It’s funny how God just won’t let some things go.
From the time I hit the double digits, I sought my identity in what my peers thought of me. That made for a pretty awful middle school and junior high experience, let me tell you. Realizing that something wasn’t right, I transferred my energy to my studies. By my senior year of high school, my grades (more specifically, my performance in my classes and my responsibility) was what defined me. I didn’t realize it, of course. In fact, I didn’t even realise that people could find identity in something.
I remember clearly the first time someone challenged me on how I defined myself. The second semester of university, I was stressed to the max with 17 credit hours, choir, and a play. One day I showed up to help paint the set for our play and found the director—also my favorite professor and mentor—working on some papers. He looked up and asked how I was doing. “Fine, and you?” I replied automatically.
You know why it’s important to have people in your life who know you well? They see through your artifice and façade, especially when you most want them to believe it. His glasses slid down his nose as he studied me intensely. “No, how are you doing?”
I admitted that I was stressed beyond belief, that I went home every night—every night—in tears, and that I couldn’t handle all my classes. He asked me very seriously whether or not I defined myself by my grades. I’d never thought of the question of identity before, and though I would definitely have admitted that my grades meant a lot to me, I would never have said that they defined me. But his question made me think, and it rattled me a bit. If I don’t define myself by my grades, how do I define myself? And if I don’t define myself by my responsibility, how do I decide how hard to work on my classes?
In the semesters that followed, I made great progress in balancing my school and work with my life. I learned how to socialise without feeling guilty that I wasn’t working on homework. I even learned that there are times when it’s okay to submit assignments that aren’t as polished as I would have wanted them to be.
Yet still, I wasn’t sure where to place my identity. In my work with my horse? In my teaching? In my family?
God won’t let it go. He’s been working on me for years on this point, and this week He’s really hit me hard with where I do need to find my identity: in Him.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God . . . And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
My identity? Christ. I am the creation of my Creator, the child of the King of Kings. 1 Peter 2:9 begins:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession . . .
Why am I a child of the King? Not for my glory—none of this is for me. Peter continues:
. . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I’m not going to pretend that this is easy. I’m so, so tempted to continue to find identity in my performance, be it at school, in languages, or in my friendships. But more and more I’m able to recognise this temptation, and to recognise that not only is it emotionally and mentally unhealthy, it saddens my Creator because it means things other than Him are taking first place in my heart.
This probably won’t get easier. Of all the hard things I’ve done and experienced, studying abroad has been the hardest so far, and the last thing I expect is for it to become “easy.” But the thing about the hard times in life is that it’s precisely then that I grow most. Two years ago, I went through one of the most emotionally turbulent times of my life. The way I responded then is nothing like how I’m responding now—then, I gave into fear and even despair, but now I refocus myself on what really matters. The next three weeks are full of exams, presentations, and papers. None of that ultimately matters, even in the sense of my study abroad goals. I want to walk away from this year speaking better French, not having made good grades. But even more than that, I want to go home spiritually stronger. That’s why, in the midst of the craziness at school, I’m taking time these next few weeks to be with friends, to participate in events, and—most importantly—to refocus myself on the One who means more to me than anyone or anything.
A group of us had lunch today after church. The same group, in fact, who had lunch together after my first Sunday here in Switzerland. What a difference these past weeks have made! I didn’t just listen, I talked, too. We laughed. We shared the love of being family—and it’s that part especially that will never cease to amaze me.
Cheers to the most wonderful time of the year: the traditions, the snow, the vibrant leaves, the family, the warmth of the house and the chill of the wind, the flickering of candles, the thankfulness, the music, the comforting meals, the decorations, the festivity, and most of all, the time we can set aside to remember that Jesus—our Creator—became God in flesh so He could redeem us to Himself, restoring the relationship that we broke, welcoming us back into His family.
I’m so full of joy. I’m so thankful that Love is alive.
Until next week, friends. Don’t give up on love—to borrow from Switchfoot (who borrowed from someone else, I think): love is the final fight; there is no song louder than love.