Updated: Feb 26, 2020
You know the sayings? “Old gardeners never die; they just recede” or “Old realtors never die; they just become listless.” They’re ways of saying that once something is in you, once it becomes part of your core identity, it’s always there, because to the extent that you’ve affirmed that identity, it’s led to a loving and joyful embrace, which eventuates in the ‘doing of the thing’, whether writing code, or caring for small children, climbing peaks, brewing the perfect cup of coffee, or mining the perfect moves in a game of chess. But when you can no longer do the thing, it often leads to what is called an “identity crisis.” It can happen anytime – from your childhood to your eighties, and how you deal with the loss will determine the depth and quality of your life for the rest of your days.
“Who am I now that I can’t climb anymore?” or “now that I’m not the CEO?” or “now that the children have moved away?” or “now that my wife left me?”
Here are some truths, offered this advent season, that I hope will help you move forward during seasons of loss.
Your fundamental identity is unshakeable. I Peter 1:4 says “we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” It’s sad that this amazing promise has often been used to relegate all hope to some future day after death, because I don’t think that was Peter’s intention. The reality, for all us, is that we’re created as unique expressions of the life of God with the intent that our lives would express the life of God through our creativity, joy, and expressions of justice, generosity, and love. Peter wrote these words at a time when Christians were being used as torches for Nero’s parties, as being a Christ-follower was viewed (rightly) as a threat to the prevailing idols of nationalism and consumerism, idols that are still with us today.
So what God has put in you remains in you, even when you can no longer express it in ways you once did, which is another way of saying…
The love that made you DO, remains, even when you can no longer DO! – Harvey Manning loved the Cascades, because he was a conservationist. The Harvey Manning trail in Issaquah, WA is part of his legacy. In the Seattle Times, we read that Manning had been “ailing and unable to hike for several years before his death” in 2006. This, though, doesn’t make him any less a hiker, because his identity as a conservationist was never shaken, even after the hiking ended.
Far from limiting us, changes due to limitations can be a resurrection of our truest self.
We’re shaken awake by loss, suffering, setbacks. Once the dust settles and we embrace the reality of our situations, we can seek, through prayer and wisdom, to find redemption right in the midst of the loss. You’ve all heard the story of the person who was diagnosed with cancer, and as a result went home and quit her job, began working on the novel she’d intended to write her entire life, but put off due to lesser things. She writes, and by the way, the cancer disappears. This story, or something like it, is a prevailing narrative of hope, occurring over and over again throughout history.
While in Europe I read “And There was Light” by Jacques Lusseyran (review coming in a future post). He was permanently blinded by an accident at the age of seven, and went on to learn four languages, lead a major French Resistance movement during WWII, was betrayed, arrested, sent to Buchenwald where he not only survived, but became a vessel through which hope and light poured into the lives of others. After the war he became a University professor and author. Blindness as a limitation? He’d laugh at the thought, and did laugh, countless times. Far from limiting; he’d say it awakened his ‘true calling’ or to use Peter’s language, his “unshakeable inheritance.”
I once thought that strength was found in strength, but with each passing day I see the wisdom of Paul’s koan, “when I am weak, then I am strong,” with greater clarity.
God of the weak, yet glorious…
In this advent season, I repent of how often I’ve waited for and sought You only as a means to move me into the kind of strength and calling I want for myself. Meanwhile, You’ve already placed in me a unique capacity to bless the world around me, but I’ve been blinded to it by my lust for youth, strength, wealth, influence, or whatever currency my culture happens to be selling in the moment. Forgive me. Give me eyes to see my real gifts, unshakeable inheritance, and true calling, a calling that exists independent of our idols of perfection – Amen.