When you first meet someone, she might ask, “Who are you?”
And you might say, “Well I’m So-and-So. And I’m very good at this thing and that thing and here’s where I live and this is my family and —“
But do you know who God says you are?
The one Jesus loves.
(“Who Are You?,” from Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones and Jago)
When I was a very young child — oh say pre-school — I didn’t think much about questions like “who am I.” I wasn’t philosophical. That changed of course when school started and self-awareness set in. I wasn’t smart, I would say, but not dumb. I was no good at sports, I’d say, but at least not the worst. I was musical, but as that wasn’t so cool, I kept it to myself. I wrote things and read books, but you don’t score any points with girls or guys at the younger ages with such interests, so that too I kept close.
In sixth grade my friend Bobby and I dressed up (well, our mothers helped us dress) and went to our first dance at General Greene Elementary School, which was a pleasant old-style school: single-level, no air conditioning, with classrooms that had big windows you could fling over to let air flow and even doors that opened on the outdoors and through which we cascaded at recess. The dance was in the cafeteria. I’m not sure what we were thinking, but I suspect we had some unstated hope that a girl might dance with us. That didn’t happen. We stood around a while and left, as I recall, made light of the whole dumb affair. Walked home. Who needs girls? So add to my identity that I was musical, read a lot, wrote some things, was relatively bad at sports, and now, wonder of wonders, had no girlfriend. But I did have one good friend, a Mom, and a Dad, and you can go a long way on that.
By ninth grade, things were pretty well sorted out. If you did Google Earth on the patio where we congregated after lunch at Kaiser Junior High School, you would have seen perhaps four nodes of activity — the cool people (made up of guys and girls, the popular ones), the jocks (which intersected with the cool people at certain times), the freaks (long hair, spaced out, weird), the rejects (oddities, either deemed unattractive, uncool, or just creepy), and the musically obsessed (a grouping defined by conversation about music and toting of LPs, and sometimes intersecting with the freaks and the language of which was completely foreign to the cool people). So, now I had identity: I was musically obsessed. I had found my tribe. My membership card was an LP tucked under my arm, banding about names like Jethro Tull, The Who, Yes, and even Blind Faith or Audience, known almost exclusively to the insiders. My identity seemed settled to my adolescent mind.
That same year, however, I became the kid whose Dad had died. I didn’t know anyone my age whose Dad had died. For that matter, I don’t think I knew anyone whose parents had divorced. These things were uncommon. I remember going back to school after that and thinking how weird it was to be walking around as the kid whose Dad had died. No one really talked to me about that. But my friends did. I had two good friends by then. You can go a long way on two good friends. It begins to matter a little less who you think you are.
Nowadays, of course, I am husband, father, elder, attorney, writer, and so on. I like to think I am thoughtful, reasonably intelligent, and articulate, and sometimes I am. I’m still no good at sports, girls don’t matter (except one), and I remain musically obsessed (but not as bad as that guy, I opine). I still don’t like to ask questions, make phone calls, raise my hand in class, or dance. But I am more settled into Me, that what I do and where I live and who I know aren’t - as important as they are - the basis of who I am.
I am the one Jesus loves.
You can go a long way on that.
I have to keep telling myself that.