I was at the Westin Resort and Spa in Whistler. My sister had invited Moses (about seven) and I to spend a ski weekend with her and my brother-in-law. They reserved for the two of us a spacious, well-appointed suite with a phenomenal view. While my sister and Moses hit the slopes, I stayed back in the hotel recovering from a recent injury.
I was luxuriating in a fancy ski resort far above my social class and Moses was enjoying the spoils of being my sister’s only nephew. Inevitably, I lapsed into feeling terrible: Why does my sister always have to pay for me to stay at nice places? If I had a career I could pay my own way. I wouldn’t be a burden. It wouldn’t have to be this way.
It was morning, so I decided to start my day with some strengthening exercises in front of the fireplace while listening to a podcast by Tim Keller about “counterfeit gods”. He said something along the lines of counterfeit gods being good things in our lives that we turn into gods that drive us and eventually crush us. You know something is a counterfeit god if you kill yourself trying to attain it and if you feel you cannot live if you don’t have it. Such gods are counterfeit because they cannot deliver on what they promise and insidiously suck the life out of us.
I was familiar with the teaching, but this time it sank in. Had I had made having a stable career or finding a career direction into a counterfeit god? I thought that having a secure career or at least figuring out a career path for myself would save me. It was the one thing that I needed to be happy and content. But because I was not successful in attainting a career, my not having a career was killing me. I could not live with myself. I would not experience peace in my life until I attained one.
Keller continued (I hope I am not misquoting this since I cannot remember which podcast it was and have not been able to relocate it) that as Christians, if we insist that we need anything more than God, then we are throwing the blood of Christ back onto Christ and telling Jesus that He is not enough for us. The words shocked me.
No, I declared. I don’t want to do that. I am sorry. Jesus, you are enough for me.
I saw a a wall of mosaic tiles in front of me. It was the size and shape of a wide doorway. The tiles were made of multi-textured gray squares; granite, concrete, or glass, or some such mixture of materials. Immediately, the mosaic wall lost all support and fell row by row, clatter upon clatter, into a pile at my feet.
It was a breakthrough. I was getting free.
Reflections: For most of my life, I had based my identity on achievements, or not having them. I was a failure if I hadn’t attained a goal, and my self-worth was directly related to what I was able to achieve. If I were finally able to achieve YXZ , then finally, I’d be somebody. Tim Keller explains that identity, in modern American culture, is achieved. Identity is achieved when we discover who we are and what we want and achieve our dreams. According to a Christian gospel, however, identity is received, not achieved. It is a gift. “And so you can only say, whether you are religious or traditional or even a modern agnostic or secular person, you basically, your identity works like this, because I perform, because I obey, because I followed the rules, because I’ve achieved, then I could feel good about myself. I obey, therefore I’m accepted, but the Christian gospel is the only system in the world of thought that gives you a radically and totally different identity than what the secular world would give you, what any other religion would give you, what traditional cultures would give you. Because Christianity says your identity received not achieved. Every other systems says, if you follow the rules, if you compete, if you perform, then you’re accepted. Christianity says no, I’m accepted in Jesus Christ, therefore I perform.” (From transcript of Identity That Can Handle Either Success or Failure.)
Religious doctrine aside, our worth as humans has nothing to do with achievements, status, or wealth. All humans are inherently valuable and worthy of love, no matter their beliefs and behaviors. How many of us actually believe this?
I am still searching for more satisfaction in my career, but it is no longer something that has me in its grip. I may never find a career that I love that allows me to make a stable, secure income. If I do, that would be fantastic, but if not, what I have now is more than enough.
Question for Discussion: What is your identity formation process? What do you base your identity on?