It’s hard to fathom that nearly a year has passed since the ast post. Much has changed for us. Taking a new job caused a minor upheveal and we live in a new state. With the new venture comes new experiences, both positive and negative. We’ve packed, moved, said goodbye (and hello). There is newness and excitement, as well as change and uncertainty. We’ve experienced joy and loss. Not shocking, though. These things come with change.
This move has brought into particular focus one reality that has not changed, one that I hope God uses this move to change. That reality is an identity that is rooted in that which is transitory, not that which is transcendental. The first post of 2020 will take a dive into a personal search for identity. Who am I (and who are you)?
I, like many others out there, struggle with rooting my identity into something, or (Someone) permanent. In our fast-paced, results-oriented society, finding meaning in something other than how you perform is a challenge. At least, for me. I wish I could uncover the roots of this insidious tree so I could excavate it from my life, but I have not yet found them. I believe my identity crisis is rooted in the death of my parents when I was in my early teens (I’ve written on this in previous blogs). I don’t want to use that experience as a crutch. But, the wounds of their deaths left scar tissue. I can still remember holding my father’s lifeless head in my hands, the feel of his five-o-clock shadow during my fruitless attempts at CPR. I see the body of my 48-year-old mother consumed by cancer lying next to the machines that kept her heart beating and lungs expanding. My quest for identity, I believe, began in earnest then. But, you’d think a few decades would have brought an end to that search.
The recent move has uncovered the childish desire to be accepted, to perform, and to be noticed. Being accepted and performing are not problems in themselves. They are part of life. However, if those things are the ends of life, we will find ourselves never resting, and never arriving. It is impossible to be accepted by everyone. It may be impossible to be accepted by even a few. (What does it mean to be “accepted” anyway?) To place our identity into the hands of others, or to place our identity alongside our work is to place our identity in soil that will never produce fruit. That’s not the kind of life we are called to, is it?
Our move has taken us to an agricultural region in the country. Admittedly, I know almost nothing about agriculture, but I know more now than seven months ago. Recently, I was talking with a group of middle schoolers about identity and I used an agricultural analogy, one that I hoped would fit the larger context. They were discussing the challenges of fitting in while simultaneously finding themselves. So, I said:
Imagine I had a seed and I planted it into the soil in one location. After watering it for a few weeks, I uprooted the seed and I took it to a field that might produce better results. So, after transplanting the seed to a new field, I started watering and feeding it appropriately. However, a month went by and I didn’t see the results I wanted. So, I took the seed out again and found a better field and started the process all over again. Now, with all my transplanting and moving of the seed, even when I had the seed watered and fed, why didn’t it grow? It didn’t grow because it never had the time or the roots to dig deep and produce fruit. It yielded nothing. The same is true with our identity. If we do not give it time to grow in its own soil, time to root and grow strong, then it will never produce life. We cannot place our identity into fields of work or friendship, no matter how good the field looks. We must give it the time, space, and nourishment it needs to thrive before enjoying the fruit of its harvest.
All analogies are imperfect (that one was). However, what I was trying to communicate with them was what my own soul had been experiencing since I was thirteen. I’ve planted the seed of my identity into many “good looking” fields. Yet, by transplanting my identity in the hands of others, or in what I perform at work, my own identity never took root into that which can truly provide the seeds the time, space, and nourishment they need. Only Christ can do that. Only that which is the origin of my soul has what my soul needs to grow.
The reality that my identity is not rooted in Him is not new to me. However, a move from the comfort zone into a new place gives a fresh perspective on old problems. 2020 is a year I hope to spend specifically cultivating the field of my own soul to let my identity root itself into the field of the Father, by the streams of Living Water Himself.
Here is one (albeit silly) way I want to remove the trappings of false identity. I’ve asked my colleagues to call me by name, not a title. My title is a social construct anyway. And, when I become “Dr” (which should be this semester) I expect to still be called by name. For me, the reason is simple: I am tired of being addressed by a title, or societal expectations. All those are fleeting. They are meaningless. Those titles will decompose with my flesh. However, my name, my identity, will (I believe) live forever in Him who is Life itself. Those who are found in Him are given a new name, a new identity, one rooted not in what the person does, or who the person associates with, but whom that person is claimed by, namely Christ.
Placing your identity into the hands of those who only can see the external, who have no access to the history, the thoughts, passions, internal leadings, loves, hurts, and joys is dangerous. No created being can provide the time, space, and nourishment your identity needs to grow strong and produce fruit. The same is true with what you do. No job, no matter how meaningful, can give you what you need to find peace within. Peace is a gift of God and a fruit of deep communion with God. Such depth cannot be cultivated when your moving your seed from field to field.
Find Him, plant, and sit. And, in due time, you will experience the joy of the harvest. That’s my hope for this year, and my hope for you as well.
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