“But now, this what the Lord says-
He who created you O Jacob
He who formed you, O Israel
I have called you by name, and you are mine.”
As one might suspect, for myself the new year has begun with a bit of reflection. My thoughts and tasks are now woven with the knowledge that in several months my tenure as the regional executive minister will end. Coupled with this knowledge, I realize that stepping back from the role of executive minister will necessitate for a time the relinquishing of the role of pastor. When I retire on September 1st, it will mark 40 years of pastoral ministry. (Granted, I wouldn’t have called myself a pastor, when I was 24.) Shortly after Christmas, God’s grace let me stumble into a place of seeing the blessing of laying down the roles I have filled for 40 years. It was a renewed call to a “first identity.”
I have discovered that this journey into retirement is partially about the intentional shedding of identities. The blessing is the rediscovering, or re-embracing a fuller sole identity in Christ. In the business of serving God, there is the temptation and the creation of identities from what we do, complete, or achieve. And in welcoming these identities, we run the risk of finding our first identity not in Christ, but in a whirlwind of things that fill our ego needs. The roles quickly become distorted not as a means of reflecting Christ, but instead become reinforcements of our own self-image. We possibly need the roles to assure ourselves of our worth and our place in the world. We can manipulate our environments, and manipulate others as though they are mirrors from which we derive a desired image of ourselves. And what happens when the mirrors fall away?
I am coming to believe that the richness of intentionally shedding identities for only the identity of “Christian” does not create an emptiness but rather creates an openness, only to be filled by Christ. It sounds a little kenotic that a person pours out, so that the Holy Spirit might pour in. I worry that part of the erosion of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy is because we somehow begin to believe our first identity in Christ is found wanting, so we must substitute temporal ideological or political identities for an eternal one. Maybe substitute ideologies play better to our egos, and justify our angers, than living under Christ’s reign. In the same manner, the calls we have received, the positions we have filled, and work we have poured ourselves into, become our identity. In our spiritual and emotional strivings, we slip away from the assurance that our identity is found in the One who extended the call and formed our lives.
To borrow imagery from C.S. Lewis, maybe the inventorying and shedding of identities is like Aslan’s claws removing the dragon scales so one might be redeemed and real. Isaiah assures the people of Israel, and his words echo to us, “I have called you by name, and you are mine.” How different we and the Body of Christ would be, if the first identity most often prevailed.
3/4/2023 12:30:05 pm
Dale, I am acutely aware of my inadequacy in writing an appropriately appreciative comment. I must try because your insights about your ( and our) authentic, true, first identity reached deeply into my core being. Thank you for reviving my gratitude and wonder for the “things God has done”
3/9/2023 07:59:31 pm
Well said, Dale. And best wishes and prayers for the next adventure God has for you.
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