Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

Revisiting Identity

Today I revisit the topic of identity partly because there are so many things to say and so many ways to say it. Another reason stems from my own continuing struggles with contentment and identity. I write to remind myself and others who may question similarly.

Many people have a deep desire to make a name for themselves, to be “the best” in something, or be recognized. This desire drives us to action. Growing up I was not brilliant, but I could work hard. So I did. Graduating high school early, I married in college a man who exceeded all my dreams, and then moved to a far-away land. I had a degree, I had passion, and I also had no job prospects. Making use of the time, I began my masters and then welcomed my first child. Meanwhile siblings, peers, and my husband all graduated, began working, and earned accolades. I remained at home. No title, no awards, nothing to show the world outside my door.

The desire for external recognition and success runs deep in me and deep in our culture, even spilling over onto the precious and vulnerable people in our lives, people we should be protecting and nurturing and loving for who they are, rather than what they do. In a sermon on parenting, a pastor once mentioned that many parents would rather discover that their child had a learning challenge than accept that their child was, simply, average.

What drives these comparisons? One reason is the craving for fulfillment, and the direct relationship between fulfillment and identity. Fulfillment is a real desire and a real need! As a recent sermon titled Thirsty perfectly articulates, we satisfy this fulfillment desire with something or someone that we worship or value most. The strength of our sense of self depends on the power of what we worship. Whether I situate my worth and find contentment in what is temporary and finite, or eternal and endless, affects who I believe myself to be and how I relate myself to my surroundings.

With an identity and worth grounded in the Almighty God, how people perceive me does not matter. I can be okay bagging groceries. I can be okay with thinking my hardest and earning only “B” grades. I can be okay mothering at home, and doing “nothing else” (though we could have a rich debate over whether that description even remotely fits reality!). I might not be the best according to the world’s standards, but that does not matter.

This confidence happens when I know whose I am. Everything external – good and bad – falls away like water off a duck’s back because I know who defines me. Timothy Keller writes,

What, then, would the effect be if we were to dive even more deeply into Jesus’s teaching and life and work? What if we were to be so immersed in his promises and summonses, his counsels and encouragements, that they dominated our inner life, capturing our imagination, and simply bubbled out spontaneously when we faced some challenge?….When you received criticism, you would never be crushed, because Jesus’s love and acceptance of you is so deeply “in there.”1            

I can be okay with who I am, where I am, and what I am doing (or not doing) when I live for an audience of One, when I worship God and allow Him to define me and my worth.2

The question to ask and answer today: will I choose to be fulfilled by Him?

 

***

1 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. Riverhead Books, 2011. Print.

2 Guinness, Os. The Call. Word Publishing, 1998. Print.

Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

On Suffering, Part 1

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible. It is also, I think, one of the scariest. For, if God can work all things together for good, then He could allow me to experience all things, including my worst nightmares. I fear losing what I hold dearest. What if’s buzz through my brain, drowning out what is real. Yet I ought to think about what is true, what is real. So here goes an exercise in training my mind, putting my thoughts where I want them to be. Borrowing heavily from Timothy Keller’s response to the question of evil and suffering in The Reason for God, today I will outline three responses to the problem of pain. A second post with further thoughts on this subject will hopefully come soon after.

Christian life is one that involves suffering. Where is God in this inevitable and unhappy aspect of life? How does He work all things together for good? For a first point, just because I cannot understand the reason for my suffering now does not mean that there is not one. Looking back in my own life on times of intense pain, insecurity, or betrayal, I see how I grew through them. Remember Joseph in the Bible and how his trials actually saved his life and that of a whole people from starvation?

For another point, as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ, God Himself, experienced suffering and death. Timothy Keller elaborates, “God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.”1God understands our pain. When we more fully grasp the reality and extent of Christ’s sufferings, the following verses take on new meaning. Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?

For a third point, Timothy Keller, reflecting on Revelation 21 wrote, Heaven is not just consolation for the hurts experienced in life but a “restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.”2

Or as one of my favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoevesky, wrote,

“Like a babe, I trust that the wounds will heal, the scars will vanish, that the sorry and ridiculous spectacle of man’s disagreements and clashes will disappear like a pitiful mirage, like the sordid invention of a puny, microscopic, Euclidean, human brain, and that, in the end, in the universal finale, at the moment universal harmony is achieved, something so magnificent will take place that it will satisfy every human heart, allay all indignation, pay for all human crimes, for all the blood shed by men, and enable everyone not only to forgive everything but also to justify everything that has happened to men.”3

The God that I read about in the Bible, encounter in prayer, and witness at work in people’s lives is big enough to transform all things, even the hardest and darkest things, for good. He knows, He sympathizes, He redeems.

 

1 Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. Riverhead Books, 2008. Print.

2 IBID.

3 Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Bantam Books, 1970. Print.

Questions

In Captivity until Such a Time as This: What I learned from Joseph’s Story

Joseph was a slave and in prison for a total of 13 years until the right moment when God would use circumstance, location, and timing to elevate Joseph to being the Egyptian King’s primary assistant. It took being sold, bought, and imprisoned to place Joseph in the right place at the right time. God did not remove Joseph from his difficulties, but was instead withJoseph in the midst of them. I doubt God’s presence made Joseph any more enthusiastic about his doleful circumstances, but it did create opportunities for Joseph to trust God more and it gave purpose to Joseph’s trials.

Sometimes I feel imprisoned. My motherhood and homemaker responsibilities often leave me exhausted both physically and mentally, and culminate in me not sleeping well at night, which further exacerbates the exhaustion issue. Any breaks or nap times are filled with making dinner, laundry, and cleaning the house. Children need and I give all day long. My time is not ever my own and I feel defined by what I do rather than who I am or desire to be.

All this is not bad. It is, simply, my life at this stage. Many times beautiful moments pop-up in the middle of the mundane like tulips from the snow. Watching my eldest son hold hands with his younger sister and witnessing the dancing delight of my second’s eyes as he makes his little brother laugh are priceless treasures. Teaching moments abound and I rejoice that I get to be there with my kids. I get questions about anything from “Why is a truck not a motorcycle?” and “Do we get to keep our baby brother?” to “What makes lightening?” and “Where do we put used tea bags?”

Despite such wondrous moments, I feel my dreams eliminated by the very beings that I love and would give everything to nurture. I hear Chesterton’s rebuke in the back of my mind (paraphrased), “Why should I want to be something to everybody when I can be everything to these four somebodies?” I do not have an answer. Something inside me dreams so big to do things outside the home even as it just as stubbornly persists in not granting the primary care of my children to anyone besides my husband and myself. And so, I sometimes feel imprisoned by the very good life that God has given me.

When I read about Joseph, I realize that God has a plan for the perceived prison of my present. He has a plan now, and He will have a plan for me when the all-consuming purpose of my present diminishes to the past. Will I trust Him with that future state, to put me in the right place at the right time in the right circumstances to, perhaps not be the right-hand assistant to the president, but to do something else pretty cool? It is a question and challenge that I must ask myself everyday.