Husband. Father. Pastor. These are roles I currently have, roles that constitute both my responsibilities and relationships. They define my activities, my routine, what I do from day to day. And sometimes I can allow these roles to define who I am; and in the process I can forget that there’s more to me than the sum of my obligations, more to me than meets the eye.
I can imagine other sources of identity, too. I may fancy myself a writer, a cartoonist, or someone deserving of attention because of talents I possess. Why would I do this? Is it because I find my primary roles overwhelming and I am looking for an escape hatch, a place to hide from time to time? Or is it because I occasionally find these primary roles unsatisfying, and end up indulging in personal fantasies? In a moment of honesty, I might even admit to fantasying now and then about being a more successful pastor. Sometimes who I wish I was becomes the enemy of who I am.
Who am I really?
A question for the ages.
I have found that it can be deceptively easy to replace my identity in Christ with my role as pastor. It isn’t always conscious. It’s not like I want it to happen. But when professional obligations and duties push personal worship to the periphery, not only does ministry become hollow but so do I. Ironically, focusing only on ministry drains my ability to be effective in ministry.
Spirituality can seem counter-intuitive. Letting go to receive. Relinquishing to have. Detaching to gain. Dying to live. He must increase, while I must decrease. By becoming less, I actually become more; that is, if I am allowing Christ to be the primary source of my identity. But I realize, too, that I am impatient with Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. Becoming who we are in Christ is not a quick-fix; instead, it is a slow, sometimes painful process.
All the same, one of the things Adele Calhoun says in her book, The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, really stands out to me: “Imagine the kind of person you would like to become in your old age.” And I can even imagine the kind of person I would like to be in five, ten, or fifteen years. I think this stands out to me because I think of the Christian mentors or people who have had an influence on me over the years—because of their character, because of the roles they had, and how part of me would like to become more like them.
What I can say is that I am not altogether who I want to be, much less who God no doubt wants me to be—though I hope and pray that the trajectory of each is similar to the other. I want to be the kind of man who has his children’s respect, even though they are getting older. I want to be the kind of husband who enables his wife to thrive and grow and become more fully herself. I want to be the kind of pastor that has both a heart for God and a heart for the people. I want to be the kind of Christian that is growing in biblical wisdom and able to translate this wisdom into the context of relationships, of simple conversations, of everyday life. I want to be more than the roles I have. I want to be who Jesus wants me to be.
Like anyone else, I am a mixture of things, a messy combination of holy desires and sinful impulses. Hopefully the former are gaining on the latter and will eventually outrun them. The truth is, I don’t know myself as well as I should. I can be a mystery to myself, a puzzle, a frustration. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Indeed.
Thankfully, God knows me. He truly does. And perfectly, with a completeness of knowledge I will never have of myself. O Lord, you have searched me and known me . . . you discern my thoughts from far away . . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:1a, 6, 23a, 24b). And mystery of mysteries, wonder of wonders, he still condescends to love me, to rescue me, and, thankfully, to transform me. Work best left to him, especially since as my Creator, as the one who made me in the beginning, he knows not only who I am now but who he wants me to be.