You are not your name (reflections on our identity)

(Recently, my wife gave the commencement address for a local high school graduation. When I read her words I was deeply moved and knew I needed to share it here. Enjoy.)

Congratulations, graduating class of 2016!

Well done on your disciplined hard work that has brought you to this point..your high school graduation!

As students, you have done a lot of self-taught learning, I am sure.  But I believe there is also a word of gratitude and congratulations due  your parents and anyone else who has guided you along this educational journey over the past several years.

Well done, parents, other famfily members, teachers, tutors, mentors, administrators and anyone else I have forgotten to mention!

I am sure each person from this category of helpers would, or has already wished you well and offered their highest hopes for your continued future.  They have guided you with the hopeful expectation that your next few years will lead you toward a successful career that suits your gifts and talents and personal interests.

And actually, this may be your most challenging concern right now!  The mapped-out-for-you years for the most part are over and it is time to choose your own path!  You may have a college already picked out and plans for your major…or you may only be at the point of wondering what you will wake up and do tomorrow!  Wherever you are in this process of discerning your next steps, I am sure you feel the weight of those decisions.

Your educational, emotional, spiritual, and relational training thus far have been preparing you for such a time as this.

A time when you are about to enter a world full of expectations and demands. A world that will call you to a variety of challenges, and a world that will choose a name for you depending on your response to those challenges.

Yes, you have already experienced being named!  You have your given name…it may be one that was pleasing to your parents’ ears, or it may carry  specific meaning that they desired to impart on you.  You have your family name..the one you have inherited just by being born into your family.  This name can carry weight, right?  The Meyers never give up!  The Smiths are hard workers!  The Joneses are generous.   I am sure if you think upon it, you would come up with a phrase to communicate the weight that your name carries.

But there are also names like Smart. Diligent. Committed. Studious. Book Worm.  Distracted.  Hyperactive. Names you may have received as a student over the years.

And maybe there are names that were meant to sort of foretell your future!  You are an entrepreneur!  You are creative!  You are business-minded.  You are athletic.  You are a leader.

Not long ago I had a series of conversations with my four year old daughter.  “E, I have been watching you at the park and I notice that the other children follow you and want to do whatever you are doing.  You are a leader!”  A few days later after visiting the doctor we had this conversation, “E, I noticed you were very interested in all the details of the doctors office and the work they were doing.  Is becoming a doctor something you would like to do when you are older?”  Without hesitation, she responded, “No, Mama, I’m a leader!”

This is a sweet story, certainly, but it is also an example of how easy it is to make the names we have received our identity.

How easy it is for a simple observation about a quality you possess to lead to a name that leads to the formation of an identity.

For example, if you have been named as smart, you begin to take that on in ways like…”If I am smart, then what I have to offer the world is my intelligence.”  And that can lead to you wrapping your entire identity up in a name.  And this can lead to some pretty astounding life challenges.

In elementary and high school I was always called, “smart.”  School was something that I always felt good at.  I was self motivated and I was a hard worker and I received grades that proved that I was a hard worker..and “smart.”  This continued to be my “identity” throughout college as well.  But then when I graduated and started working jobs that didn’t give me grades and my hard work was no longer measured, I felt like no one saw me.  No one really knew me.  After several discouraging years, I finally came to realize that I was not my hard work.  I was not my intelligence.  I would meet a lot of people and they would not know these things about me…so who was I going to allow them to know?  What was my true identity.  What did I have to offer the world, no matter the situation or circumstances?  Yes, I am a hard worker, I am a pastor, I am artistic, I am…  But these characteristics..these names..cannot be my identity.

So I stopped striving to be a name I had given myself..or a name others had given me…and started striving to live into the name God had given me.

My desire for you is the same.

My desire for you and everyone young or old, is to seek the name God has given you.

In Mark 1:9-11, when Jesus was baptized, God imparted his identity onto Jesus.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

And because we have been adopted as children of God, this message is for each of us!  “You are my child, whom I love and with whom I am well pleased.”

Graduates, you are daughters of a King! and he loves you and he is pleased with you.

What comes next?  What flows from receiving and living into the identity..the name..sons and daughters of God?  Obedience.

Jesus was given his identity and in the next verse he was sent out into the desert.  Jesus set forth in obedient action.

He had not done a single miracle or act of healing, he had not gathered his disciples or preached to the multitudes…yet his Father was already pleased with his son and blessed him with a name.

Wait a minute?  This feels a little backwards.  Don’t we…haven’t we been taught to…do in order to be?  The world says that identity comes from obedience.  If you study hard, then you will be a good student.  If you work hard, then you will be successful.  If you practice, practice, practice, then you will be a good athlete or musician.  And as females, there are the ones like.. If you put on your make-up and dress well and tone your body, then you will be beautiful.

But this if-then relationship to life is not true identity.  And if you allow this cultural understanding of identity to be the pattern by which you name yourself, I can tell you from experience, there will be disappointment and dissatisfaction in those names.  A name will never be able to carry the weight of who you truly are.  You may always feel like you fall short.  You will always need to work harder, practice more, dress better…the list will never end.

BUT, if you can leave here today remembering that you are not the sum of all your parts, so to speak, but that you are Becca, daughter of a King.  That you are Scott, son of a King.  And you are Amy, daughter of a King.  And that you are Sean, son of a King, then you can set forth on your journey of finding your place in this world with a much lighter load!

I don’t think this way of our culture will ever change.  Our world will continue to ask you to do in order to be.  There will always be an if-then expectation.  But you have been given the opportunity to live in the midst of this expectant world with the knowledge that your identity has already been given…not because you have earned it, but because your Father loves you and calls you his own.  Not having to earn the love of our Father through good behavior, hard work, good grades, etc.  you can then walk confidently in obedience to whatever, where ever,  he calls you next!

And as you set forth, know that we are here cheering you on!  Once again, congratulations!

(The foundation for Father/Identity/Obedience comes from the work of Mike Breen in his book, Building a discipleship culture.)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s