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Metaphors to make a difference

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020

While talking to God in the burning bush, Moses asked God what he should call Him. God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14 KJV).

I often puzzled why God would call Himself, I AM, but I have come to an understanding of the reason. God was telling Moses that He was not a God of the past or waiting to become a God in the future. He existed now, totally and eternally in the present.



When Christ came to earth, He did not change His identity from the Great I AM of the Old Testament, He added clarifying metaphors to His I AM name to help us understand Him better. “I AM the bread of life,” He said. “I AM the way the truth and the life. I AM the living water. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the light of the world. I AM the rock, the sure foundation.” All these statements further define who Christ is.

We are drawn into His mission because we can clearly see the metaphor, or His comparison of himself to objects we are familiar with as He couples it with His I AM statement. Bread and water are life-sustaining. We cannot live without food or water for long. In like manner, we need Christ to feed us spiritually. Every living thing needs light to exist. Think of a world where the sun did not shine or where we could not kindle flames for light. All of life would gradually die. Christ acts as a torch to lead us through the darkness and gives us the light of intelligence to illuminate our minds to greater knowledge. A rock is a solid immovable object in a foundation that brings strength to a building. Christ gives our lives stability.

We humans even use metaphors to give mental images to things we do and give clarity to who we are. “I am dog tired.” “I was a pig at Thanksgiving dinner.” “He was a tiger on the football field.” “He was an octopus on our date.” Our songs and poetry use metaphors to open emotional images in our minds. Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock, I am an Island” of the ’70s.

“We are Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley and “You are My Sunshine.” And more recently, “I’ll Make a Man out of You” from Mulan and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The lyrics of these songs draw up mental images that touch our emotions. Feelings surge within us as we relate more deeply to the writer of the song.

Emotion and mental images are powerful in helping us to make changes in our lives, especially when coupled with affirmations. Ronald Alexander states:


“Affirmations (meaning statements said with confidence about a perceived truth) have helped thousands of people make significant changes in their lives … An affirmation can work because it has the ability to program your mind into believing the stated concept. This is because the mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real or what is fantasy.”

In other words, we have the ability to teach our brains to perform new tasks and make new perceptions about ourselves by speaking words about our attributes that do not seem true at the time.

A good example of an affirmation could be “I am a productive person.” We might have been a couch potato the last few years, but telling ourselves in the present tense with emotion can help to change our behaviour into a productive person as we begin to believe and act out the statement.

We have all heard the saying coined by Henry Ford, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” If we get the obstacles out of our brains, we can accomplish much more than we dreamed possible. I had an acting teacher who brought this principle home to me in an acting exercise. He said, “Do as many push-ups as you can.” Some of us fell to the floor after 10; some went to 20 or 30. Each person thought he or she had reached the limit and fell to the floor; then the teacher said, “Do one more.” Every person got up dutifully and did one more push-up. Were we finished? No. Every time he said, “Do one more,” we were able to do it, long after we thought we had reached our limit. We create many of our own limitations by the way we think about ourselves.

As mortals, we often take our identity from our past achievements or look to the future for what we will become. We say, “I used to be an athlete in high school.” “I made the final touchdown for the team.” “I was a straight-A student.” “I used to play the piano or act on stage.” Conversely, we say, “When I finish school, I will be a doctor.” “When I win the Olympics, I will be a champion.” We seldom consider who we really are and have always been. Marianne Williamson puts it best.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


So often, we define ourselves as inferior and act way below our potential. We wallow in self-doubt, defining our lives in the disparaging terms of “I can’t. I’m not special. I am too slow, too clumsy, too poor, too short.” Any “too” statement will serve as a good excuse to remain in the status quo. The emotion of fear with the mental image of past failures stops us from trying new things or reaching our potential. That is why it is so important to recognize who we really are. If we were created in the image of God, and claim to be children of God, we must recognize that we have the seeds of divine power within us and we were born to tap that power by unleashing the positive power of our brains.

Self-actualizing metaphors, because they are visual and filled with emotion, can help us change fear to faith. If you think of yourself as a cheetah bounding through the grassland, chasing prey, and allow the emotion and energy of that image to fill your body, it is easy to overcome the urge to hug the pillow and reach for the snooze button. If we say, “I am a ray of sunshine in a dark world,” and allow that image of light and happiness emotionally to fill our brain, it’s easy to avoid being depressed and mopey all day. Saying, “I am a grain of mustard seed reaching toward the sky” and allowing that image to fill your thoughts, it is easy to identify ourselves as people who are filled with faith continually growing and striving to become better.

Christ used metaphors to help us see His mission in perspective. He did not just use one image to define Himself. He used many because He is a multifaceted individual, and His purposes are many. We are like Him in various ways. We wear many hats and often have influence over people and tasks. We are parents, grandparents, co-workers or CEOs. We have daily tasks to perform with precision. Doesn’t it make sense to spend some time defining our purpose and giving those purposes metaphors so we can more clearly train brains with emotion tasks at hand? Make those affirmations, and state them with clarity and conviction, and see them through the lens of a metaphor.  end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who writes about faith, family and freedom.