If you’re like me and a theatre nerd, in response to the title you just said “Jean Valjean!” Some of you may also hear the Casting Crowns song ringing in your heads. Seriously, though, this is something I’ve wrestled with for a while–professionally, personally, emotionally, relationally.
I want to give you some background about me. (This is by no means an exhaustive list of what life has been like or even the most important highs and lows. However, these points were important in shaping my internal conversation about who I am.)
Growing up in church and in Christian education, God and Christianity has always been a large part of my life. My journey with The Lord has had times of intimacy and distance, but He has always been a driving force for me. I spent a lot of time in middle school and high school at church, nearly idolizing my youth leaders, only to be disappointed by adultery, lies, misunderstandings, and disappointments. I questioned things like marriage, commitment, relativism, denominations, dogma, and apologetics.
My senior year of high school I started dating a boy who would eventually propose to me in Italy. He was not a mature Christian, and we both rarely attended church through college and we made many mistakes together during those four years. Five days before our wedding he said he couldn’t marry me. I questioned myself, taking on the guilt and sadness with the idea (ahem…lie) that I am unloveable. I resolved that I had so many character flaws and that if the boy who knew me best didn’t love me, then who would?
I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. In third grade, we had a long term sub who moved the teachers desk from the back of the classroom to the front. I remember thinking that was such a fantastic idea and that I would have to remember that when I got my own classroom one day. I loved all my classes and observations in college and kids have always been my favorite people group. But after I graduated I didn’t get a job teaching. Or the next year. Or the next year. Sure I moved a few times, I subbed, I was an assistant. I found favor at the schools where I worked and I learned so much. But I spent 3 years after college working in related positions to teaching in addition to waiting tables. Again I thought, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not teaching right now?”
All of these areas of my life have mended by the grace of God. (I’ll share more later about the process, progress, and current status of these things).
So, who am I?
Throughout these seasons I was stuck on the idea of being a perfect church-going girl, a prized pet of the youth ministry, a leader who disciples those younger than her. I wanted to be a wife, married in my early twenties to my high school sweetheart. I would have been safe and secure from heart ache and uncertainty, or so I thought. My identity, work, and career can all be found in teaching. A noble and selfless profession, abandoning all others, to shape the future of our youth and build into the lives or precious little ones. This is my committed work until I retire, touching countless lives between now and then.
That sounds pretty good, right? All good intentions. That is who I thought I was. A good Christian, a devoted wife/a broken ex-fiancée, and a teacher.
But when I examined my life and looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw. I wasn’t a very good Christian; I lived several years in partial (and sometimes total) rebellion against the Lord. I was still single; longing to be married, but no one worthy ever giving me a second glance. I didn’t have a teaching job; all my friends were about to reach tenure, while I was an assistant teacher and waiting tables.
This is what I know: The Lord wants us to find our identity in Him. Who I am isn’t comprised of how I earn money, who is next to me at night, or where I attend church. I am a child of the One True King. Woven throughout scripture we find verse after verse talking about Christ living within us (Galations 2:20; Galations 3:26-28; Colossians 3:3) through His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), about how we are now children of the Most High (Romans 8:27). We are dead to ourselves and have new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are a part of a body of believers with our own talents and gifts in which to contribute (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are made in His image (Ephesians 4:24), called for a purpose ( John 15:16; Philippians 1:6). Of course I can have a job, a church community, and relationships and still be within the Lords will, but that isn’t who I am.
who are you?