Thursday, May 19, 2016

Who are you?

When two adults meet for the first time, early in the conversation one or both will often ask, What do you do? A person's career, profession, or employment often defines who a person is, both for the person's own sense of self and for how other individuals perceive the person.

When I retired from the Navy in 2005, I left a career in which uniform insignia revealed a person's military specialty, seniority, and some of their experiences. I was tired of my profession, seniority, and experiences defining me. I wanted people to see me for myself.

Thus, when new acquaintances asked me in our first conversation what I did, I often answered that I was happily and comfortably unemployed. My response left a majority of inquirers visibly discomfited. These persons seemed unable to cope with someone who refused to define him or herself in terms of career, profession, or employment.

Even when I visited my mother in a retirement community and observed residents talk with a newcomer, the conversation frequently included considerable discussion of what each person had done prior to retirement. Too often, what a person does (or has done) becomes definitive of that person's identity and worth.

If spirit is at the center of human existence, then who a person is should have precedence over what a person does or did. Discussing employment histories can be interesting and instructive. Discussing employment histories is also far less intimate than is discussing who I am spiritually. I find it distressing that frequently relationships never progress from things that properly reside at life's periphery (e.g., employment) to things that hopefully constitute the heart of a person's existence (e.g., her/his self-awareness, her/his aesthetic sense or creativity, and most importantly her/his story of loving and being loved).

Admittedly, many relationships are appropriately casual and remain superficial. However, our more intimate and enduring relationships are the source of life's meaning and value. Revealing one's spirit to another person involves risk and vulnerability. Will the other person respect who we are and not abuse our confidence?

God is no respecter of persons, that is, God values everyone equally regardless of a person's career, achievements, or even their failures. Are you the person God created you to be? What is the next step on the path that will lead you deeper into the fullness of who God intended you to be? Are you a person of character who embodies the virtues of love, faith, hope, justice, courage, temperance, and prudence? Are you a person whom you would want others to emulate? Are you a saint, that is, are you a person who lives the Christian life writ large?

One of the principal reasons that I value attending worship, spiritual reading, prayer, and spiritual conversations is that they afford me opportunities to reflect analytically about those questions and to identify tentative answers.

Who are you? Who did God create you to be? What are you doing to become that person?

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