If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, it is this: I didn’t know who I was. I had spent the past fifteen years in ministry serving, loving, and helping. I looked good on the outside, but inside, I was withering away. Gasping for breath I pushed on. I was about to leave ministry for my sanity. I burnt out.
It was then that I begin to read the works of Thomas Merton. In his masterpiece, New Seeds of Contemplation, he laid forth the concept of finding your true identity. I had relegated this kind of thinking to the realm of pop psychology. I was wrong.
I lived my life in the expectations of others. I lived to be someone else’s version of me. I tried to please everyone and cover every base. I finally understood Bilobo Baggin’s. He says to Gandalf:“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I was weak, dying even – living a lie. Here in this crucible I learned this: I didn’t know who I was. I was living a lie. I was not being my self – the self God created me to be.
It was in this season of desperation that I begin to practice contemplative prayer. I begin to talk less and listen more in silence. I begin asking God, “Who am I?” “What is my identity?” I realized that the great tragedy of our humanity is that most of us go to our grave not knowing who we actually are. We live for others and try to be someone else to please the world around us. Yet, it is this activity that does great violence to our souls.
Here is what I learned: To become myself, I must stop being what I always thought I wanted to be. To find my identity I must go out of myself, and to live, I have to die. Jesus even says this. ” Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” I must look for my identity in God alone, not in other’s expectations. Why? Becasue the self I spend my life building in light of others’ expecations is a lie. It is not who I am made to be.
As long as you must defend the imaginary self you think is important, you lose your peace and heart. You do violence to the very life you seek to live by replacing true, abundant life in Christ with an artificial existence. In other words, I am made in the image of God. If I add to that to appease others or to fuel my own ego, I unmake myself into the image of me.
If I say I am made in the Imago Dei, the image of God is beautiful. It is to say that I am like Him. I am a reflection of the beauty and glory of Him who breathes out the stars. If we follow the scriptures, we see the ultimate trait and marker of God and His image: love. To say I am made in God’s image is then to say that the entire reason for my existence is love, for God is love.
Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. Without love I am nothing. Without love I am lost. My identity must be a fount from HIm, True Love, which springs streams of eternal life. May we be our true selves, as children of God, and as His Bride, the Church. Let our true selves identify in love and in turn, life. Let us not identify with a fake self, and thus be married to death. Let us step back, stop pretending that we know love, and let us truly experience God’s love – Divine, Eternal, and Peaceful. May we be reborn in the depths of our soul into the depths of His love.
Love is our identity.