• Chrissie Angell

Who I Am Not

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

A few weeks ago, I met a new group of women. I realized on my way home that when I introduced myself, I didn’t mention anything about singing or music. That might not sound like a big deal, but it was huge!

I started taking voice lessons at the age of twelve and sang anywhere and everywhere I could. I even majored in vocal music performance in college. When people asked me who I was, inevitably, I would say I was a singer.

Several years ago, the Holy Spirit guided me to pursue a master’s degree in music. It was the first time I had experienced His direction so clearly; I had no doubt the Lord was directing my steps to go back to school. Because He was so clear, I obeyed with all my heart! Two semesters into the program, my voice stopped working correctly. No matter how I altered my technique, I could not control certain aspects of my voice. I prayed fervently, asking the Lord to heal my voice, but it didn’t happen. I was devastated.

It was confusing. Why would God lead me to pursue another degree in vocal music only to allow my voice to stop working? It didn’t make sense. I was crushed.

About halfway through the program, I began to sense the Holy Spirit telling me that getting the degree wasn’t why He led me down that path which seemed bizarre. I was only pursuing that degree because He had led me there. I was perplexed.

As I prayed about my vocal issues and the degree, the Lord reminded me of my first big life dream—to serve Him. I remembered that when I was younger, serving Him was all I really wanted.

But, during several painful years of teenage heartache, I turned to singing for comfort and strength. Because while I couldn’t control my circumstances, I could control my voice and my effort to refine that skill. Sadly, music began to hinder my ability to fulfill my first dream of serving Jesus with all my heart.

Singing was a good thing; I even used it to serve in church. So, what was the problem?

The problem was that singing became more than something I did; it became my identity. I was a singer.

There are lots of things we “are” in life, right? We say I’m a _________ in reference to our job. We call ourselves sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and co-workers. Those are all excellent things. We identify with the things we do—our hobbies and acts of service. Again, good things.

But there is a danger in identifying with roles we have or activities we do. When we begin to take on identities based on those things, we can lose sight of who we truly are. That impacts our ability to have a meaningful relationship with Jesus, preventing us from genuinely following Him.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV)

Luke 9:23 is clear, to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. But what exactly does that mean?

The Greek word used for deny in this verse is arneomai which means to “to deny one's self; to disregard his own interests or to prove false to himself.”[1] Simply put, the first step to following Jesus is to stop concentrating on ourselves and the things we want to do.

Using the term “I’m a _________” to help describe who we are is not wrong in itself. Our activities and roles are pieces of our lives that define, in part, how we are known. The problem occurs when any of those things become more important than Jesus.

Allowing singing to become my identity warped my view and took away from my relationship with the Lord. I’m not a singer; that is something I do or did. My true identity is being a follower of Christ.

When I started putting my hope and self-worth in singing instead of in Jesus, I became unbalanced. When, as a teenager, I leaned into my art instead of leaning into Jesus, I proclaimed my allegiance to myself and my accomplishments, to what I could do. I was clearly focusing on my own self-interests instead of Him.

We cannot follow Jesus if we’re focusing on something else. So, what do we do?

Jesus explained that we must “take up [our] cross (Luke 9:23).”

Does this mean we must die by crucifixion? Thankfully, no. Instead, this means we must crucify our self-interests. Our identity is to be found in Jesus, not in ourselves or our abilities, not in the things we do or the roles we fill. If we want to follow Jesus, He must become our identity. That is achieved only by removing anything that competes with Him.

When we realize we’re out of alignment, we would be wise to get rid of whatever is preventing us from following Jesus. If we don’t, He will.

Looking back, I can see that the Lord sent me to graduate school to root out of my heart what was preventing me from following Him.

God, in His infinite wisdom and love, used what I loved most to get my attention. He led me to a graduate program at a college that focused on Him. Then, He lovingly turned my heart back to Him by taking away what was taking His place in my heart. It was painful. It broke my heart. But through that brokenness, I realized that I did want to follow Jesus more than anything. Only then could I willingly lay down singing and choose Him.

Full transparency, every Sunday, I still feel a slight pang of sorrow that I’m not helping lead worship. Sometimes I’m frustrated that I still experience those feelings. I mean, if I willingly laid singing down, why do I miss it?

Luke 9:23 reminds us that we are to deny ourselves and lay down our crosses daily. Every day we must choose to prioritize Jesus above all else. It’s not something we do once and never again. Every day something is competing for His rightful place in our hearts. It might be the same thing repeatedly, or it might be different things in different seasons.

Friend, we cannot allow anything to take Jesus’ place in our hearts if we genuinely want to follow Him. He will not compete, and, frankly, He shouldn’t have to.

That means every day, we must ask ourselves: do I love something more than Jesus? If so, we need to refocus. If we can’t prioritize whatever that is beneath Him, it needs to go. It is not possible to follow Jesus while loving something more than Him.

I believe Jesus knew that I genuinely wanted to follow Him. In His divine wisdom and mercy, He took away my singing voice to refocus my heart on Him. I am so grateful he did! Though my voice is back, and I hope one day He’ll open the door for me to sing again, I can honestly say I would rather never sing again than have it separate me from Him.

As Christ once again became my focus, He has used me in ways that align with my original dream as a child—serving Him. What’s more, He has given me new dreams that are more fulfilling than anything I ever imagined because I get to walk them out alongside Him!

When we are genuinely following Jesus, He shines through us! When we crucify our self-interests, and our hearts align with His, we step into our true identity in Christ. He then gives us the desires of our hearts in ways we could never imagine by placing His dreams for our lives inside of us!

Friend, those are the dreams that bring true joy!

Who will you choose to follow today?

Loving Lord Jesus, I want to follow You alone! Please help me to deny my own self-interests. Help me take up the cross and crucify anything that would keep me from completely following You. I pray that You will be the genuine desire of my heart! In Your precious name, Amen.

Additional Scriptures:

Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV) “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Galatians 6:14 (ESV) “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

[1] Blueletterbible.com, s.v., “ἀρνέομαι,” accessed September 29, 2021, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G533&t=ESV .

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