If I asked: ‘Who are you?’ how would you respond?
I could give different answers depending on who I was talking to. I remember one Christmas when I was being interviewed as part of a church service: ‘Hi, I’m Mandy, son of Don and Janet,’ I proudly announced. There was a silence before laughter erupted from the congregation, while I wondered what I’d said to cause such amusement.
Later on, I defined myself according to my job or my church ministry: medical secretary, mobiliser, Sunday school teacher, youth leader. My security was in who I was but since I defined myself by what I did, I only felt secure as long as I had a job or ministry.
But then in 2010, I became ill and ended up losing my job. We had recently moved to a new church, so I had no ministry and the illness kept us from getting involved. I also lost long-term memories as a result of being ill. It was a scary and bewildering time. When you lose your memories, you’re not sure who you are anymore. Thankfully, God stepped in and healed me. But I still had no job or ministry and since I’d always used what I did to define who I was, I went through a confused period of feeling precious and loved because God had healed me while also feeling insignificant and without worth because I had no idea who I actually was.
This was highlighted to me when I volunteered to be part of the small reception team in the church office. Julie the team leader organised a ‘getting to know you’ lunch and suggested that we went round the circle to introduce ourselves. I panicked. The other volunteers were mostly students and all younger than me, and I didn’t want to look a middle-aged numpty in front of them. But I was completely blank. Who was I? It was getting closer and closer to me. My palms were sweating. Then the young woman sitting next to me said that she was a housewife. Oh the relief, because I fit that category too. Without looking at anyone, I softly said: ‘I’m Mandy and I’m a housewife.’ Ordeal over.
It wasn’t until last year when Penny, my pastor’s wife, gave me a sheet of statements entitled: Who I am in Christ, that I began to have any idea who I was. Penny advised me to read that sheet aloud every day.
A quick glance told me that it didn’t reveal anything new. It was all things like:
I have been made right with God.
I am a child of God.
I am tenderly loved by God.
I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved.
These were all truths I had been taught from birth. Ordinarily, I might have cast that sheet aside thinking that I knew it. But God was dealing with some deep issues and consequently I felt fragile. So I read those statements aloud each morning.
Right from the first reading I realised I only believed about half the truths listed on that sheet. Head knowledge of many years had never dropped into my heart. The words I am tenderly loved by God and I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved were just words, nothing more. Did God love me? Had He chosen me? He loved and chose other people, but surely He didn’t mean me?
During the following weeks and months as I read those statements of truth aloud daily and looked up the Bible verses from which they were taken, the Holy Spirit gradually dropped head knowledge into my heart.
But it wasn’t an easy process. There were tears (lots) and doubts, I was angry, I even thought I’d lost my faith for a couple of weeks. It was hard to accept that God loved me. It was a huge struggle in fact.
I was learning the hard way that if your identity is in what you do or what you have, then that sense of who you are is pretty fragile and can be lost – as was mine through the illness. Our identity must be anchored in something more secure, in something that can never fail or be lost, in Someone bigger than us.
Image used courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net.