His story was one of perseverance and hard work. Even though I was just a little girl, I got that. I didn’t have a single athletic bone in my body. But I still wanted to be a champion — at something. And Jenner inspired this impressionable seven-year-old — in the same way that Mary Lou Retton inspired me to want to be a gymnast a few years later.
This week, when I saw Caitlyn Jenner’s face on the Vanity Fair cover, I felt compassion and sadness. For a variety of reasons. Compassion for the torment he’d been in for much of his life. Sad because I want him to embrace true liberation — not a hollow substitute.
My children are teenagers. They are well aware of the Vanity Fair cover. We’ve had conversations about it. At some point, I realized that the things I want them to know are things that I’ve been telling them their entire lives. They are truths that transcend the transgender issue. They extend far beyond the Caitlyn Jenner story. They apply to all of us:
1.) Compassion should be our first response. Whenever we’re confronted with those who are struggling and in need, it gives us in opportunity to be Jesus to them. Love and compassion is what opens the door to dialogue and relationship. And when we’re in relationship with someone, we can speak truth into their lives.
In fact, speaking truth — genuinely and gently — is one of the most compassionate things we can do for for each other. Even when it’s unwelcome or hard to hear. Because Truth is what sets us free. First and foremost, the Truth of the freedom we find in Jesus Christ:
… The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4
Beyond that, we can speak the Truth of God’s principles. They are never to restrict us, but to protect us and give us true peace, joy and freedom. As our Creator, God made the blueprint. Following Him and His plan is rarely easy, but it is always to our ultimate benefit. As Christians, we can be as vulnerable as anyone to looking to the world’s solutions for our problems (I’m raising both hands here — totally guilty). We have to keep pointing each other back to Jesus.
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2.) Struggle and brokenness is part of the human condition. It’s our response that makes all the difference. God gave us free will. He wanted us to be in relationship with Him because we chose to, not because He forced us. From the moment Eve took a bite of that apple, we began to rebel against His authority and look for God substitutes. Sin entered the world– and, along with it, disease, sickness, dysfunction and brokenness.
I’m not saying that all struggles are equally challenging or heart wrenching. But I do know this: God is equally available and able to meet each of us in the midst of them. In my own ongoing struggles with anxiety, insecurity and chronic illness — mine and my son’s — I have found He is there.
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. Psalm 9:9-10
We live in a world that seeks to be “pain-free” and quickly solve every problem. Our human nature craves a comfortable, problem-free existence. When sin entered the world, sexuality — as well as everything God designed — became distorted and confused. On our own, we will never be able to fix it, no matter how hard we try. Working against His plan and design always ultimately ends badly. Utopia will never exist this side of heaven.
Our struggle is what brings us closer to Him. I don’t completely understand God’s ways. But I trust Him. Sometimes God completely relieves our struggles. Sometimes He has a greater purpose in allowing them to continue — but He never leaves us to do it alone. He is always willing and able to give us the the power we need to persevere through them. Peace and freedom can be found in the midst of the struggle.
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33
3.) When our identity is rooted in God, it can never change. Before we come to know Christ as Savior, we all experience an identity crisis. We base our identify on the shaky, dangerous ground of people’s opinions of us, our circumstances, our performance, our sexuality, among other things. We look to them to define us and give us worth. As Christians, we are often guilty of the same thing.
However, when we know Christ, our identity is secure, eternal and unchanging — whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
I don’t know if Bruce Jenner is a Christian. Regardless of whether he is or he isn’t, he faces the same choice that we all do — to accept or reject our true identity:
Child of God. Loved and known by our Creator. Valuable beyond measure.
It is in that identity that he will find true freedom. It’s where it’s found for all of us.