by Becky Ritchey
This month’s theme – ‘REST’ – is bringing out the theologian in me. I’ve been searching the Scriptures and Bible commentaries on the subject. Obviously ‘rest’ is important to God: the Bible tells us twice in the beginning that God Himself rested after creating the world (Genesis 2:2,3). Fast forward closer to the end of the Bible, where the writer of Hebrews was inspired to devote two chapters to the subject (Hebrews 3 & 4). I’d call that a big deal, wouldn’t you?
Now, I don’t want to get too deep into Biblical theology. But the example of the Israelites trudging through the Sinai wilderness forty years, then denied access to the Promised Land due to their disobedience and unbelief has me shaking in my sandals before God. The implications are obvious, and I’m praying, “Lord, help me to be obedient and believe you to the end!” lest I miss out on all God has for me. Yet, because the warning in Hebrews is in the context of ‘rest’, I’ve been asking God for practical application to my life.
Two commentaries I read on the Hebrews passage compared the Israelites’ example to the Christian salvation experience.* Put simply: the wilderness is the ‘before salvation’ part of a Christian’s life, whereas the Promised Land is the ‘now I’m saved’ part. In practical terms, I see a ‘striving vs. resting’ application. This resonates with me in a very real sense with the issue of personal identity – in other words: WHO AM I? Isn’t this a question that plagues every one of us on some level, at some time in our lives?
I’ve spent much of my life – both before and after salvation – struggling with identity issues. Beginning in my early teens, I was obsessed with my appearance. I wanted to fit in with my peers and wear the latest fashions (1960’s orange fishnet stockings!), yet I never could just rest in how I looked, always striving to be acceptable. This insecurity continued into my adult years, even [to a degree] after I became a Christian. My BFF Kathy was shocked at the number of mirrors in my house (I’ve cut down, honestly). There’s a difference between taking care with your appearance and being so insecure that you’re obsessed. I’ve come a long way and I can honestly say at the age of 61, I’m no longer obsessed (I hope), but I do care how I look. Part of this is wisdom born through age and much has come with maturity in Christ (I hope).
Please don’t think I’m focusing on outward appearance as the key to personal identity – FAR FROM IT! I merely used that as an example. My identity struggle was deeply rooted in my insecurities [see my July post The Freedom of Ignorance]. I was always struggling to be someone, but I never knew who that someone was supposed to be. After I gave my life to Jesus when I was 25, I was carefree for a while, resting in the security of His love. Gradually, my insecurities started resurfacing (it was years before I saw this as an identity struggle). Once again, I found myself striving to fit in. When I encountered some (unwarranted) criticism in my church, I tried harder to be a good Christian. As time went on, I was the only childless married woman in my church. How do I fit into a church culture that focuses on families and children? That gave me some very unique identity issues. I worked full time and loved my job and found it hard to relate to most of the stay-at-home moms at church. And there was no ministry for women in my church who didn’t fit that paradigm. Then, God opened the door for me to go to college full-time – a desire of my heart, but somewhat lonely since, again, I was the only one among my Christian peers. This also added another element to my identity struggle: as a Christian with biblically-based values, I was bowled over by a tidal wave of anti-Christian ideas in a liberal academic environment. Through my years as a Navy wife, I also found I had to re-invent myself every time we moved. Often, when we would move, my mother would ask me, “What are you going to do?” I’d find myself asking God the same question, often groping around to find the answer, Who am I NOW?
Through all these life changes, the key to my identity has been one word: JESUS. Who I have been – and who I will be – are IN CHRIST JESUS, the Author and Finisher of my faith. Through the struggling, groping, and swimming against the tide, I’ve learned that because I’m a Christian, I don’t have to strive to be someone: I can rest in the fact that Jesus died for me and loves me unconditionally. That’s who I am. Amen.
*Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible and The New Bible Commentary: Revised