“It’s not about you.”
At the risk of sounding like a horrible cliche, since turning 40 I have thought a lot about my life and what I have accomplished to this point. I hate to say that I’ve been going through a mid-life crisis, but the reality of getting older, of reaching the stage when you are both young and old, has made me reflect on what I’ve done, what I hope to do, and what my future might be like. My budget precludes my buying a sports car but I have still occasionally thought about paths not taken.
Without going into details, I can honestly say that at the age of 41 I don’t always feel like I’ve accomplished much. I will hear of others my age or younger and what they’ve done with their lives, and I end up feeling sorry for myself. Of course, like some others, I’m a mixed bag of ego and insecurity, guaranteeing that I’ll never be satisfied with myself. As they say, the grass is always greener.
At the same time, we all want our lives to mean something, and for what we do to matter, to make a difference. When I speak of accomplishments, that’s usually what I mean. It’s success of a specific kind. Not one that has others admiring you, but where we measure success by contentment and peace. At the risk of sounding sentimental, success is not about the size of your account but about the size of your heart .
At a deeper level, we can make the mistake of measuring ourselves, and of determining our identity, by a self- determined standard of accomplishment. Not that we shouldn’t have goals or even ambition, but we should never let our identity rest on them. Doing so means risking our sense of self and meaning, because the moment we experience failure or disappointment we will also regard ourselves as failures and disappointments .
The truth is life will always be throwing us curve balls, including ones that upset our expectations. Not every effort will pan out. Basing our sense of self on things that are either temporary, fragile, or both, is unwise. It virtually guarantees that our identity will likewise be fragile.
So what I need is a secure source of identity, one that relies neither on outward circumstances nor on my own personal successes and accomplishments. There are options. One is the self-defined identity. I tell myself who I am. I talked about that one above.
I can listen to who others say I am. There’s truth in this. Sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves. People close to me can sometimes feed my ego. But the very same people can feed my insecurity with criticism. Of course, the truth can hurt.
But if I rely on other people for my sense of identity, I will always be looking for affirmation, for another ego fix. Our identity will be as fickle as someone else’s mood and most recent comments. If I were honest, I’m sure there’s a bit of a people pleaser in me.
Now what? Where do I go from here? If I can’t create my own identity that is secure and neither can I ground my identity in the opinions of others, where does my identity come from?
One of my favourite verses of scripture comes from the book of Colossians in the NT. It is found in Colossians 1:16 and goes like this: “all things have been created through him and for him.” This verse is talking about Jesus. Like the prologue in John’s Gospel, it presents Jesus as the incarnation of God, as the divine Son of God become human. It also presents Jesus as the one through whom all things have been made. The pre-existent Jesus is the agent of creation. That means we exist because he made us.
But there’s more. We’re also told that Jesus is the one for whom all things were made. Not only do have our actual existence because of him, we also find our meaning and purpose in him. In other words, if we want to know who we are, and we are supposed to be, we have to look to Jesus. Jesus tells me who I am, why I am here, and what my life is about.
Yes, I am 41. No, I’ve not been as successful as I wish. Indeed, I sometimes feel like my life is a bunch of unfinished business. Like anyone, I can feel like a failure. I can question the value of my work. How much
I do this might depend on the weather or my mood. I’m a fickle creature. Thankfully, however, Jesus is not fickle. He is utterly rock solid. His opinion of me never wavers or changes. This is because the identity I receive from him is grounded in the relationship I have with him. He establishes our relationship; I receive it, with thanks. And this is the truth I try and cling to whenever my sense of self begins to shake or when I hit a so-called mid life crisis and wonder what I have accomplished.