During the Gathering we are spending time looking into the question of: “who am I?” Logic tells us that this should be one of the easiest questions to answer, but in our practical lives for most of us the answer to this question eludes us. As kids we are taught that we are our name, and when we get our first job, our social security number. Often we do go a bit deeper to describe ourselves based on the things we enjoy or hate. But even there, many are stuck with that visceral question of identity.
As faith goes, we are taught that we are children of God, but as we get older, often people begin to question this and with some fateful twists of life, many feel less Child of God, and more lost soul.
In faith and in life, this quest for understanding ourselves is a very complicated one. It is further complicated when we get a glimpse of who we might be and society says it is wrong. Even worse, there are times when we plain don’t like ourselves that much.
Often this causes us to compensate and try and create an identity that we deem more acceptable both to society and ourselves. The problem, as you may guess, is that this compensation often drives us further away from the real understanding of who we are. This can and often does have horrid repercussions, and can drive people into a multitude of problems.
Some say that this search for self-identity is a western problem or an issue since we are in a country, in a time and place that allows such conversation. The reality is that it is human nature to seek identity, and if anything, our society is so packed with images of good and bad, it makes it all the harder to get a basic understanding of who we are.
I remember talking with a church once about church growth. After an hour-long conversation they told me what they were like in the past and they told me what they were not. They lamented the fact that they did not have the membership “they should have.” What was interesting was that through everything, they did not make a statement about who they are; in fact, they did not even go around the room and introduce themselves.
It was both sad and funny when they asked me how they can grow, and all I said was recognize who and what you are today and be authentic to it. Sounds easy, but it was anything but for that congregation since they had seen themselves as failures. They had been running so long from what they were, they could not even accept themselves.
Interestingly, after a while, they recognized and were able to admit to their identity, not shunning the past nor trying to become what they thought they should be, but accepting who they were. Amazingly, though they did not grow by leaps and bounds, they grew and once again became a healthy congregation. When I followed up a few years ago there was a joy that filled them as they spoke of the work that the congregation was doing and the witness that they had. They recognized that they were spending so much time trying to be what they were not that they never had the chance to be who they were.
Think about that in our own lives; how much energy is spent when we try and be something we are not and avoid being who we are? So whether you come to the Gathering or not, I encourage you to try to spend time over the next month and peel back the layers of who you think you are and find that person who you really are, accept it and find out how to live into it, and you’ll probably find the joy and fulfillment you look for.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen