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Knowing Who I Am

You would think that with all the forms we fill out, both online and off, we would know who we are. Although if we stop to think about it, we may realize that the information required to open a Google account or to get a new credit card or to buy a book on Amazon.com has little to do with our true selves. Mysterious creatures indeed we turn out to be, and the question of our real identity can make our heads spin.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem on this very point less than a year before he was executed by the Nazis. Here are a few lines:

Who am I? This man or that other?
Am I then this man today and tomorrow another?
Am I both all at once? An impostor to others,
but to me little more than a whining, despicable weakling?
Does what is in me compare to a vanquished army,
that flees in disorder before a battle already won?
Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am yours.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from the poem, “Who Am I,”
written in prison, June 1944.

Whoever I am, I am yours. It is crucial to hold onto this fundamental reality of our life, because whatever is opposed to God, whether inside us or outside us, will try to deceive us into believing the contrary. The following quotation from Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, offers an example of one form this deception can take:

I appreciate the writer Jeffery Smith’s observation that it is all too easy to succumb to the dangerous notion that only our despair truly knows us as we are, even as it mocks any desire we may have to improve our condition.

Our despair may tell us that we are worthless, that no one who really knew us could love us, that we are mired too deep in sin to be forgiven. Our despair, lying through its blackened teeth, whispers that only its voice tells us the truth about ourselves.

It can be very difficult, when we are feeling the worst about ourselves and about life, to tell this inner voice to shut up.

In fact, a sense of unworthiness before the grandeur and goodness of God is normal.  Consider the experience of Isaiah when God called him (Isaiah 6:1-8) or Peter (Luke 5:1-11).  We are all unworthy of the living and loving God.

DangerBut there is a big difference between unworthiness and worthlessness.  A spiritual warning bell should sound when we begin to think we are worthless.  Sometimes, though, our interior noise drowns out the warning of danger, so we have to remind ourselves over and over of the truth.

The truth is that we are of infinite worth, and we are infinitely loved. “You were bought with a price,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:20. Jesus Christ has paid the ultimate price of his own blood for us.

I may not know myself inside and out, but I can be sure of one thing: I am God’s.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;
so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

(Romans 14:7-8)

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