As you probably know, I spent much of the last year of my life in Montenegro in Eastern Europe. There have definitely been some adjustments in returning to the US. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of thoughts I’ve had pertaining to readjustment to the USA:
Wow there are a lot of restaurants – many of them bad.
Culturally, we place a lot of value on speed and convenience.
Except at airports (probably a good thing).
Every issue has precisely two sides.
Apple dominates the smart phone market.
It’s really easy to be in a public place and not to talk to anyone.
It is true that Americans are really individualistic.
In large part, we define ourselves by what we do for a living.
It’s that last one I want to talk about. Obviously an individual’s career is really significant in his or her life. 40+ hours per week every week more or less for 40-50 years is a LOT of time. Work and career matter.
However, I do think it’s possible to place too much weight on career. I think we have a tendency to allow occupation to drive vocation to drive identity.
When someone says “Tell me about yourself,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’m guessing it has something to do with your job or your studies or your accomplishments. Now, I will readily admit especially when talking with someone unfamiliar it’s a lot easier to talk about activity and accomplishment than it is passions and identity. Passions and identity are far more vulnerable, and it’s normal to withhold vulnerability until trust has been earned.
However, what’s your first thought if you ask yourself, “Who am I?” If it’s still about activity and accomplishment, does that seem off to you?
I realize I sound a bit preachy here, so I’ll readily admit that I’m right there too. When I’ve unrooted a number of my own thought patterns, I’ve found identity based upon performance and activity at the core of many of my insecurities. I’m still in process.
Is there a better way? Is there a way to preserve the notion that our choices and actions really matter without making them the essence of identity? I think so.
In Genesis 12, we are introduced to Abraham for the first time – already a wealthy and old man. He’s called Abram, but God renames him a few chapters later.
What does that tell us? The part of Abraham’s life that’s worth recording comes after when most people in his culture would say he had much to live for. His wife was beyond childbearing age and she was barren which meant Abraham was a failure.
But what happens to change all that? What makes Abraham’s life significant? A promise and a new identity.
God enters into what seems to be a shameful situation and speaks a word of blessing. From this point forward, God’s promise and God’s faithfulness define Abraham’s life.
God’s call upon Abraham is to live according to that identity. Of course, Abraham lives out this calling imperfectly. He forgets God’s faithfulness and he allows fear to dictate him. He fails regularly, but God remains faithful and He reiterates the promise several more times.
I need the story of Abraham because I too fail. And when I fail, my insecurity is exposed which shows me all the ways I have rooted identity in performance and activity rather than in promise.
Now, I’m not saying that all of my failures are excused or irrelevant – just that they are not the only things that matter. If I was so utterly confident that I have God’s love not because of my record or my potential but simply because I am His creation bearing His image and He has called me His own, wouldn’t that change the way I approach my life and the way I treat the fellow image-bearers around me?
And wouldn’t my reaction change when I fail? Failure usually leads me to a predictable pattern: focus on the failure, dissect it, question my own intelligence, common sense, or strength, live with inner shame for whatever length of time corresponds to the depth of the failure.
What if instead I looked at the failure, traced its roots, and sought solutions all the while knowing that I remain a valued and beloved child of God? That sounds both more pleasant and more productive.
But that’s the hard part – believing that I’m valued and beloved. It’s by no means a fix, but reflecting on the faithfulness and character of God helps me in this way. According to Scripture, God was willing to go to any length – even bearing the weight of evil itself – to make me His own, to rescue me. Doesn’t that mean that He can love me despite my failures? I think it does. I just need to do the work of remembering. Daily. Hourly.