Quarter-life Identity Crisis

Well, not quite… I just turned 27.

The past month, God has been speaking to me about where I place my identity.

In having to step out away from UniteBoston to go on the World Race in July, it feels like something is being torn out of me; God is revealing to me that I tend to have an unhealthy attachment with the work that I do.

When I look back on my life, I realize that I’ve always sought approval by the things I do – my  academic performance growing up, followed by my athletic performance in college. I was Kelly, the good student, then Kelly, the collegiate volleyball player, then Kelly, the aspiring national team rower, and more recently Kelly, the girl who is working to unite Christians in Boston. My sense of self has largely been derived from the work that I do, at how well I do at the task in front of me.

But this past month I’ve come face-first into the understanding that who we are is so much more than just what we do. When we have a performance-based mentality, we will always fall short. Someone recently told me, “What we are able to accomplish has no value to God.” That stung, more than it should. No value? God, you mean the work I’ve done the past two years in the city has no value to you?

Nope. None. Isaiah 64:6 even says when we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags in God’s eyes.

So I decided to go on a 24-hour prayer retreat to seek God about my identity. I know that finding your identity in Christ isn’t something you can attain by reading a book or by helping poor people or by doing anything in particular. It’s just something you have to get. I also know that there’s something special about giving time and space for Jesus to speak to you. So I trekked out to Wingaersheek beach last Friday with my backpack, sleeping bag, tent, bible, and a gallon of water.

My friend Jonathan suggested that I read Song of Songs. At first, I thought that was an awful idea – there’s all that crazy love stuff in that chapter and I didn’t see how that had anything to do with finding your identity in Christ. But he explained that the Song of Songs is the song of all songs, it’s the ultimate song, the greatest poem ever written.

So on a near-empty beach I sat down, started to read it, and wept.

I’d encourage you to re-read the Song of Songs – There are some parts that might scare you a little bit – not scary like monsters but scary because it describes the passionate, intimate, PG-13 rated love that exists between a man and a woman. What blows me away is that this is the same kind of love that Christ has for His church. Not just an  obligatory type of love that we have with our relatives, or a surface-level love we share with friends and acquaintances – God has a swoony, intense, passionate love for you, and for me.

Have you ever thought that this is how Jesus feels about you:

How beautiful you are, my darling!
    Oh, how beautiful!
    Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from the hills of Gilead. 

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
    you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
    with one jewel of your necklace. (SOS 4:1,9) 

I started to understand that this book in the bible is the ultimate song because intimate, passionate love must be the core of everything we are as followers of Jesus. My pastor Kent affirmed this, saying “We have to live from God, not just for God.”

So what about ministry? I was praying and felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me:

Ministry isn’t about what you do, it’s about what you be.

At first I laughed, because it doesn’t even make grammatical sense. But that’s just like God, isn’t it?

We’re not just puppeteers completing need-based projects, or soldiers obeying orders on the battle field. We’re called to first and foremost be lovers of Jesus. Jesus didn’t do, He just was. And in the same way, when we’re incredibly intimate with Christ, we don’t even want to do anything. We just want to be with him, to have him wrap us in his arms, to be overwhelmed by His love.

We don’t have to do anything to please Him – we just have to be.

No longer Kelly, volleyball player or Kelly, ministry worker, but simply Kelly, child of God.

Kelly, lover of Jesus.

It’s so simple. And incredibly freeing.

Will you take time today to read Song of Songs, as Jesus writing a love letter to you? But be careful – your little Jesus world might get rocked…

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5 thoughts on “Quarter-life Identity Crisis

  1. So glad you found Song of Songs – understanding how deeply loved you are by God is such an important step in finding our true identity. I will disagree on one point, though. I still think what we do matters – it just can’t be the priority, it can’t be where we start – God will not love us any more or less for what we do, but he did create us “to do” things as well. But what we do has to flow out of who we are. Jesus did do, but He “is” first. When scripture talks about our deeds being filthy rags, I believe those are deeds, even righteous one, done in our own strength. Keep searching, Kelly – I love your heart and I think God will provide many opportunities for you to just “be” in the next year.

    • There is a lot of wisdom in what you say, Dana. I pray that God would continue to teach me how to “do” out of His strength and His love. Thank you for your insight and for your friendship in this journey.

  2. Hey, this is Eric from Perspectives class. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Kelly. God has been speaking to me about similar things this week as I realized that I am very uncomfortable resting in God’s presence. I’m so used to doing things for God and finding validation in ministry, but I haven’t learned to let Him love me even when I’m not doing things. I’m encouraged by your story and I also feel inspired to go retreating (and maybe read Song of Songs too).

    • That’s awesome, Eric! I’ve found that retreating really helps me to quiet my soul and hear the Holy Spirit. Be sure to let me know how your retreat goes and how God speaks to you.

      May God teach both us to live from God, rather than for Him…

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