Without a doubt the question of our age is identity. Whether we begin with politics, sexuality, religion, race, geography, wealth or whatever, the question is still the same; who am I? And perhaps most of us feel like we have this figured out on some level. We define ourselves by our jobs, by our relationships and family, by our communities and our allegiances. But what if these change? What if what we have defined ourselves by changes? What if some event in our life or some traumatic interaction redefines this? What do we do then? How do we define ourselves when what we have known suddenly is not what we know? I was smacked in the face with this recently when my wife’s Nana lost her husband of sixty-nine years. Sixty-nine years?!? You’ve been identified, at least in some major part, by the same person for a lifetime and now they’re gone. How do you move on from that?
And honestly we all have these moments in our lives. Not as earth-shattering as the loss of a spouse, but there are moments that force us to wrestle with our identity. Even in my own life, the past few months have been a re-evaluation of who I am. For over fifteen years I was a pastor. Now all of a sudden I am not. This forces me to think about who I am. And honestly as a pastor (I am sure many of my fellow clergy would agree) there is rarely time for reflection. We become engrossed with the care of those we serve and really miss out on time to think about who we are or who we are becoming. And this new role of teaching in a public school…not quite as world changing as I’d hoped. It’s exhausting and frustrating and although there are moments of joy, it’s hard (if you know a public school teacher, hug them today and believe me when I tell you that they deserve the summer…and better pay). But in the midst of all of this I find myself asking, who am I? Did I even know while I was a pastor? Do I know now?
But then my six year old runs to me every time I pick him up from after care with a smile on his face yelling daddy…and I think I know again. My twelve year old gives me a fist bump in the hallway as he passes my classroom and my day gets a little brighter. My nine year old clambers up the stairs very early in the morning and just nuzzles into me to remind me of our special bond. My four year old smiles at me and I know about the mischief behind his eyes and it reminds me again of who I am to them. My wife hugs me and the years of feelings and shared experience and fidelity are communicated in an instant. There are other ways I seek to sometimes define myself, but these are the things that truly remind me why I am here. And although we can define ourselves by a myriad of things, ideologies, practices, etc. it’s truthfully those who know us best that define us. For at the end of the day, the last word is Love. The Bible even tells us that God is love. May you lean into that today. May you find that love somewhere in your life today. And may you know who you are by love even now.