I oversaw a funeral for the first time at the tender age of 24, to the shock of the funeral director. My brother’s friend Steve had fallen out of a car he was driving when the door, only held shut by an apparently weak a bungee cord, opened.
This was not my first encounter with death. We had dogs, cats, rabbits and even a duck all die in our house growing up. I had a classmate in 8th grade die, accidentally and tragically. I clearly remember sitting at his memorial service unable to look at his picture at the front of the church without bursting into tears. From that point on death seemed alive and personal. It has come to claim friends, church members, teachers and even my father. And one day it will come for me. I just did not expect it to come so soon or in this fashion.
No, I am not sick or dying…physically. But, I do feel as if I am living through my own funeral. I have often wondered, “If I were to die today, who would show up to my funeral?” Little did I know I would be a mourner with a front row seat at the celebration of the death of my identity.
In the past six months I have been acutely aware of the death of my self. Not “myself,” but my self. That person that is created by internal and external labels, descriptions and activities.
If you ever want to know who you really are, grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit reflectivity with some viby music playing in the background and start listing all your titles, roles and identities. Start with the easy ones, the ones you are most familiar with and have been for the longest time. Then move to the more difficult ones, the ones that construct the majority of who you are. Here is a list of some of mine:
- Of Scottish decent
- Christ Follower
- Able bodied/Healthy
- Middle Class
(Notice I did not write things I was not: artist, wealthy, entrepreneurial, etc.)
The death of self comes when you start to hypothetically cross off the items on your list by asking, “Who would I be without being ….?”
Who am I when my nearly 79 year old mother finally sees Jesus face to face?
Who would I be if my marriage ended?
Who would I be if my body stopped working because of an illness or traffic accident?
In the last 6 months I have buried several parts of myself. Some willingly, some not.
- This summer I stopped studying marital arts, which I have been doing for over 1/3 of my life. I came to the realizations I was doing it for the wrong reasons and that it was feeding an unhealthy side of my identify. Having spent 14+ years studying three different martial arts styles over my 42 years of life made it hard to lay this part of me aside.
- Also this summer I stopped being the teaching pastor of a church Denver I loved after 4+ years. Having spent my life from the age of 19 amassing four theology degrees, striving for ministerial experience in several different kinds churches and leading a local community, it was difficult to understand myself without the title, role and job discription of “Pastor.”
- As a result of the above career transition, I am working in a field I know little about. I am working doing construction, as well as planting a church. Both jobs place me in a learning role. Both jobs are out of my comfort zones. Both jobs are unstable and either barley or don’t at all provide for my family. Both have me answering to more experienced and knowledgable, but younger and less educated partners. Both have me questioning myself a lot!
- Recently, I stopped being cool. For the last year and half my daily driver was a restored 1966 Ford Mustang. Bright red no less. But a few weeks ago I sold it in favor of a more family friendly truck I could use for doing contraction. Now, this might seem trivial to some, but that car was a huge ego feeder. Everyday I received appreciation, recognition and praise for the sheer level of coolness my car brought to the world. People would take pictures of it, drool on it, and stop me to ask about it. When I sold the car I stopped looking at parts catalogues, reading web forums on how to fix it up, unfriended Mustang Facebook pages and stopped following classic car twitter feeds.
Since I have been reflecting on my “decent” as Richard Rohr calls it, I have been mourning the death of my “ascent.” I am coming to the realization I probably will never lead the church I dream of leading. I will probably never achieved the wealth, status or respect I had once hoped for. I will probably never know a life of ease and comfort I jealously see in others. I will probably never be as wise, intuitive and insightful as those I look up to. I will probably die with much left undone, unexperienced and unachieved.
This is all good, right and beautiful because it strips me to the only foundational piece of identity that I have.
“It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your “I” is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary “I.” No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.”