“To explore what it would mean to live fully, sensually alive and passionately on purpose, I have to drop my preconceived ideas of who and what I am.” -Dawna Markova
This morning I awoke to three obnoxious alarm clocks, all going off at different times. Such is a typical Saturday morning at camp. We all seem to forget that our watches and alarm clocks won’t turn off themselves. Despite how early these alarms went off, my internal clock (or perhaps it was my spirit) woke me up much earlier. Two months ago I was walking (or hobbling, if you prefer) across a rather makeshift stage in the gymnasium of Lee University. You know, I think that graduation ceremonies are a bit deceiving. They are like any ceremony, really. It is the action that follows that proves a change or a commitment, not the ceremony itself. Despite this belief of mine, in that moment, I remember looking at a fellow classmate and feeling like we could conquer the world. It sounds naïve, I know. Blame it on the obnoxious hat. It was cutting off the circulation to my brain. After receiving my diploma, someone looked at me as we stood and listened to two hundred more names be read. “Is this really it? Are we really supposed to go change the world now?” My elated feeling left quickly as I looked up at the tall, bearded young man. “I don’t know Matt. But we’re supposed to do something.” I recall my professor’s hand on my shoulder afterwards, “You’re going to do great.” Was I?
It’s extremely easy to get caught up in what the world deems as “great.” It’s extremely easy to put specific expectations upon oneself, and to feel the pain of failure when one does not live up to these expectations. Such was the place in which I found myself several weeks after graduation, rummaging through old letters, pictures, and dorm flyers—a pile of memories which all pointed to “success.” As I reflect upon the past four years of life, however, I realize that this “success” was not necessarily an all-encompassing success. Yes, I earned achievements. At the risk of sounding cocky, awards and acknowledgements became a normal occurrence. I didn’t deserve them, but I received them, and slowly I began basing my identity on what I did instead of who I was.
Rewind several months. The spring air is slightly muggy as two young women run down a sidewalk carrying Magnolia Tree branches as big as their heads. A loud voice carries from a street car. “Flower stealers!” They peel over in laughter and run down the block into the darkness. Silence carries them, slowly, as the stars peer down on them. They sing a song that both women know—a song of some unknown understanding—a song of a higher being than themselves.
“I wish they all knew me.” One said. “I wish someone would look at me and know me for more than the things I’ve done…I want people to see me and know that trees make me feel closer to God and that I get joy from singing as loudly as I can. I want people to know that my heart connects with the elderly, that when I meet a person I see their heart through their eyes, and that I think squirrels are the cutest. I wish someone would think of me and know that I can’t chew gum without getting it all over my face.”
“What a great thing to be known for.”
“Yeah, but these are things that are inherently me.
Don’t we all long to be known for who we are? I believe it is a natural human condition to long to be understood for who we were made to be. But what if you aren’t sure of who you are? What if you have formed your identity around what people thought of you? In a lot of ways, this is me. I am not saying that I don’t know what makes me tick, what makes me angry, passionate, or happy. I know these things. I’m not saying that I don’t know my gifts, talents, and leadership abilities. I do. And I have learned to walk confidently in them. What I don’t know, however, and what I am learning, is how to answer the following question: Who am I in Christ?
Two months have passed since the day I said goodbye to my home and the family that had formed my four college years. I find myself having taken an unexpected road, withdrawing from positions and jobs I thought I desperately wanted, and landing in a place that I thought I would not return to. I have lived, for the past five weeks, in a little cabin in the woods at Deer Run Retreat Center. Having spent two summers as a camp counselor at Deer Run in previous years, I find myself learning not so much about how to work with children or how to live in community, but rather, how to die to self. Though I could not see it at the beginning of the summer, I now see clearly why God has placed me in this position for this season. I am learning daily how to die to self and live out Philipians 4:4-5. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” I am learning that I am nothing without Him. He is stripping me of everything that I was using to define myself and showing me that I am a prideful, lustful individual who needs more than anything the grace of our Lord Jesus. I look to 1 Peter for my self definition: “It should be your [inner] self, the unfading beauty of a [gentle] and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). Lord, may I always be defined by who you are in me and not by the outward things that I have strived to do by my own power!
I end with a thought: Am I living my life and planning for my future with my own expectations or am I living in expectancy for what God has for me? I must believe and live in the hope that though my flesh fails, though I wander from His voice, and though I attempt to live by my own strength, that He still claims me as His chosen daughter.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belong to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1Peter 2:9)
Amen and Amen.