"In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational, it must become the basis of our identity."1
Those are the words of David Benner as written in his book The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery. A first glance at the book’s title might give one the impression that this is a me first, self-obsessed form of Christian psychology—yes, Benner is a psychologist. Yet for all of us who sense that we suffer from some degree of narcissism, Benner’s thoughtful insight promotes release from this heavy burden of self-absorption.
Benner mentions the word “identity.” He states that “our identity is who we experience ourselves to be—the I each of us carry within.”2 Over the course of my lifetime, I have had my identity vested in persons, places and things.
I remember my daughter calling me not long ago to share that she had just received a raise in pay. I was so happy for her, and also amusingly happy for myself. It was if her employer had just given me the raise. Even though I am not capable of doing her job, her present satisfaction had somehow become mine. The people, whom she works for, those who evaluate her job performance, don’t know who I am; however, their judgment of her somehow affects me personally. Oh yes, the raise—what wonderful people to work for!
I find my identity bound up in people groups, even though I have no tangible association with the group. I have held more than a casual interest in the Green Bay Packers ever since I sat on the living room sofa as a young boy with my dad watching the television as the Pack played against the Rams. They won that day. Over the years, a win for the Packers has been a win for me. I can’t run, can’t jump, and doubt that I could survive a series of downs without serious injury. But I do experience some degree of jubilation in every Packer touchdown and victory.
There have been countless things on my life’s journey from which I have sought my identity. David Benner speaks to Jesus’ identity being rooted in loving relationship with his Father. I imagine Jesus in willful surrender to his Father, availing himself to the Father’s ongoing adoration. Strangely enough, I can remember all too often when I have been resistant to such an identity, instead choosing to find satisfaction through other means.
Jesus prayed to his Father: "I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”3
- Take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of Jesus’ prayer.
- Then reflect upon what it is like to be deeply loved by God.
Jesus’ prayer confirms that those who did take notice of him, and who will take notice of him, know exactly who God is like. They come to know God, the Creator of all things, as the Father Jesus knows—as dearly beloved. I have discovered that this is where my deepest and truest identity lies—in my relationship with this God who is head-over-heels in love with me. This kind of knowing is not about having more facts about God, but derived from personal interaction with him.
To aid me in this personal interaction with my heavenly Father and Jesus, in whom my identity resides, I turn to a spiritual discipline called the breath prayer. I mentioned earlier that I have a resistance at times to the Father’s love and adoration. I find the breath prayer a means of grace to help quiet the clamoring noises in my head which fuel my resistance to God and distort my true identity. In this breath prayer, I sense a desire to surrender and receive the love of God.
- Find a comfortable place to rest.
- Begin by pondering the nearness of God.
- Settle into the truth that Christ is in you.
- Slowly breathe in the words “Lord Jesus,”
- Now slowly exhale the desire “Have mercy upon me.”
- Repeat breathing in this manner until your resistance to God begins to subside.
- Now slowly breathe in the word, “Abba,”
- Slowly exhale the truth: “I belong to you.”
- Repeat breathing in this manner for as long as you like.4
1 Benner, David G.. The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (The Spiritual Journey) (Kindle Location 507). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
3English Standard Bible, John 17:26
4Adapted from Adele Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Kindle Location 5211). InterVarsity Press.
John Novick has served in pastoral ministry for 25 years.