For the whole of March we are in Lent, when we should be reflecting on our relationship with God and each other and striving for spiritual growth and improving those relationships.
In his writings on Belovedness, Henri Nouwen asks each of us the question “Who is the person that lives this little life?” He then identifies three of the most common answers to the question “who are you?” These answers aren’t always explicit, but let’s examine what’s implied by them.
“I am what I do” – I am my job, my role, my position. But when I retire or step down from a role or position, all that is lost and who I am becomes indeterminate, my very sense of myself is threatened.
“I am what I have.” – I am my education or qualifications, my stuff, my relationships, my looks, my health. If any of what I have is lost or can’t be achieved then who I am is called into question, my very sense of myself is threatened.
“I am what other people say about me.” – I am what other people think of me, say about me, respect in me admire in me. If others say good things about me, I feel good. If they say bad things, then I enter a dark place and my very sense of myself is threatened.
Anything familiar here? A response to “who am I” with “I am what I do”, “I am what I have” or “I am what other people say about me” is a response rooted in vice. In a nutshell these are the three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness. Turn stone into bread – define yourself by what you have. Jump off the pinnacle of the temple to wow the crowd – define yourself by what people say about you. Become the ruler of the world – define yourself by what you do.
“I am what I have” exposes us to the sin and vice of lust. It’s the desire for more and more. “I am what other people say about me” exposes us to the sin and vice of anger. It’s living with a high sensitivity to how others regard you, which leads to great inward and outward anger when others disregard or disrespect you. “I am what I do” exposes us to the sin and vice of pride. It’s the desire to be important, to have power over others. Nouwen points out that anger, pride and lust are the three vices that have been identified since the early church as the enemies of a spiritual life, barriers to experiencing and sharing the love of God.
So if I am not what I do, what I have or what people say about me, who am I? Here’s what Henri Nouwen says:
“I come, Jesus says, to reveal to you who you truly are. And who are you? You are a child of God. You are the one who I call my child. You are my son, you are my daughter, you are my beloved.”Henri Nouwen “Here and Now: Living in the Spirit”
We would all do well to remember that as we journey through Lent.