“We arrive in this world with birthright gifts–then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting other disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too many often betray true self to gain the approval of others.” (Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, pp. 12)
As we continue to look at Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, I was really struck by this quote of his. At the age of 32 I’m just now beginning to realize how much of what I do and have done is driven by the pressure to fit in. By the pressure to please others. By the pressure to perform. By the pressure to climb to the top. A lot of those expectations drove me to do some really great things, but as I reflect more on my life, those great things have not always been congruent with who I am, or what Parker would refer to as one’s true self.
As the son of a pastor I was slotted early on to continue the vocation of ministry. Those were not the expectations of my father or probably most of my family, but there were expectations from those around me. I think that is what drove me early on to enter into ministry, but that is hopefully what no longer keeps me there. Confession: It is only after some extensive self-searching, work with my therapist, spiritual mentors, etc. have I come to embrace my “birthright gifts” and become less concerned with the expectations of others.
I have written on the topic of identity in other blog posts, and especially what Henri Nouwen has to say about it. But I’m continually struck by the scene in Mark 1:9-11, where the Spirit descends from heaven at the baptism of Jesus, and the voice of His Father, says, “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” What is striking about that scene? As Nouwen and others point out is that the Father was pleased with His Son before He performed any of the ministry that we know Him for and have shaped His identity around. Before any miracles, healings, casting out of demons, teachings, etc., the Father was well pleased with the Son.
As Christians we often find our worth and our identity based upon our performances or the things we have done. Think about what usually comes out of our mouth when someone asks about us: we give our names, what we do, etc. Nothing really about who we are. Our identity is most often not formed outside of or away from the things we do or the expectations around them.
What would our lives look like if we knew that our heavenly Father was well pleased with who we are…even outside of anything we have done?
How often do we come to God wanting to gain our identity and acceptance by the things we do?
How often do we conform to the slots and expectations of others based on our performances, rather than finding our identity in our relationship with Jesus Christ?