I wasn’t a particle in the garbage heap; I was an adopted prince of the Most High King! The Gardener took my brain into surgery and began pruning away at the thick and dense synapses of those negative experiences that commanded my life for so many years. I learned I could be an active agent in changing the way I thought through Christ’s power. The “doings” of my life—all the failed attempts at victory, all the embarrassing things I did, the shame I carried around—they weren’t my identity. I did those things because, in my mind, who I was had been decreed for so long by others and the pain of my childhood.
Now my Creator tells me who I am, and that informs what I do. Over the past several years I’ve been active in molding my brain and its “talk” to me. I experienced sports with other guys; I delved into relationship (frightened at first) with no holds barred; I allowed people in to know the real me. I did “manly” things I thought were impossible because I was effeminate. Those positive experiences, some scary no doubt, changed the synapses. The grace of Christ and His steadfast love for me changed my thinking. He didn’t give up and hasn’t given up on pruning those false identities that caked mud over my true, beautiful, strong, and masculine self.
Are you allowing the muck of your past, the hurt from others, and the painful experiences of years ago to dictate your identity? Are the synapses in your brain the impenetrable false identities you’ve projected upon yourself because of the mire this world has thrown at you? Find joy in knowing that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Our brains are capable of changing through our lives. Through our experiences and God’s transformational love our brains are rewired—renewed.
Does your brain need a rewiring today? Pursue experiences you’ve shunned out of fear and negative self-talk. The only way to freedom is by relinquishing control. Take risk and free your mind to be pliable. You can change the way you think. Embrace the true identity Christ has given you through His sacrifice. If you are His, yet living under old and damaging identities, you are in bondage and limiting the power of Christ through you. You are not your past, and you are not your shame. You aren’t the names that other imperfect people have given you. Allow the One who made you, knows everything about you, and who loves you unconditionally, name you. As Romans 12:2 states, “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
There are still some synapses in my brain that need pruning. I’ve had 22 years of data dictating my life versus four years of allowing God to name my life. The negative residue may always be there. We just have to remember when those old synapses start firing out those false identities, all we have to do is say, “Brain, don’t talk like that! This is who you are: beloved, the righteousness of Christ, free, a saint, a member of the royal priesthood, forgiven, and cleared of all charges!”
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8