The latin phrase “Know Thyself” is a catchy phrase. But how many of us identify with other human beings in a way that builds relationship? How many of us wrap our identity in one sole area of our lives, instead of recognizing we are multifaceted? I know I am one of them.
Being separated from the people that you care most about sucks. I know, I have been separated from my wife and kids for the past several months. After February 13th, I left the behavioral health unit and headed to a different city, away from the church that I was at, to begin to pick up the pieces of life. Looking for friends, I began to contact some of the people from my past church experience to see if I could find a place to stay. I ended up staying with a dear friend and now brother, who is a 22 year old stuck in an 84 year old man’s body. The story of how I got there is written elsewhere, but what happened at his and his wife’s house was nothing short of a miracle. I wish that I could capture the moments in his living room, learning and being challenged by a man that was learning humility right along with me. I was challenged, irritated, held accountable, and ribbed. I was a wreck—up and down like a kite. My emotional barometer was all over the place and the folks that I was staying with never knew what to expect emotionally as I walked through their front door. They were so gracious to me in those early weeks. After the first night living in their home, they should have kicked me out, but they believed in me, believed for me, at some level.
My friend and brother likes to argue. It’s how he learns. Honestly, he drives me nuts when he argues because I am a people pleaser and don’t want to engage in conflict. Conflict, at any level, causes deep anxiety and pain to spring up within me. So the first time that he challenged something I said by muttering, “I don’t know about that….” I was taken back. I didn’t want to argue with the man that I was living with. I didn’t want to have to ‘know things’ to win an argument like I have done all my life. I just wanted to focus on the things that I knew would help me recover and not have to deal with the pain of argumentation or irritation. I didn’t want to have to draw on my understanding of scripture or experience to argue my point. But I couldn’t help myself. I decided I was going to ‘win’ the argument. I later learned that winning an argument with him was simply to say that we had one, and he would call it a ‘good discussion.’
He asked me a question“Why do you identify yourself as an alcoholic at the meeting? Why do you call yourself that, when you are a child of God?” The question itself was irritating to me. So, I decided to engage it. Listen you….
First of all, I call myself an alcoholic at the meeting because I am an alcoholic and I’m introducing myself as one, just like the other 24 people in the room. I also call myself an alcoholic because I am reminding myself of who I am and why I am here, living with you! My crisis statement was one that I need to remember, and I remember it every time that I identify myself as an alcoholic. And finally, it’s the first time in my recent memory that I can be honest with a room and not experience judgement for not being perfect (more from myself than others, if I am honest). The second part of his question, about being a child of God, in the moment seemed like a needle below the skin. I was in the middle of a faith crisis and he was calling me a child of God. It was all that I could do to not show irritated (although he would later tell me that I was very emotive and he could tell when something was wrong). In my best pastoral voice, I said, “Because I am not sure what to think of God quite yet. I don’t know that I am his child.” I thought that would quiet my dear friend and brother and we could continue our car ride in silence. But he kept pushing. “So, why don’t you say you are both?” Inside, I was furious. Not at my beloved friend. Not at God. But with me. At who I had become. At what choices I had made. Inside, I became indignant. Why do I need to tell people that I am an alcoholic? Why do I need to do this recovery thing? Why do I need to not drink? It all became overwhelming in that moment.
Looking back, identity is something that we talked regularly about. When it comes down to it, I am both an alcoholic and a child of God. I’m a lot of other things as well. For instance, I’m a dad and a husband. I’m a blogger and an artist. I’m a musician and friend. I’m lazy and hardworking, all at the same time. I’m messed up, screwed up, and insane at times. You see, identity really becomes identity when I am able to look eyeball to eyeball with someone and we have something in common. We identify a shared experience. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have sat with another father and we have discussed the woes of parenting young children. Or the times that I have chatted with other people that have a distinct taste in music. Or maybe those that enjoy coffee who identify as ‘coffee drinkers.’ You see, we all have identities and sharing those identities in the right context makes us human. It allows us to be an integral part of each others’ story. It allows us to build relationships and a narrative between a group of people that can become like minded.
When Paul talks about the identity we have in Christ (for my bible teaching and scholarly friends, some of the references would be Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 5, Ephesians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 5) he really is discussing what the reality of salvation means. We are brought into the sight of God no longer as guilty, but as free. It’s a change in both perspective and reality that God has. Paul identifies himself as the ‘chief amongst sinners’ as well, in 1 Timothy 1. What are we to make of the dual reality? Obviously, we are still human and are NOT perfect even in our state of salvation. But maybe Paul was talking more about the fact that we can now identify with both Jesus’ humanity AND his deity? Before Jesus made us new, and transformed us in God’s sight, we only identified with Jesus’ humanity. We identified with the temptations that he faced, the physical pain that he suffered, and the relationship nightmares that he found himself in. We identified with his anger, with his justice, and with his ability to win arguments with people. After we have experienced the changed reality and perspective of God, we are able to identify with his deity as well. We are not God at this point, we never will be. But we have access to know God in a new way. As my friends in recovery say, “Those who give their will over to God will recover, may you find him now.” Christians often celebrate the fact that God was both man and deity, but the reality is, maybe we should celebrate the fact that we can now identify with both. Our identity is found in both our humanity and our deity. Paul said it over 160 times. We are to be ‘in Christ.’
Enough of my pondering, borderline preaching. I enjoy pondering the nature of identity, for mine is reforming from what it was. I no longer have to be something for someone else, care about how people will respond to what I say or feel, or find solace in others’ feelings about me. I identify with many of you as human. I identify with many of you as ‘in Christ’ (and jacked up as well!) And my identity is multifaceted. I’m a lot of things with alot of people, and that changes as I build within the narrative of relationships.
Early on in recovery, everyone knew that I was an alcoholic. The poor check out lady at Walmart asked how my day was going. I said, “It would be better if I weren’t an alcoholic and could have a drink.” As she stood there mortified, not sure what to think, I realized that I had broken the rule of narrative within relationship. This was not a time or place to put that bedrock of who I identify with at the forefront. This was the time and the place to give the pat answer of “I’m doing okay, how are you?” I try not to put people in awkward situations like this anymore, but sometimes cannot help myself. I will be honest with people but am relearning what it means to identify with people, instead of telling them my identity in one word. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a failed pastor. I’m a child of God. I’m a dad, husband, size 34×34 pant wearer, and a coffee drinker. And so you and I identify with each other on some level, and continue to build the narrative within the relationship that we have.
I desire to know myself. All facets of myself. And get to know you as well, with shared experiences. Identity is to know someone, and our identity is brushed stroked quite broadly.
I’ll keep going to meetings and identifying as an alcoholic, reminding myself of who I am and clearly letting others into my world. It’s good for me, and good for you to remember who we are, so we don’t lose ourselves.