There’s a reason many of us struggle to live in the freedom God promises us, says Nicki Copeland. She tells Amanda Pilz about the things many of us hide behind ...

It was on a church holiday around 10 years ago that God finally managed to get through to me. The theme for the week’s teaching was ‘authentic relationships’, and during one of the sessions my eyes were opened to the fact that my own relationships were really quite superficial. I realised how lonely I was, and I finally acknowledged how much I longed for ‘real’ relationships, to feel accepted, to feel that I belonged.

This marked the start of a new journey for me. I had to learn to let down the barriers I had been building up for so many years; to learn to trust and to come out of hiding.

One of my biggest struggles over the years has been with feelings of low self-esteem and low confidence. I didn’t feel worthy of people’s time and attention, and couldn’t see any reasons why anyone might particularly want to be my friend. So I retreated into my shell and tried to present a version of myself that I hoped would be acceptable to people.
Inside, I was crying out for real friendships, but the fear of rejection was so strong, it was safer to hide away.

Very gradually, I began to open up to people and to allow them to get to know the real me. I also began to realise that as I had been hiding from other people, I had in effect been hiding from God, too. Looking back, I can see how being set free to be me enables me now to enjoy being the person God has created me to be; to embrace God’s plan for my life, and to be fruitful in ways I had never even thought possible.

Inspired by the story of Adam and Eve, who hid from God among the trees of the garden after eating from the tree of knowledge, I have identified six ‘trees’ that I believe are places where many of us try to hide and where we try to find our identity instead of establishing ourselves in God. These are the six Ps: the trees of power, possessions, productivity, perfectionism, pretence and pastimes.

The tree of Power
Hiding behind the tree of power sees us manipulating people and situations for our own ends, often without even realising it. We fear losing control and worry that we will not be able to cope if things don’t go to plan. We try to find our identity in the things we do – perhaps our job, or a role we have in church.

But we are daughters of our heavenly Father, and he loves us for who we are. He isn’t interested in our job title, our status in society or whether or not we have letters after our name. We need to free ourselves from the need to do something to prove our worth and allow ourselves to be loved for who we are – by God and by others.

The tree of Possessions
Our postmodern, consumerist society is expert at making us feel inadequate if we don’t have the latest gadgets, wear the latest fashions, or live in a big enough house. So we strive after possessions, thinking that they will give us security and freedom. Yet possessions themselves bring their own worries – what if the house is broken into and my things are stolen? We in the West are richer than the vast majority of the world’s population, yet don’t we always want more? No matter how much we have, it’s never enough.

Jesus didn’t own a house, nor did he have possessions, yet he never went hungry and always had somewhere to sleep. I’m not suggesting we give everything away and make ourselves homeless, but we do need to find the balance. The material possessions we have are but temporary; our focus is to be on things that are of eternal significance, on Jesus and his kingdom.

The tree of Productivity
How often do we feel guilty about spending time doing nothing in particular? Or perhaps we find it easier to be busy so we don’t have to face particular issues that are going on or difficulties in a relationship with a loved one? Perhaps we feel we need to be able to do everything ourselves rather than burdening someone else by asking for help.

Jesus is such a beautiful role model for us. People were always clamouring for his time and attention, wanting him to do things for them, yet he always made sure he took time out to pray and spend time with his Father. Spending time with God allows him to minister to us, to work in us, to restore his image within us. We need to recognise that we are only human, and we can burn out if we’re not careful. Time to rest and relax is important – so don’t feel guilty about it!

The tree of Perfectionism
Concern about what people think of us is, in my opinion, one of the biggest threats to confidence and self-image, particularly in young people. But how do we model self-acceptance to our children when we struggle so much with it ourselves?

We need to be aware of the influence of the media, and that the images presented to us are often digitally altered. Companies go to great lengths to persuade us that their product will transform us and make us as beautiful as the person on this billboard. Yet when this doesn’t happen, we are left feeling inadequate.

Jesus never turned anyone away because they didn’t look the part, because they were too tall, too short, had the wrong colour hair or eyes, or wore the wrong clothes. We need to learn to accept ourselves for who we are, to enjoy our uniqueness without comparing ourselves to others – and especially without comparing ourselves to the images presented by the media.

The tree of Pretence
Truth is a foundation stone of all relationships. Where there is truth, there can be trust. Without trust, relationships will fall apart. Yet it isn’t always easy to trust other people, particularly if our trust has been betrayed.

We must learn to discern the voice of God in our heads and in our hearts. We know that he is Truth, and he is always trustworthy. If we build our lives on the foundation of the truth of Jesus, he will guide us and show us the way. He will help us to trust others, too, and even to be vulnerable with one another. This can be scary! Yet learning to be ourselves, and not hiding behind pretence, is liberating!

The tree of Pastimes
It is really important to take time out to relax. But how do we spend that time? There’s a saying that goes ‘You are what you eat’. I believe we are also what we think about. What we fill our minds with informs our attitudes and actions, our words, even our instincts.

There’s nothing wrong with a good film or a gripping novel. I love to lose myself in a good book, or to while away an evening with a great film. We just need to make sure we aren’t filling our minds and our time with things that aren’t honouring to God.

The six Ps are of course necessary for us to live healthy lives. We all need an element of power. We need money and possessions; we need to be productive and to set standards for ourselves. The important thing is to find the balance – it is when we focus on one or more of these things more than we focus on God that they become trees behind which we hide.  
+ Nicki Copeland spent many years hiding behind various ‘trees’ and ‘fig leaves’. Now she loves to encourage others to step out and embrace the freedom God is offering. She wears many ‘hats’, including those of wife and mother, writer, speaker and editor. Her first book, Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self was published by Instant Apostle in 2013. Her latest book, Losing the Fig Leaf has been published by Instant Apostle (ISBN 978-1-909728-32-5)