One of the interesting things about being in a place such as I am right now is that you have the opportunity to essentially project whatever identity you see fit. You are in a new place, with people you've never met before and will in all likelihood never see again. It affords you the interesting opportunity to "reinvent" yourself as you see fit, if you so desire. I've had this opportunity many times in my life, being that we moved every three years or so throughout my childhood and the only people that really knew me that whole time was my family. Every time I came into a new place, I had these ideas in my head of how I wanted to be in this new place. I came here with that same desire, I wanted to project the ideal person that I had always wanted to be. Inevitably, however, you fall back into old patterns and end up being the same person that you didn't really want to be. I came here wanting to be the quiet, patient mystic who didn't get phased or upset by all the bullshit that we have to put up with every day; the one guy who didn't complain a lot, the guy that could be depended on to be peaceful in the midst of chaotic circumstances, the patient wise old guy who didn't allow things to affect him as much as the rest. My journaling since being here has resembled the tension that Paul expressed in Romans of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. I know how I want to respond and who I want to be, but I find myself making the same mistakes in the heat of the moment--complaining about frustrating circumstances, expressing anger at people around me, being cynical, and opening my mouth way too much and saying things that I inevitably come to regret.
In many ways, I feel like this is a tension and struggle that I've dealt with for the majority of my life. Because of all the transition I have been through, I've really only had a few close friends that I feel really knew and understood me at a deep level. The reality is that for a long time I didn't really like who I was, I always wanted to be someone different and finding myself in a new place every three years allowed me to attempt to reinvent myself on a regular basis. This reinvention never really happened though. I always started off well and then eventually fell into old patterns until I moved on to the next place and was able to start again. One of our goals in moving to Baltimore was to attempt to put an end to this transition, to find a place where we would be happy settling down long-term and committing to long-term relationships in a community of people who would really know us and hold us accountable. In many ways, after our relocation, I was pretty happy with where we were. I was settled into a good career in education, we were looking at buying a house, I was getting a newspaper every day, I felt all grown up and ready to settle in and commit to a community, become pillars and solid community stalwarts that could participate in long-term influence and change. The test of this, however, would naturally be to experience some hardship. It is how we respond to turmoil that defines who we truly are and I was terrified by what I saw in myself. As I've expressed before, dark parts of me came out that I did not know existed and I felt a slight crisis in my identity. I responded irrationally by trying to reinvent myself as a full-time graduate student, as a soldier, as a husband and hopeful father trying to do what he could to provide for his family. I felt failure as a teacher and in many ways failure as a husband and therefore felt the need to find something in which I could feel success in some form of identity.
I think I've finally had a revelation that has shown me the core of the problem--I have always defined myself by external factors. How people perceive me, what I "do", how I react to circumstances, things I see in others that I like and try adopt for myself. I try to mold myself in certain ways to make myself the person I want to be and always come up short. I'm never fully happy with who I am or who I am becoming. And so the plaguing question continues to linger: how exactly am I defining myself?
As a follower of Christ, I'm beginning to realize that perhaps the crux of the problem is attempting to form my own identity in ways that I want to see it shaped, instead of finding my core and center in the person of Christ and seeking the guidance of his spirit to allow myself to be molded into the person he wants me to be. Most of the things I feel called to be, based on what I've read in scripture are the things that I want for myself--patient, loving, tolerant, contemplative instead of reactionary. So how do I get there? In church, we talk constantly of being guided and molded by the Holy Spirit--but what does that mean? In reflecting, I realize that I don't know what it means to be led by the Lord. I do what I can to be rooted in scripture and seeking out a better understanding of the new humanity that Christ modeled for us but I am not one of those people who can claim without reservation that he has heard the voice of the Lord and felt his clear guidance. I've always thought that the answer is in trying to always be about the heart of God and then making decisions within that, walking through open doors and when necessary owning up to the decisions that I've made. I often find myself wishing that I could claim to hear the voice of the Lord more clearly so that when things don't work out I can be upset and blame someone other than myself, feeling justified in my frustration and wanting things to change.
The answer seems clear in my head. I need to find my core identity in Christ, be a centered person so that when the winds of life begin blowing around me and the rivers begin to swell, I am not shaken. Who I am and how I am is not dependent upon constantly changing external circumstances but on the ever unchanging person of Christ. But what exactly does that look like? Is there ever a place we reach in this life that we can say we are truly grounded, centered people and are prepared to deal with whatever comes our way? Or are we stuck in this fallen world to be constantly living in a state of tension between the powers of the flesh, which call us to react and be shaken by the external, and the powers of the Spirit, which call us to exercise patience and control and an ever-centered mentality in the midst of the storm? How do we tap into the power of the that Jesus promised to leave with us in His Spirit?
As always, I find myself plagued with more questions than answers; but, as always, I find myself feeling perfectly comfortable with that. Many would say that is the cheap way out, settling for the tension of the unknown instead of making the decision to stand firm with a solid opinion on a given point. But I think that for too long we've been settling solidly on opinions that are not necessarily based entirely on the truthful reality that Christ has tried to teach us. I remain convinced that we still don't really get what Jesus was trying to say when he came to walk the earth and show us a different way. We certainly understand things a bit better than we did before, but Jesus in the gospels is constantly telling the disciples that they're not getting it. So, I still wonder, do we get it? Or have we, in many ways, settled back into what is comfortable for us, inventing black and white definitions and answers to all our questions instead of entertaining and tension-filled state of wonder? This is one of the reasons I appreciate so much leaders like Rob Bell, who often pose more questions than answers in their thinking and writing, but at least begin to guide the thought process more toward what I think Jesus has been calling us to understand. Perhaps some of the things we feel so certain about are misguided.
So, who am I? I guess for now I'm a guy asking a ton of questions about how to be the person I want to be and Christ is calling me to be. Trying to figure out how to be that centered person unshaken by the storms of life. I'm blessed enough to have an incredible wife who is incredibly patient and strong enough to stand by my side throughout all my screw-ups and attempts to become a better husband, hopeful father, and follower of Christ. In so many ways, she has been and continues to be a picture of Christ's undying patience and love for humanity. I'm becoming more okay with embracing my brokenness and realizing that I do not contain within myself the power to become the ideal person that I hope to be. Hopefully with continued patience, love, and guidance from my God and the loved ones in my life I can continue to take each day as it comes, celebrating successes and learning from mistakes, and becoming a bit more grounded with each passing moment, ready for whatever comes my way. I'm not sure when the answers will start to come but at least for now I feel like I'm asking the right questions.