Friday, September 23, 2011

"Hello, My Name is (My Desires)"

If there was ever a desperate need so evident in our Western society today, it would be identity. Who am I? is the rhetorical (yet not so rhetorical) question that everyone asks. It starts with the terrible two's ("Don't tell me what to do! I'm my own person!" says the defiant young toddler. Well, if they weren't lacking proper eloquence at that age, I'm sure that's how their rebellion would translate into a string of words beyond the simple, "No!!!!"), and, unfortunately, only seems to grow more intense throughout life. Teenage struggles with peer pressure and experimenting? Quarter-life crisis? Mid-life crisis? All stem from this innate desire to know who we are and what we were created for.

Of course, "solutions" to the identity crisis are to be found everywhere we turn: Change your look. Get a significant other. Get a degree. Be different than everyone else. Perhaps the most traditionally cliche means for deriving our identity, however, is from our jobs. Fortunately, society has done a decent job at at least unmasking this sham for what it is (although certainly not eliminating it yet). We often hear admonitions like, "You are not your job!" and frustrated statements such as, "When we first meet someone, why do we always ask them their name...and then immediately, 'So, what do you do?' ?" The implication, of course, is that most people DO attempt to define who they are according to their work. Now, I'm quite sure that this has been the case throughout the centuries. Nothing terribly new. However, what I find disturbing is how our society today (more subtly over the past 50 years, but pretty blatantly now) is convincing people that they are not what they do, but who they do. Sex, they tell us, is the defining aspect of who we are.

Not so much our sex as in gender (which, ironically enough, seems to be an ambiguous concept nowadays anyway...), but our sexual desires. Years ago, the homosexual community began linking sexual desires to identity, and the concept caught on surprisingly well. This strategy, although a blatant lie, managed to make a pretty compelling argument: Don't just call your sexual desires a choice. Tie them to who you are as a person. That way, no one can disagree with you. Can you see how subtle and manipulative that is? Foolish choices can be argued with, but identity can't. The minute you start arguing about identity (whether it's homosexuality, personality traits or personal weaknesses), people simply  counter any opposition with a cutesy little phrase:

"Well, that's just the way God made me!"

Immediate shut down. What do you do with that? Most people, unfortunately, have absolutely no clue what to say in that scenario (which is becoming increasingly more common). And the truth is, every rebuttal will come up short unless you yourself have an understanding of what true identity really is. Because true identity is not self-defined. And true identity is not, in any way, based on our choices, predispositions or desires.

Pause. Stop and actually reflect for a moment about what those two statements mean. First of all, we self-define our identity ALL THE TIME (or at least what we think is our identity). Think about the following phrases: I'm fun. I'm quiet. That's my style. I like this. These are my kind of people. I'm not like that. That's not me. That's totally me! We believe we are the ones to create our identity. And, of course, those definitions stem from what we naturally do or don't desire (sexually or otherwise). This two concepts rarely get questioned: The fact that we seek to define our own identity, and that identity is based on what we like or don't like (our deep desires and predispositions present since we were kids). Yet, these are FALSE concepts. As Christians, we so desperately need to recognize and reject these concepts before they completely screw up our entire understanding of identity. After all, if the world is craving identity, we need to be the ones to show them the only place they can go to get it.
(p.s. If you have never read Wild at Heart or Captivating by John Eldredge, you're about to get the one-paragraph paraphrase of both...)

Identity is bestowed. We must grasp our minds around those three vital words. We cannot give ourselves our has to come from outside of us. In the same breath, however, not just anyone can tell us who we are. It can only be One person. But before we go there, let's be honest to say that we have spent much of our lives looking to others to define us--friends, co-workers, teachers, bosses. Yet, it all started with our fathers. Whether male or female, we looked to them first to give us the affirmation that we so desperately craved. We wanted to capture their attention to know that we were strong/beautiful, important and wanted. Yet, our Dad's failed us...even the very best of them. Despite their best efforts, still we rebelled. Still we sought love from unhealthy relationships. Still we lay in bed at night asking "Who am I?" Even our own flesh-and-blood Dad couldn't give us what we truly needed.

I first got the idea for this post when I heard one of my favorite singers do a cover of the song "Father Figure." For those unfamiliar, this song was originally written by George Michael (whom, if you don't know, is gay and notorious for an infamous public sexual incident several years ago). All of that to say, the song is actually deeply personal and intensely revealing about the nature of identity.

It starts like this...

That's all I wanted, something special,
Something sacred in your eyes

And then the chorus...

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine...
I will be the one who loves you
till the end of time

So, given the prior information I've offered, I think it is safe to deduce that George Michael is singing this song to his gay lover. Yet, the father imagery here is both blatant and heart-wrenching. He begins with a lament that certainly was first made to his real Daddy many years before. Wanting something special and sacred? This song screams identity. And we can only presume that Daddy missed the boat on that one, because here is his little boy, now all grown up, desperately seeking redemption in the embrace of a man who likely had the same ache in his heart for fatherly affirmation. So, attempts to bandage old wounds end up resurfacing as love song lyrics: "I will be your father figure...I will love you..."

On one hand, we can see how clearly messed up this is (very Freudian...). On the other hand, however, this song is brutally honest about the desires of our own hearts. Disregard for a minute the gay love story aspect and think about it from a heterosexual perspective. Women are often drawn to men who are like their fathers. Even when we don't want it to happen, it often does. Call it coincidence, but it just might be subconscious. Forgive the Freudian-ness, but I use that verbiage because even the world understands this...that deep (often unrecognized) craving within us for Daddy love. And left unchecked, that craving will compel us women to seek affirmation and attention from men who represent the image of what we longed for Dad to be.

Like I said, even though our fathe was the first we looked to to bestow our identity, he still could never be the one to give it. Earthly, imperfect Dad was just a shadow meant to reflect and point the way to Heavenly Dad. No human being can be our "father figure" (to show us love in the deepest way we crave). Nor can we find any identity outside of what our Heavenly Father calls us.

But do we really believe that? That there is no lasting way to derive our identity outside of Him? No matter how spectacular our relationships, job, looks or accomplishments are, they are meaningless. Have you read Ecclesiastes? Or how about Isaiah 1:31..."The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire." In other words, we might as well go grab a match now...because everything we attempt to base our identity around (outside of Christ) is going to burn anyway.

So, why the heck are we wasting our time on it?

As C.S. Lewis so courageously reminds us of the pursuits we devote our lives to...

"Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (emphasis mine)

We work to base our identity on our ever-changing (lowly) desires, which frankly, are pathetic in comparison to what we could have. Like Lewis says, we are ignorant. We don't even know how much joy, peace and security comes from deeply knowing and having our identity established in Christ. I agree with Lewis: We are far too easily pleased...especially when it comes to our sexuality ("fooling about with sex," as it were). In today's world, experimenting is "hot" (thank you, Katy Perry...) and entertaining (and engaging in) our most twisted fantasies is simply "feeding a natural appetite" (thank you, Kinsey...). And when we elevate our sexuality and desire for gratification to identity status, we easily excuse sin. In fact, we don't call it sin at all. Instead, we look to our Maker, not for the identity He longs to give us, but to blame Him for our desires: "How can this be wrong if I want it this much? Why did you make me with such intense longings if I can't express them?"

Remember, this is not just a homosexual argument. For as much experience as I have had in ministry, I know that there are many heterosexual Christians who wrestle with the intense desires created by their sexuality. In trying to discern God's role in our making (the creation of both our sexuality and our desires), we can easily rationalize behaviour related to our design as sexual beings. Surely masturbation is okay (physical release, right?). Fantasy about my future spouse (or faceless person) is normal, isn't it? The fact is, sin has tainted "normal."  And the only way we can really know what normal is (i.e. the most beautiful and glorious experiences that God originally intended) is by dumping all the messed up things our minds and bodies have done, at the feet of Jesus.

All it takes is a simple prayer...

"Jesus, HELP ME! I need to think beyond all this. I want to know who I am!"

To be continued...

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