There are many “big” questions in life. One I’ve been wrestling with lately is, “Who am I?” In the grand scheme of things, this is one that speaks to the core of my existence. Over the years, I have tried to answer that question in several ways.
The first way I’ve answered it is, “I am what I do.” I’ve told myself that I am a daughter, a wife, a student, a mother, a lover of chickens… The list can go on and on. But when I answer the question this way, I ride the ups and downs of how I think I’m doing at each of these descriptions. The days when I am patient with my kids, I feel great. But then there are other days, the one where I forget to buy milk or leave my laundry in the wash overnight. Fail. Down goes my mood and my outlook on who I am. These are light examples, but I’m sure you get my point. I can really blow it. What I do is not a reliable indicator of who I am.
So I’ve answered it this way, “I am what others say about me.” This is great when others are kind, or don’t see all of me… But it can be devastating when people judge me or speak to me out of their own pain. Relying on others to tell me who I am is a dangerous and hurtful way to frame who I am. I don’t recommend it.
Another way to approach the question of who I am is, “I am what I have.” It’s tempting to think that the accumulations of my life make me who I am. I am my stuff – or even my lack of stuff. (There is no inherent virtue in minimalism…) This doesn’t have to be material. I can come to believe that I am my education, or my citizenship, or even my socio-economic class. When I base my identity on things, and the things disappear, what is left of me? Slippery slope indeed.
So how do I answer this fundamental question? I turn to God and His Word. In the gospels, Jesus’ identity is revealed at the moment of His baptism. John the Baptist, takes Jesus under the water, and as He rises up, a dove descends and a voice from heaven speaks. “This is My Son, the Beloved, on whom my favor rests.” (Matthew 3) The voice does not make a list of all Jesus has done or is going to do. God doesn’t list the traits that his family or friends have said he is. The voice does not even declare that Jesus is the Messiah. It simply states that Jesus is the Beloved of God, his heavenly Father.
That same love is mine! Jesus says in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” I have been given the same standing that Jesus has. I have been adopted into God’s family and am God’s child. I too, am the Beloved! That is my identity. It is the only one that will sustain me through the ups and downs of life. That fact never changes because it does not depend on me at all. God loves me. Period. He loves me when I’m good, bad, rich, poor, achieving, or failing. Because He loves me, I am the Beloved.
So how does this truth play out in my life? The fact that I am the Beloved saves me from the traps of success, popularity, and power. Those are indeed temptations, but the greatest trap in life is that of self-rejection. When I doubt who I am I lack confidence and put myself down, or I can swell with pride to convince others of my worth. In Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Direction, he writes, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that declares we are loved.” The sacred voice. How I long to hear it.
Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness I hear at the center words that say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother and child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own and I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, your spouse. Yes, even your child. Wherever you are, I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.” ~ Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction
So that is my identity, Beloved. And from the moment I claim it, I begin the journey to believe it. It is a process that I must pursue day by day. I must become who I truly am. There is a longing for it, an unsettled desire to find it. St. Augustine puts it this way, “My soul is restless until it finds rest in you, O God.” It is a drawing upward toward the things of God that gives me life. C. S. Lewis called it going, “further on and further in.” When I am on this pursuit, I am fully alive, I am fully secure, and I can rest even in the unanswered questions that come my way. “That I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, and always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found,” (Nouwen)
Becoming the Beloved means allowing the truth of my Belovedness to work itself out in everything I think, say and do. There is no way to achieve this except by the regular practice of prayer. But that’s a subject for another time…