Each of us is faced with thousands of choices every day that define our thoughts, our behavior, and who we are to the world. This fall’s Thrive Conference explores the idea that the choices we make hold power and provide opportunities that influence ourselves, others, and how we see God. Each Tuesday from now until October, we’ll feature one story of someone whose life was changed by the conference or who was faced with a choice and held firmly to the belief that “I Choose.” Today’s story is courtesy of Jaci Loween, who writes about how last year’s conference influenced how she thinks about her identity.
Last fall, I was asked a question that stumped me for a few minutes. While at the Thrive Conference, Dawn Zimmerman asked us to complete this phrase, “If you really knew me you would know…”
Wow! What do you say to that? How do you begin to conjure up an authentic, non-shallow yet safe response to that? How do you answer that with a phrase that is true, not too revealing, yet productive for helping the person who reads the answer to have an understanding of who I am below the surface?
What would you have written?
What I wrote shocked me. (Yes, I have the ability to shock myself. My answer will show that this is possible. My face, however, will not show any signs of shock. That is just my way.) I wrote, “If you really knew me, you would know I often don’t feel like I know myself.” And if I am honest, I have very little understanding of how I am seen or perceived by others. But before you write me off as obtuse or insecure, I think my discovery points to a deeper, more valuable recognition.
After a long debriefing session with a couple of friends at Buffalo Wild Wings (spicy wings, great friends, and ice cold water!), and a long drive home in the darkness and silence that is nearly heaven for a mom in a minivan, I took some time to examine why I had written such a statement and why such a realization was shocking to my own self. The conclusions I came to might impact the rest of my life.
Sometimes it really, really bothers me that I come across as calm, cool, collected, and confident. Sometimes I want to shout out, “I am not doing this on purpose, people.” God just made me lacking in most emotions and so I ride on through life with not a lot of high or low emotions. I cry when the Spirit moves, but outside of his presence it is very rare that I am swayed by my emotions. (The only exception: sappy movies get me every time!) Confident under pressure is what is displayed, but underneath there is joy, excitement, turmoil, rage, sadness, anger and all the other normal emotions everyone else wears on their faces. My face was just not trained to handle such things–only my heart and my fingers on the keyboard. This sometimes leaves me feeling like a confused adolescent and a little unnerved that, as a thirty-something, my outer appearance and my inner monologue do not correlate. I promise you: I am not doing it on purpose, nor am I trying to be counterfeit.
Hence the feeling that perhaps I don’t actually know myself all that well.
But as I pondered this, I was dissatisfied with my conclusion. It didn’t seem to get to the point of my statement. And as I considered why it didn’t meet up, I realized that the reason I don’t feel like I know myself well is because I am not my own. I am not myself. I have been made new—well, I am in process, anyway. A King ransomed me—he bought me back and brought me out of a story of confusion and self-doubt into one that is steady and true. My story is not my own. My life is not my own. This world is not my home, and I will never feel completely known or understood here. The self I want to know better is not who I need to seek. Instead, I need to seek the one who is daily transforming me into his likeness. To know myself better requires only that I know my God better. To know myself better requires that I know his promises to me and for me—to claim them and live them. I will come to an understanding of myself when I am able to understand and believe that to die to self is gain and to be remade in Christ will bring wholeness. If I feel that I am struggling to know myself well, the solution is found in pressing into who God says I am—and believing him. He will show me through his Word and the body of Christ who I am and who he is, and that the two of us cannot be separated.
Perhaps the desire to know myself better was really a yearning to know my God better. Perhaps my seemingly contradictory behaviors and emotions (or lack thereof) don’t show me that I am a living contradiction, but instead reveal that God has made me this way on purpose, for a purpose, and it is not for me or man to judge why God put me together in this way. Perhaps the ironies of my life are intended to provoke questions that lead me toward a big, amazing, and powerful God who listens patiently to both the questions of my mind and the yearnings of my heart and gently whispers to me, “I know you. I love you. I made you. Trust me. I am good. I live in you. I don’t make mistakes. Search after me and I will give you the desires of your heart. Let my story be your story so that all the world will know that Yahweh is your God. Bring me your questions. Bring me your yearnings. Don’t settle for worldly wisdom and good advice. Instead, ask me for wisdom and I will answer. I am faithful. Let my peace rule in your heart, always. Seek me and you will find who you are.”
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