I had a lovely childhood, except when I had to sit at the designated children’s table.
You know what I’m talking about: the adults sat in the dining room with fine wine and great food while the kids were relegated to the kitchen on old, vinyl chairs and one small square of lasagna. I always protested; I wanted to sit with the adults.
For as long as I could remember, I was always rushing to grow up. This is common among young people. The students whom I teach at Victory Christian School have expressed in various settings their desire to grow up and take on responsibilities reserved for adults.
Little do they know that when they turn 40, this desire will likely reverse.
In many ways we are all trying to grow up or, in other words, discover our identity and our place in this world. We make decisions, form values, and even choose our politics based on allegiances and labels to which we gravitate. We search for some sense of self-identification that provides a sense of stability.
What we fail to realize is that we wrestle with certain tensions in our never-ending desire to define who we are as individuals. These tensions play tug-of-war in our very soul.
One tension pertains to a question of conformity. We are torn between being conformed by God’s Spirit and conforming ourselves to the trends of this world.
This is really a matter of surrender: Are we willing to surrender ourselves to God, allowing the person and lordship of Christ to form us into new creations based on his love and mercy, or are we simply reaching for pinnacles of power and prestige that offer us memberships into the popular social cliques of our time?
Another tension is between defining our personhood by who we are rather than by what we do. The world constantly judges us by what we do, what we have accomplished, and what we can afford. Our first question when meeting another person is predictable: “So what do you do for a living?” And judgment ensues. Our first impressions are based on matters very shallow indeed.
God judges us on who we are, and the true measure of a person is in his or her depth of character. It was the wise elder, Polonius, who offered this wisdom in Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”: “Above all else, to thine own self be true.”
Is Christ forming us in a way that we become who Christ wants us to be, even if it means sacrificing something that we think we need for immediate pleasure?
It seems that everywhere we look in our society, people are staking out their territory and drawing lines regarding where they stand on issues and how they think. God is concerned much less about our stakes in the ground than He is about our passion and desire to be formed by His very Son’s lordship.
Just putting this in black and white does not make these tensions in us wane. The Christian journey is a constant struggle to overcome ego and self-gratification at the cost of our very souls. In writing of his short stay at a Trappist monastery, late spiritual author and priest, Henri Nouwen, expressed this struggle well:
“It is this type of … total surrender, of unconditional ‘yes’ (to God), of unwavering obedience to God’s will, that frightens me and makes me such a wishy-washy soul, wanting to keep a foot in both worlds. But that is how one stumbles.”
But did Christ not say that following Him was a difficult task? As we all find our way in the world, I would contend that it certainly is.