Monday, December 21, 2009

Identity Crisis

*I wrote this last year for a talk at MOPS in Doha. I've been thinking about it again lately, and thought I'd share.

My favorite family Christmas tradition used to be one that I merely tolerated until it was time to dig into the presents. I was well into my teenage years before this tradition held much meaning for me. I don’t recall how old I was, but I do remember the feeling the first Christmas that I honestly looked forward to the reading of the Christmas story. We would sit around the living room, my brother and I antsy with anticipation, my mom settling down after bustling around the kitchen making last minute adjustments and preparations for our Christmas morning breakfast, and my dad would read from the 2nd chapter of Luke:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Can you imagine the loss of identity that Mary must have felt when she found out that she was expecting a child? She was a good Jewish girl, planning to marry a man from her home town that she had probably known all her life, to settle down and have children, but not now, not yet. God had stepped in and changed her plans. All of a sudden, she was an unwed mother-to-be, with an impossible story to tell her family about the child’s parentage. Most likely she had looked forward to becoming a mother, but no one could blame her if she was angry about the timing. In fact, it would have been very easy for Mary to lose herself in this situation. She had every reason to be lonely, scared, and depressed. But scripture tells us that while she was pregnant, she sang, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

It is so easy to get caught up in outward things, even in our relationships with others. We find our purpose in accumulating money and worldly goods. We define ourselves by our jobs, and when we choose to stay at home, we feel a sense of loss. We crave the attention of friends and acquaintances, a sense of belonging to those we look up to. We depend so much on our husbands for support and love that we never look to any other source. We are tempted as mothers to find our identity in our children, to make our relationship with them the defining role in our lives. Worldly possessions, jobs, friends, spouses, children, these are all good things that come from the Father, but these are also changing parts of our lives. Money comes and goes, jobs can be lost, friends move, husbands are fallible, and children will one day leave our homes, but if you find your identity in the Lord, you will be like Mary, able to sing, “My soul glorifies the Lord,” no matter what your circumstances.

In Colossians 3:2-4, Paul says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Because you have believed in Him, your identity is ultimately found in Him, not in earthly things. One day, you will rise with Christ into Heaven, and that is all that really matters, not how much money you have, how fulfilling your work is, how smart your children turn out to be. Your life is Christ’s. Christ is your life. This is an identity that can never be lost or taken away. As a Christian, your identity is completely, inextricably wrapped up in Christ.

This Christmas season, away from all the trappings of our home countries, here so close to where it all happened, I want to encourage you to take the time to evaluate where you find your identity. I’m not suggesting that you are a robot for Christ, each one of us exactly the same; God has given us unique personalities and talents, and you are also a mother, and a wife, and all those other things. But where do you draw your strength? Where are you finding refreshment? What do other people see in you? Remember God’s promise to us in John’s version of the Christmas story, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are a child of God and nothing can change that. You can rest in that promise. You can stake your identity on it.

1 comment:

Lori ~ The Simple Life at Home said...

Erica, this blessed me more than you will ever know. I've been struggling with these very issues lately and I needed to hear these words. Thanks for sharing them. Merry Christmas to you, Brad and the kids!