I recently celebrated the anniversary of my “Spiritual Birthday” – the day I turn my life over to God. (which I have done many times since then). Shortly after my 19th birthday, I was invited to church by a hippie friend who stopped to “help me” when my car overheated which which left me and some friends stranded. We had planned to go to a Ted Nuggent concert that evening at a place called “Boogie Hill” but as “fate” had it, I encountered Destiny instead (No, that wasn’t his name). My life had become somewhat out of control by my late teens. My “identity” had become quite skewed by the years of meandering in rebellion and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I say “experimenting” because we had no clue what we were doing. As long as someone was selling it, it had to be good. Later I discovered many kids were just taking pills from the mirrored cabinets in their grandparent’s bathroom. Anyway, choosing between the Blue pill and the Red pill that often ended in “Wonderland” is another story. (Not to be confused with The Matrix trilogy)
Having a clear sense of Identity is a big deal to living a healthy life. Identity, from a psychological perspective, relates to self-image (a person’s mental model of him or herself), self-esteem, and individuality. Professor Peter Weinreich, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster, gives the definition “A person’s identity is defined as the totality of one’s self-construal (Interpretation), in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future” (Weinreich, 1986a).
What the Prof is trying to say, is we interpret our sense of “Self” as we make our way through life. It is basically based upon everything we’ve ever thought, felt, said or done; what was ever said or done to us; and couple all that with what we HOPE to become… our aspirations. We often gather information and interpret identity from our surroundings the way a detective searches for clues at a crime scene. If people smile at us, generally seem happy when we are around, we tend to have fairly happy thoughts about ourselves. This makes us feel a little more self-assured in a social context and thus, have more confidence in poking our head out of the metaphorical shells we carry and thus, we take a few risks in life. If however, people seem mortified and run for cover whenever we present ourselves, then that shapes self-esteem in a rather adverse way. People who were criticized often, or abused in some way, carry shame as an internal coat of armor. The feeling of freedom or confidence is nebulous at best.
A “New Identify” is one of the blessings of the “New Birth” of Christianity. We are given a chance to wipe the identiy canvas clean and begin the work of painting a new picture, this time, hopefully with God’s help. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 7:17 NLT) This concept had enormous appeal to me when I gave my heart to Jesus as a wide (red)-eyed 19 year old. I wanted to feel clean again. To be gifted with a New Beginning. I WAS use to people liking me when I was younger. Not only was I a very cute child, but my personality was engaging and I made people smile. (yes, like you are now). Especially my mother. She even loved my singing. I once gave her a collection of my Eagles hits cover songs that i recorded on my tape recorder (Now called “Vintage” 70s Cassette Player Recorder on Ebay). She wept as I feverishly raked the guitar pick I was clutching across the strings of my guitar and sang in my best attempt at a country twang,
“Well I`m running down the road trying to loosen, my load, got a world of trouble on my miiiiind… lookin` for a lover who won`t blow my cover, she`s soooo hard to fiiiind, Take it eeeeasy, take it eeeeasy ..” I wasn’t sure what all that meant as a 15 year old boy but I do remember I felt squiggly inside and it made my mother swoon. My mother always believed in me. Even when I was in the Juvenile Detention Home during the summer of my 16th year. “Jeff, you are just going through a bad season but you aren’t a bad boy,” she would tell me with the conviction of a mother’s optimism. It didn’t feel like a bad season however. I was spiraling out of control like a spider being swirled in a toilet after the flush. A force bigger than me was pulling me down. Sin and Rebellion had become my constant companions and they proved to be as reckless as Mayhem of the Allstate Insurance commercials. As my life became more chaotic, my self-image became “construed” as a wild-child who shouldn’t be trusted. “Lock up your possessions, hide the women and children, Bad Influence is coming!”
I began to hate my life. Not that I wasn’t having fun. It was a blast being That Guy who lightened up the party and made things more interesting. “What crazy, stupid thing will he do next?” Not only did I provide entertainment, I was usually the one driving my friends around AND provided the “refreshments.” My relationship with my parents had become very tense and I felt like a stranger in my home. I didn’t belong there… or anywhere for that matter. I felt lost like a prodigal son who wandered to a far country who was now on the outside, looking in. An Oursider. I came to believe that is Who I AM… and curiously, i liked it.
As I heard the preacher that night, something burned in my heart. Like Hydrogen Peroxide bubbling over a pussy wound, I felt the Presence of God foaming up and lifting away the infectious material of what my soul had become. I suddenly wanted to be clean again. I had new images forming in my mind of who I wanted to Be. I saw myself helping my parents in the kitchen, being a pretty good guy, we were all laughing… and loving. And I saw myself helping old ladies across the street which was odd since we lived in the country and there was only a corn field on the other side. But I was New. Helpful and kind, with my wildness held in check. I saw myself loving people with a reckless abandon.
I don’t remember a lot of what the preacher said that night. To be truthful, it was reminiscent of the way Charlie Brown heard his teacher. There was however, a moment when the preacher was asking if anyone wanted to be “Saved.” He had my attention. I don’t ever remember the priest of my catholic upbringing ever asking that in church. “Come to the front and be ‘Born Again’… this is your night If you are a way from God, this is your time to come home.” That’s it! I wanted to be Born Again, have a new start. My hippie friend sitting in the pew to my right, grabbed my wrist and thrust my hand into the air for all to see. “This is what you want man!” He said with a crazed look in his eye. With that, he pulled me to my feet and led me by elbow first to the front of the room.
We dropped to our knees and hippie pressed my face into the blue fabric of the pew on the front row. My first thought was imaging how “Pew” got its name and why is he holding me down? Then I felt warm hands pressing on my back as people I didn’t know prayed my soul away from the clutches of hell. A warming sensation flooded over me like waves of warm honey love. Eventually, the heavy hand lifted from the back of my head and I felt the skin of my forehead burn with an imprint of the pew’s fabric. I felt marked with God’s favor and acceptence. Beautiful smiling faces of some “Babes in Christ” greeted me as they hugged me and welcomed me as a “brother in the Lord” as they called me. That felt wonderful. A new identity began forming from that very moment. I was no longer the Rebel without a Cause, I was now a Brother in the Lord… a child of God.
T. S. Eliot observed, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” That evening, many years ago now was a new beginning for me. I couldn’t wait to share the news with my new girlfriend who eventually agreed to marry me. That ending that gave way to a new beginning wasn’t the first time that happened for me. But that is a story for another blog.