Friday, October 31, 2014

The Secret Idolatry of a Misplaced Identity

“It is no wonder that John Calvin called the human heart an idol factory, after all, its greatest idol is the idol of self.”

The questions fly through my mind; I can’t make sense of them. My emotions are all over the place; I can’t force them into submission. Why does this happen with each world-change, each culture-change, each community-change, each job-change?

I experience this internal agony intensely with each culture-hop, every two and a half years, give or take. No matter how much I try to prepare for it, I cannot avoid the six or eight weeks of internal wrestling, questioning, and soul-searching. In some ways I feel like a man who has lost everything, forced to take on a whole new identity. And that is the core issue, isn’t it? Identity.

All orphans wrestle with the issue of identity.

It is core to the orphan heart.

It is core to the human heart.

Who am I? Underneath it all. When all is stripped away. At my core, who am I?
Or perhaps the question really is, what defines me?

The loss of identity in the life of a child is the foundational place of the wounding of an orphan’s heart. The loss of family, and specifically the loss of fatherhood, leads to a loss of identity, which leads to a loss of belonging and purpose. But what about me?

What defines me? On the surface it seems easy enough for me to answer. I am a husband and father of five plus two. I am a missionary. I am a West Virginian. I am a Christian. I am a teacher. I am a shepherd…I am…I am…but there is more. There is more to who I am than a job, a place, or a role can capture. These are all transient things. There must be more.

When I arrived in the States a year and some months ago, I felt rattled, stripped. My confidence was lost, my very purpose questioned, my worth and value felt lowered. I felt lost and cut-off. Wandering. Stripped naked. With one step onto that airplane: 1. the culture that I had grown to feel secure in- gone in a day. 2. The relationships, friendships and community that defined my daily life- gone in a day. 3. The job and responsibilities my mind carried and delighted in- gone in a day. Without these, who am I?

I was made for more.

Seasons of life thrust this reality upon all of us: Birth, Death, Marriage, Retirement (or the thought of it), Kids Moving Out, Job Change, World Change.

In all of these, at my core I am revealed. In what am I placing my confidence? What am I basing my purpose on? Where are my worth and value grounded? My heart, that so quickly latches on to unstable, changing, or even false reality for pleasure, purpose, fulfillment, definition, identity, is painfully revealed.

I am not…but I am…becomes so crucial to this wrestling soul. Truth that confronts this ever-changing reality.

I am not a missionary. I am not defined by culture or state or country or ministry or stuff or savings or possessions or even extended family…all of these are gifts to point me to the One who defines me, makes me, calls me, entrusts to me (often for a season).

I was made for God.

I am an adopted son of the Most High God. I am loved with an everlasting, unchanging, unfailing love. I am part of a family that transcends nations and languages. I am a part of a Kingdom that is bigger than my understanding and more valuable than my earthly treasures. My worth and value are grounded in God and God alone.

I am His.

In this light my secret and seductive idols are revealed. Beyond the external ones that cling so tightly for control and affection, down deep to the internal ones that lie embedded in “good things” that wrap themselves in insecurity or false security, in titles or praise of men, in familiarity and cultural norms and values. My misplaced identity in culture, community, profession, entertainment, standard of living, comforts and stuff, are brought to nothing in the light of His Kingdom and calling.

When all else is stripped away, who am I? I am simply His. What else can I do with the idols that claw at my soul like thorns in my side, the fruit of my misplaced identity? The Spirit cries out: Cast them down.

He is enough.


Aimee Haywood said...

Love this brother. I'm in tears. All I can say is Amen...

Scott Laslo said...

Thanks, brother. I love you and your heart. Love your family, too. This reminded me so much of a 10 week Bible study we did a couple years ago during our really rough patch. Idol Addiction. By Julie Sparkman. So good.