One fine day I was shopping at the local Piggly Wiggly, and stopped to chat with an elderly neighbor as she wheeled her groceries to her car. I knew her because she frequently walked her little white dog down my street, but I had never met her husband until he came up behind her to help load the groceries. She introduced him- we’ll call him Joe- and told him I was their neighbor. Without missing a beat, Joe reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed me a business card. “I own the Cadillac, “ he said.
“What Cadillac?” I wondered silently, glancing down at the card in my hand. Sure enough, all it said was this:
his phone number
“Oh!” I said. One glance at his wife let me know this was NOT a joke. As their neighbor, I was supposed to be aware of and impressed by the car, and unfortunately I was neither. He cocked an unruly eyebrow, lifted his chin, and waited. I remembered my manners. “That’s a fine car, sir,” I ventured, and he accepted my insufficient praise as grounds to educate me about the car I now realized we were standing next to. The car looked just like one my grandmother had once owned, not even particularly old or fine to my untrained eye. I tried to be impressed, but Joe Smith had trouble understanding how I had lived a block away from the Cadillac for five years and failed to notice it.
Pay attention the next time you introduce yourself. When you want to tell someone who you are in just a few words, what comes to mind? Of course, it often depends on context. At work, you might introduce yourself to a new employee, “Hi, I’m VP of marketing…” or on the soccer field, “Hey, I’m Emma’s mom.” These are helpful facts that orient others- and ourselves- to our place in a given community of people. There’s nothing at all wrong with these labels we wear, and in fact, these facts often reflect associations we can be proud of.
It did get me to wondering what my own business card would look like. If I defined myself in a phrase or two, what would that phrase be?
Anna Meade Harris
Mac, Sam, and Ben
But my kids are growing up. The oldest is nearly twenty and away at college, and the other two aren’t far behind. Certainly I will always be their mom, but maybe I have lost sight of the fact that “mom” is not all I am. I faced this issue head on when my husband died. Suddenly, I wasn’t Jeff’s wife anymore (and “widow” is such a grim word, even uglier than “blogger”). But who was I? I have always defined myself by my relationships, but people tend to grow and change and move and die. In the same way, I cannot really define myself by my employment, appearance, affiliations, abilities- or by the car I drive. All these things are subject to change, and if my security is based on anything temporary, I am not secure at all.
Whenever circumstances begin to change, we are forced to confront the question again and again: who am I, and how do I define myself? It happens to a kid leaving home for college, and to his parents at home without him. It happens to a new mom, bringing baby home for the first time, and it happens to an old man losing his beloved wife to Alzheimer’s. We strive for permanence, security and control by building bank accounts, portfolios and resumes. We even fight to preserve the youthful face in the mirror, as if wrinkles, crow’s feet and gray hair somehow make us less ourselves.
What I fail to realize, in all my striving to define myself, is that my identity is a settled matter. If I belong to Jesus, then my worth, value, and meaning all come from Him who is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no way I could ever be more secure than I am this very minute. Savor these verses:
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV
And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. John 10: 28-29
I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-39
This matter of identity is permanently and irrevocably settled. I may or may not be a wife, a friend, an employee, or the owner of a Cadillac, but I am always and forever the child of the living God. I can turn my attention from wondering who I am to learning who He is. In learning about Him (and He is, by the way, far more interesting than I could ever be) I will also discover myself. In the words of Jim Branch:
"How incredibly freeing! It is as if God is saying: “I have given you your value and worth. I have bestowed it upon you and it can never be lost. So stop measuring. Stop earning. Stop comparing. Stop performing. Your worth is not hanging in the balance. It does not depend on anything you achieve, or any accomplishment you attain. So relax. Live in the freedom of knowing you are loved deeply and fully and completely- as well as eternally. Instead of working so hard to prove yourself, just fall in love with Me.”
the truth about myself
how beautiful it is!
- Macrina Wiederkehr
One day this week I was on a run and thinking these things over. The next song that came up on my phone was Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” and I heard it in a brand new way. I always thought of it as the ultimate love song, a man who finds meaning in the eyes of his beloved, but that day I realized the only real Beloved who offers such fulfillment is God Himself. Listen, and read the lyrics below. I think the only place to really find myself is in the warm and loving gaze of my heavenly Father.