Nick and I volunteer/intern with our church’s youth group, and occasionally, I get the opportunity to lead a lesson. I decided to talk a bit about identity because that’s something that I have been thinking about a lot during my “quarter-life crisis.” Who am I? What makes me who I am? Since school starts up soon, and a handful of our youth groupers are heading off to college in a couple weeks, I wanted to make them think long and hard about who they are and where they’re putting their value and worth.
These words came organically and out of nowhere, to be honest, and I needed to hear them as much as anyone else in the youth group may have needed to. It was one of those things that just suddenly wrote itself. After sharing a bit of my story and talking a bit about identity and what it means, I read this meditation aloud to them and asked that they sit still and quiet for a moment and really try to listen.
Let’s begin with a series of questions, shall we?
How do you feel about yourself REALLY? Who are you REALLY? In what are you placing your value? Your worth? Who are you trusting to tell you who you are?
Things like your passions and skills, your abilities and inabilities, your likes and dislikes, what kind of friend you are, if you’re a brother or sister, wife, husband, mother, father. If you’re a musician. If you love science. If you hate spinach. If you love pizza. If you’re good at soccer but terrible at football. Those are all things ABOUT you, and they’re true and wonderful things that make up a unique you that is enjoyed and cherished.
But what happens when those things fall away? Who are you then? What do you think of yourself when it’s just you, yourself, and God? What sort of things do you hear you saying to yourself?
Listen, and listen well.
It’s quiet in here, isn’t it? Still. Silent.
Does that make you uncomfortable?
That’s okay. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t go into hiding, don’t retreat. Stay right where you are. Listen to the silence, and tell me, how do you feel? Right now, alone with your thoughts and alone with God’s whisperings, how do you feel?
Are you feeling worn out? Spread thin? Stressed? Tired? Are you suffocating under the intense pressure to please everyone around you? To say yes to everything and everyone to make them happy? So they’ll like you? If only I could get everyone to accept me, you say, then I’d be okay. If only I could be MORE–skinnier, prettier, more handsome, smarter, more athletic, more funny, less awkward, more outgoing… I bet you’re exhausted. But what do you whisper to yourself when you’re alone? When you walk through the door after work or school or a party, what do you hear inside your own head? Are they kind, loving things? Or are there hateful, negative, vengeful, nasty things being said to you, things that you would never say to anyone else?
Stop saying those things. Stop it right now.
I want to replace those nasty words with truth. You were knit together so wondrously, and there are so many good things in store for you. Hard things, sure. But also good things. Jesus says, “Come to me. Let me the Savior that I am. Let me douse you in compassion and drown you in love and mercy. Let me practice patience with you, and you can learn to practice patience with others. Let me accept you where you are, and you can learn to accept yourself where you are, to accept others where you are. Let me whisper truths, and for once, please listen. Let me be your safe place. Let me tell you I love you, and this time, BELIEVE IT.”
Maybe you’re not stressed at all. Maybe you feel wonderful. You’re on top of the world, and nothing can stop you. You’re talented. You’re smart. Gosh darnit, people like you. You’re successful. You’re popular. You don’t need no help from nobody because the sky is the limit. You’ll think about God and love and Jesus later, maybe when you actually need some help. Right now, you’ve got it good. Keep doing doing doing, going going going. Just look at all my trophies and treasures, you say! I got this!
Oh, foolish builder. Your foundation is on the sand, and a storm is coming. They sky may be the limit for you, but it’s about to heave itself all over the castle you’ve been building. Do you really think it will stand on the sand in the midst of a hurricane? Pride comes before a fall, after all. Please hear Jesus when he says to store up treasures in heaven because you really can’t take it with you, and trust me, it’s gonna all fall away in the end. “Besides, beloved, you are so much more than all of that anyway,” he says.
He’s whispering that to you; do you hear it?
Maybe you don’t hear it. Maybe you’re choosing not to hear it. Maybe you’ve filled this silent moment up with noisy thoughts so you don’t have to listen. Maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll hear from yourself or from God in the quiet moments. Maybe you picked up your phone during this time of silence, and you’re texting or playing a game. Maybe you’re humming yourself a song to fill the empty silence. But, oh, child, that’s where you’re wrong–this silence is not empty, and your noise isn’t filling it. You’re drowning it. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Swim in the silence for a moment.
Sometimes you need stillness to hear the truth.
Maybe you’ve been building yourself up brick by brick with the noise around you. Maybe you talk yourself up, seeking words of truth or affirmation from others so you can start to get an idea of who you are. Maybe all the noise and business and talking and chattering makes you feel more secure in who you are. But who is that, anyway? And what are you trying to prove? Maybe you chirp and chime loudly for someone to affirm you, to tell you what you’re good at, to tell you who you are, and you’re building up an identity that isn’t even really you in the first place.
Want to know something? Jesus has been trying to give you exactly what you need this whole time, but you can’t hear him because you’re talking over him, you’re letting others talk over him.
Stop striving. Stop clawing and grasping all the noisy things, and stop blocking out silence because you’re afraid. Your identity is not in the words of those around you. It’s not even in your words, but in the words Jesus whispers to you in the quiet moments, whatever and wherever those are. You’d hear them, I promise, if you’d shut-up long enough.
Here they are: You. Are. Loved.
Doesn’t matter what you love or hate. What you’re good at or bad at. What you have or what you lack. What you look like or don’t look like.
Listen to me. Stop thinking, stop talking, stop trying, stop excusing, stop lying.
You. Are. Loved.
What would happen if you walked away and you truly believed that who you are is LOVED no matter what?