Caution: Work in Progress
One of my favorite tombstones in the world marks the gravesite of Ruth Graham Bell, Billy Graham’s wife. It reads: “End of construction – Thank you for your patience.” Truly, we are constantly under construction until we reach Heaven’s shore.
In my day-to-day life, I forget that my identity is not a fixed, immovable entity. Instead, it is malleable, impacted by various forces internal and external. It isn’t like concrete, but more like the earth that makes up my backyard. There are times that my backyard is firm, able to withstand heavy pressure without moving. Sometimes, just after a light rain shower, the exposed portions of my yard have been dampened enough that the pressure of my dog’s paw can leave a print. Other times, the rainy days drag on and soak through the topsoil deep into the ground, creating a mud pit that could make a pig squeal with delight! And it can take days upon days for the ground to dry enough for my dogs to run with abandon (and not suffer my grumpy attitude at having to wipe 8 paws off before entering the house).
Our identity (how we believe, think, feel, and interact with ourselves and this world) is being acted upon every day in a hundred different ways. Like the varied ways a rainy day can affect the landscape of my yard, our identity is being impacted by the experiences, people, ideas, and inner thoughts to which we are exposed. We are both influenced and we are influential.
This implication means that we have to carefully consider our exposures, and how they are impacting us. For Christians, returning again and again to the bedrock of God’s Word is important to remaining cognizant of our God-given identity, which is the foundation through which all other identifying attributes should be rooted and cultivated.
We are responsible for most of the things that we allow to influence us on a daily basis in all areas of our lives: spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, socially. Opinions can change. Values can change. None of us are static entities – we are always learning and always changing. And this is a good thing, so long as our deep, solid foundation is not swept away by the torrents that assail us.
This is why Paul urged Timothy to “Hold on to sound words…with faith and love in Christ Jesus. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, protect the treasure that has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13&14).
Remaining clear-minded in our identity in Christ helps us to remain strong in our deepest foundation. As we are assailed by “godless chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20), our faith and love in Jesus gives us the acuity to measure the relentless influences with which we are impacted by in our daily lives. We can let the older topsoil – which has become depleted, messy, immature, shallowly-informed, and un-useful – wash away. We can “hold on” to the sound doctrine of our identity in Christ, protecting the “treasure” of our salvation buried deep within. We can solidify the healthy roots of values, ideals, and standards that we know are based on truth and are supportive, healthy, and life-giving. We can replace the used, barren topsoil that is being constantly impacted, with nutrient-rich influences: healthy thoughts, God-informed opinions, life-giving friendships, assurances of truth, with habits and rhythms of living that bring health to our minds and souls.
All of these things and more influence who we are in the world: how we think, feel, and interact with ourselves and others. Through our identity, we influence others. We become an example of how to hold onto the truth while we let the other, useless things wash away. We influence the people we love most into their own identity formation and fulfillment. And together, we can share in the journey of following Christ…till we make it home.