My recent birthday-induced midlife crisis has produced a great deal of soul searching. This has maybe been exacerbated by reading Simone de Beauvoir and homeschooling my kids. (Maybe.) After all, it has been ten years since I had a real career path. I cringe when people ask, “What do you DO?” So much of the time, we derive our value from our jobs – and I’ve got nothing tangible in that arena. And let’s be honest: our society values women’s appearances above just about everything else we say or do. This is not right, but it is true; and I’ve long since passed that artificial but widely-accepted expiration date, too.
So where does value come from? Where is the meaning in my life? What am I doing that I can really dig into and embrace and in which I can find challenge and peace? It can’t be my husband and kids; I love them, but they are not projects and cannot bear the weight of my existential crisis. That way disaster lies. Who am I?
This is where the cliché “find your identity in Christ” begins rattling around in my head and makes me roll my eyes. It seems like that was always used as a bludgeon when I was young to try to keep unruly teenagers from exploring the world and figuring out who we were. When Paul says in I Corinthians 7:23-24, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God,” these verses were interpreted by my fundamentalist teachers to function as a spiritual cookie cutter: don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t raise your eyes to the horizon. Just accept and conform. My identity in Christ was to be a silent, dutiful nursery worker who also joyfully baked casseroles, none of which works for me. At all. Put another way, the threat was implicit: “you were bought with a price – a really, REALLY big price – so don’t anger the guy who wrote the check. He might just call the bank and cancel it.”
Basically my identity in Christ was that of a condemned prisoner, just waiting for the divine axe to fall.
But what if the words of I Corinthians actually – I’m going out on a limb here – mean what they say? What if Paul is telling us not to define ourselves by human expectations, but rather to remember that Christ’s extravagant love is what makes us who we are? If grace defines me, then… I’m free. I no longer have to squeeze the square peg of me into the round hole of man-made cultural expectations. And what if this makes God – happy? What if this was His plan all along?
In her fabulous book, Accidental Saints, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber recalls being asked the question as a child, “How would you be living if you really believed?” In her case, as in mine, the subtext was that if one were REALLY a Christian it would look like that denomination’s definition of moral behavior: specifically, no drinking or dancing, and lots of Sunday school and casseroles. Identity in DOING. But once the gospel sinks in, the question changes radically and so does the identity. “You were bought with a price,” becomes a life-giving statement of fact that opens up a world of joy and possibility.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to the Lord.” Eph. 4:32-5:2
THIS is my identity in Christ: His child, loved and forgiven, free to love and forgive.
Grace upon grace.