It’s a question we all ask ourselves over the course of a lifetime. Just about the time we think we have the answer, things change and we have to start all over. When we’re younger, we ask because we want to know how we’ll make our mark on the world. As we get older, it’s to figure out how we’ll be remembered when we’re gone.
It’s a daunting task. Each of us is totally unique (unless you’re an identical twin). We share bits and pieces of everyone in our family line, but they’re put together in a completely unique way. There’s never been anyone exactly like you, and there never will be again. And yet, we struggle to define ourselves in common terms so we can communicate who we are to other totally unique individuals. Because on a certain level we understand we have something in common. The problem is, much of the time we can’t seem to figure out what it is.
We use a variety of tools to label ourselves, to find that commonality and yet establish our own uniqueness. We take ‘personality tests’. I’m either an ISTJ or INTJ; I can’t ever remember which, and it depends largely on the day. Am I Blue or Green? Am I sanguine, melancholic, or phlegmatic? (unfortunately I fall into that last category, as disgusting as that name sounds) Introvert or extrovert? The more I look at it, I don’t fit comfortably into either one. And what in the world is an enneagram?
Sometimes we’re defined by numbers. IQ (mine’s fairly high; it just means I can take tests well and remember useless information). I suspect my doctors of defining me by lab results, BP readings, and weight. Bankers, finance officers, and government assistance agents define you by income and net worth (so do some potential dating partners). College admissions look at your GPA and SAT.
That’s the way the world sees you. You’ll be pigeon-holed into nice, neat categories, unless you’re exceptionally beautiful, talented, or rich (which earns you a special category of pigeon hole). It allows for a one-size-fits-all method of dealing with you. You may be categorized by a disease or condition, or maybe in other ways such as gender, hair color, dominant hand, or a hundred things over which we have little or no control. And the reason it’s done is because it’s easy. It requires no thought or effort and avoids the messiness of having to actually understand YOU and all your uniqueness; instead you become “the crazy redhead”, or “the lower class client”, or “the cancer patient”. Or maybe, “the loser”, “the ugly fat person”, or something even worse. Because the world (that’s us, by the way) likes to think it’s got your number. Each pigeon hole comes with its own set of assumptions, prejudices, and preconceived ideas.
The world is a hard place, and it has demanding standards most of us will never meet, could never meet. The result is we begin to believe we are somehow deficient, and given enough time, leads us to conclude we’ll never amount to anything. It’s a bitter conclusion to a lifelong search for an answer to the question, “who am I?”. And though we may not believe it, it’s purposeful destruction by spiritual forces that hate us and want nothing more than for us to give in to hopelessness.
I’ve shared a bit of my heart and mind with you in previous posts. Let me give you a little more, to show you who I am, and show you the futility of trying to pigeon hole me. I am the grandson of a minister who quietly influenced a city and state. I am also the child of a broken home, the son of a man who would politely be called a reprobate. I am the graduate of a Christian college, the husband of an absolutely amazing woman, the father of three wonderful children and grandfather of four of the most brilliant kids ever (sorry, got carried away there!). I’ve been a nurse but am now retired. I am the victim of prostate cancer, beat it back once and now am having to try to do it again.
I’m also a man who has been proud and arrogant, a battle I still fight constantly, who at times acted terribly and neglectfully toward his family, has struggled at times with being tempted by materialism and unfaithful thoughts, and was finally brought to my knees as a result of my own self-seeking foolishness, because I grew up thinking I was someone exceptional who was supposed to do exceptional things. It fed my pride and deceived me into thinking it was all about me.
I became a Christian at a very early age, but looking back I realize I had a very immature faith for a long, long time. When my pride and foolishness reached maturity, God finally broke it and began the process of teaching me things of true value. That a living, breathing relationship with Him is worth more than whatever ‘fame’ and goods I might accumulate here. That even when things look darkest He’s there to provide what I need. That even the hardest of hard times are just a passing moment in comparison to the glory of being with Him forever. That yes, I can trust Him, and that He gives peace and joy even when things look the worst. It’s funny, but as I look back, I’ve been privileged to be a part of some exceptional things which God has done, but in ways I never would have expected, and which were never about me.
I spoke of legacy. I feel the weight of drawing closer to the end of my journey even though I don’t know how close it may be or where the road may take me before I reach home. But I remember telling a group of friends years ago, it doesn’t matter if the world remembers us. What matters is they see Jesus. See, that’s the real legacy of everyone who chooses to follow Christ. The world no longer sees “the old guy with cancer”; they see Christ. Because when we give ourselves to Jesus, we ‘put on’ Christ, or rather, He puts himself on us. He covers all those things we see as imperfections. He covers up all the pigeon holes. And he gives us new classifications. He calls us “light of the world”, “salt of the earth”, and best of all, “Mine”.
That’s my purpose for writing this. I don’t want either admiration or sympathy. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I don’t need them. All of that was my old self, and he’s dead and was buried some time ago. My desire is to encourage someone else, someone who has been beaten down and given up. Someone who has no hope. Because I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. He doesn’t care what you’ve done. He doesn’t look at the ‘pigeon holes’ the world uses. He wants to meet you because He’s the one who made you the unique person you are, and that makes you valuable to him. If you’ll let him, He’ll never leave you. He’ll always be there no matter what. He’ll take all that uniqueness and use it to light up the world. And I promise, you’ll love what you see.