I don’t know much about sports. I never have.

I was a fat, brainy, nerdy kid. Even today when I pick up a football to throw it, my guts get a twinge. What if it just wobbles through the air? Who is going to laugh? I’m so much older now, but the uneasiness of being a sports misfit still catches me. I laugh about it most of the time, but to be honest, there are “guy” things I wish I could fit into, but that’s not in my cards. That’s ok. Life is made up of many interests and sports just isn’t mine.

The insults the girls flung at me in middle school still sting. The memories themselves, even all these years later, still hurt. It must be what post-traumatic stress disorder is about; those feelings are relived again and again. The good news is that they don’t own me anymore, even if the wounds still ache when the weather is right.

The scars from those cuts never did heal right. It wasn’t only their words that cut me, though. Most of the time, their words only confirmed my own inner dialogue. Living in that fog of self-doubt and anxiety was exhausting, but it formed a funny kind of scar tissue. It built up pride.

I became hard-hearted, dismissive, and superior. I looked down on them, because I was so smart and so clever. Inside that hard shell, I was a sick little boy, practically begging for kindness. On the outside, I was just a prideful jerk.

Life has a funny way of teaching you things. I still struggle with self-doubt and it still causes me to be prideful. I still beg for tenderness, even when its easier to find in a family that loves me for who I am (sportsball knowledge notwithstanding).

Young man, your identity does not have to be in yourself. It doesn’t have to be built on their ugly words about you, or even your own ugly words about yourself. Your identity doesn’t have to be built on how smart you are or how strong or how tough. You’ll never be smart enough, strong enough, or tough enough. You’ll never be a good enough student or a good enough friend or player or man to build an identity on those things.

You don’t have what it takes. Your pride says otherwise, but you’re lying to yourself.

If you want an identity that doesn’t waver — one that doesn’t rely on how hard you try or how well you perform — you need to look to Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Find your identity in Christ, who is the only one who is worthy of it. He bought you with a price, and it was for your own good — and to His glory.

Young man, you and I will fail if we try to do this by ourselves. There’s already too much guilt and shame and pride and anger burning up inside of us.

Turning to Christ and giving ourselves over to him isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. We’ll work our whole lives to serve him the way we would like to, and still fall short. But that’s OK. He gives of himself so that even our bumbling and mistakes somehow give him glory. He’s kind like that.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

You want to be the master of your own destiny. You want all that practice and hard work to matter; you want to build your own identity. The work does matter, but it will never make for a good enough identity. It will never satisfy you. It will never satisfy “them.”

Don’t settle for it. Give yourself over to God. He is the rock of redemption and the spring of living water. He is the merciful Father who offers salvation, and hope.

And, unlike you and I and our vain striving and prideful hearts, he cannot be shaken.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28

Take his grace. Give yourself some breathing room. Let him carry the load.

The rest will come in time. The wounds may never heal, but they’ll change. They’ll stop aching and they’ll start doing a different work. They’ll remind you of why you had to give up and they’ll remind you of the God who takes you in spite of your wounds and gives you something better.

That’s the advice of a fat kid who always felt left out and never did feel good enough about himself. It’s the advice of a grown man, now, that’s been forgiven and who has found out that all the pride in the world won’t build a house that lasts.

Only Jesus does that.