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THE TRUEST THING ABOUT YOU
By DAVID LOMAS, D. R. JACOBSEN
David C. CookCopyright © 2014 David Lomas, D. R. Jacobsen
All rights reserved.
WHO WE ARE
A COLLECTION OF SOMEONES
You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.
There are many true things about you. You may be a student. You may be a mom. You may love someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. You may make music or lattes. Life may be incredibly difficult, or you may feel like you're living the dream.
These things may be true—but are they the truest?
Fried chicken is food, true, and so is a kale salad. But Jesus declared that He is the truest food. See, other things may have the appearance of being able to satisfy the deep needs of our bodies and even our souls, but Jesus declared that He is even truer food and truer drink.
So even among truths, there are true things and there are truer things.
This book is about the truer things, the things so deeply true about you that they have the power to change everything else, including the merely true things.
What if the truest thing about you can cause you to reimagine your entire life? What if the truest thing about you can drown out all the noise and speak the words that you've waited for your whole life?
Amid all the true things about you, there is one thing that is the truest.
What we are going to attempt to discover is this: what does God say is the truest thing about us?
We aren't always comfortable asking that question, and sometimes we only pretend to ask it. We give an answer we think we ought to give, an answer that identifies us as one of the good kids or a good Christian or a good citizen. Those answers are too easy. They're cheap. All our lives we've been trained to answer that question in particular ways for particular people.
We define ourselves differently to different people. I'm a good worker, I'm a good parent, I'm a failure, I'm beautiful, I'm hideous, I'm loved, I'm not.
And maybe you answer the question differently when you're by yourself, when you ask it of yourself. Dancing alone, driving alone, sitting at a café alone, tapping snooze on your alarm for the seventh time, the tenth time, because there isn't one single reason you can come up with for getting out of bed on a sunny Saturday in June.
You answer it differently every time because you feel different every time you're asked. A different person with every shifting truth.
Here's the problem: you're clinging to true things about yourself that simply aren't that true. You're elevating things that are merely true—or half-true, or true some days but not others—to the level of "truest." I know you're doing this because I do it too. We all do. It's the human condition.
Be clear: many of the destructive things we believe about ourselves are not, in fact, lies.
Well-intentioned people sometimes tell us not to believe lies about ourselves. They tell us that we can put negative thoughts behind us and begin to live positive lives.
That's missing the point though. There are many destructive things about us that aren't lies we need to reject. In fact, many destructive things we believe are very much true! We do fail, we did lose the money, we aren't as beautiful, we were abused. The problem is that we have pushed many of these merely true things down to the most fundamental layer of who we are and in so doing have built our whole lives and identities on them.
These things can be true, but we need to discover that they are not, and never will be, the truest thing.
That's what this book is about.
WHY IT MATTERS
Have you ever realized that the most fundamental and existential questions in life spring from your identity?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What am I meant to be?
What is my purpose?
Can I ever change who I am?
Does anyone know and love the real me?
These are the kinds of questions that keep us up at night—or else they are so troubling that we watch movies, work overtime, stay out late, get high, or try to lose ourselves in romance just to avoid asking them.
If one of the most important aspects of your life has ever changed, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Maybe once upon a time your job was everything. You worked long hours, but it didn't feel like work because you were a part of something. Something big. You had power, you had money, you had purpose. Perhaps you loved the certainty that everyone needed you or that you were making a real difference.
Or you had that relationship everyone really wants. You never dreamed that you could be so happy or that another person could get you at such a deep level. You were fulfilled.
Perhaps you were your parents' favorite child, home for every holiday and loving every minute. You always knew who you were, and you always knew you were loved.
Then one day you woke up ... and it was all gone. I see this happen all the time. It's happened to me on several occasions. You were fired, laid off when your company downsized, or, worse, you simply felt bored and left. That relationship ended bitterly, or you were blindsided by the loss of your parents. Who you were was no longer who you would be. All of those questions you'd been managing to avoid came boiling to the surface again. The way it happens can be different, but it still happens to each of us.
It's been said that our identity is that which is identical about us in every situation. Identity. Identical.
Yet that doesn't help much because we are composite people, bundles of competing desires and identities. We want to be educated thinkers and we want to watch reality television. We want to be generous and we want our own way every time. We want to be in shape and we want to eat bacon! But if the basic conflicts in our natures are obvious, then so is our sense, our intuition, that beneath all that oscillation is a stable core of identity. Somewhere inside us is who we really are.
How do we get to that core identity? What happens when we feel like we're constantly in flux, unable to identify anything that's always the same about us? Or what happens when we feel exactly the same as everyone else, just another cog in the machine with no individual spark?
On one level, the feeling of constant change has become constant. When switching apartments and jobs and cities and cars and friends and churches is normal, so is our feeling of déjà vu. We've been here before. We've done that, met them, seen this. Change, change, change—and before long we feel like a well-used Rubik's Cube, always spinning but getting more and more random each time.
On another level, some things about us are so permanent that their weight feels crushing. Our ethnicity, our past crimes and failures, our families, our disorders and addictions. There's no way we can escape such things.
That's why we are so conflicted, because so many competing and complementary things about us are true at the same time. We can hate that which is permanent about ourselves, like the way we were raised, just as we can hate that which is temporary, like a bad haircut. We're after something deeper, some truer identity that makes sense of our myriad parts.
Princeton professor Kwame Anthony Appiah pointed out that identity is a combination of how we represent ourselves to ourselves and how the world sees us. He said we are always navigating between the "I" in "I am ..." and the "me" people see as being me.
That balancing act poses some obvious problems, some of which Professor Appiah highlighted. What if the "I" you want to be known as is quite different from the "me" that people see? In my own life I might ask, What if people see me as Mexican, but I want to be seen as Asian? Or, What if people see me as a pastor, but I want to be seen as a creative writer?
My wife has this existential crisis every time she introduces herself to someone in our church community. She doesn't want to be seen as "the pastor's wife" or "the first lady" (ha!)—she wants to be seen as Ashley. Just her. But she is the pastor's wife. She knows that and loves that on one level, but that truth brings expectations of having it all together, running the kids' program and women's ministry at the same time, discipling every girl in the church, and being the woman Solomon said in the ancient book of Proverbs was the ideal.
There's a way she sees herself—and there is a way others see and interpret her. She needs to navigate her "I" and the "me" that others see.
So is identity that which is most identical about you in all situations? Even if some of those identical things change and some regrettably stay the same?
Or is identity what you want to be seen as and how the world sees you? And can you change to be anything you want?
These questions matter—a lot—because our identity is the lens through which we see the world. We cannot not see our lives—lives sometimes magnificent in detail and beauty, other times crushing in blurriness and drab normality—from the perspective of who we believe we are. Our identity shapes the way we live.
I read this illustration once: identity drives motivation, motivation drives action, and action drives results. For example, if someone speeds past me at ninety miles per hour on the highway, odds are I won't chase them down and issue a ticket. I don't have an identity that says, "I am a police officer," so I have no motivation to act. A police officer, on the other hand, does have that identity and therefore has the motivation to take action (chasing down the speeder) and get results (issuing a ticket).
Every action we take in life has a sense of identity behind it. How we see ourselves matters.
So who is that? What is the truest thing about you? What part of you is unchangeable? Who are you?
You're a mom. A dad. A child of divorce. A business owner or freelancer. Male, female, black, white. You're an introvert, an extrovert, a person who refuses to be labeled as either. You're gay, you're straight. You're a success, a failure, someone who never lived up to other people's expectations, or someone no one ever believed in. You control your own destiny or you cannot seem to escape the labels other people give you. Unique among seven billion other options, you are you—but who is that? What does it mean to be you, and what if you don't like the answer?
We don't have midlife crises anymore. We live in perpetual crisis.
The constant crisis can wear us down. Identity isn't something we can safely ignore until we get a raise or the kids are in school full-time or we retire. No—who we believe we are determines how we live our lives each day. That is why all this matters.
When it comes to our identity, to the truest thing about us, we can't afford to believe partial truths. Even worse, sometimes we believe lies. Sometimes I still do. I wrote this book because I needed to read it, needed to believe it.
I still need to believe it.
If discovering the truest thing about who we are is a journey, we're all taking it together.
My identity crisis started way before midlife—at least I hope.
I'm from Bakersfield, a town in the central valley of California. It's nowhere near the beach, and you never run into movie stars. You do meet growers, people who work in oil, and educators. The nearest forest is actually neatly ordered almond and olive groves, and the nearest river is lined with cement. Bakersfield doesn't have any sports teams, but the Lakers do play one preseason game there every year, or at least they used to. On an electoral map of blue California, Bakersfield is a bright red splotch smack in the middle of the state. I was born there, graduated from high school there, met Jesus and my wife there, and became a pastor at a church there.
Now I live in San Francisco, and the church I started is in the middle of the Castro District. On an electoral map, San Francisco (especially the Castro District) is so blue it glows. San Francisco is 282 miles from Bakersfield, but the distance might as well be measured in light-years.
Between Bakersfield and San Francisco is a quaint beach town on California's Central Coast called Carpinteria. The postcards they sell at the local steak house, The Palms, are right—it really is "The Promised Land." I moved to Carpinteria because I believed God was asking me to start a new church community, and moving away from Bakersfield was the first step. It was in that town nestled comfortably between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the cool Pacific that my identity imploded.
I was thirty. I'd just started working at Starbucks. And my boss had just graduated ... from high school.
In Bakersfield, I'd been on staff at a church for nearly a decade. People called me Pastor Dave. People came to me for help with major decisions in their lives, like marriage and career changes. I prayed with people and taught them about the Bible and helped students keep their eyes on what mattered during their years in school. And I loved every minute of it.
At Starbucks, people called me "man" and asked me why there wasn't more caramel syrup on their latte. People wanted my help with major decisions like which scone to buy. Not that baristas don't add value to people's lives—this book wouldn't have been written without my friendly baristas in San Francisco! But the reality was that I was putting pastries into paper bags and cleaning bathrooms at the same time my whole sense of identity was still wrapped up in being a pastor.
That cognitive dissonance—and heart dissonance—was at the center of my identity crisis.
* * *
So why was I working at Starbucks? Because the bank I had been working at prior to Starbucks fired me a week before Christmas. I shouldn't have been surprised. Counting things isn't one of my strengths. (My wife handles the finances at home, and my executive pastor handles the money at our church, so don't be alarmed.) At this bank I kept giving people too much money—no joke. This wasn't me being a gospel-centered banker ... it was me being a bad banker. When I worked there, I always wondered why I had the longest line and why people waited to work with me when other tellers were open. At the time I figured it was my charm. Nope.
Fired from the bank, working at Starbucks, and thinking longingly back to my ten years as a respected pastor in my hometown, all while I was preparing to go begin a new church, somewhere, with no Bible degree, no seminary training, and about one-third of a community-college transcript.
That was me.
Did I mention that right before the bank fired me I heard God tell me—and it was the clearest voice I'd ever heard—that my wife and I were supposed to move to San Francisco and start a church?
San Francisco. One of the most unchurched, most educated, most culturally progressive cities in the nation. Me, Bakersfield Dave. I had plenty of time to contemplate the absurdity of that call after getting fired from my entry-level banking job and while foaming milk at Starbucks.
Cue identity crisis.
TRUE AND TRUEST
When it comes to an identity crisis, the shift from swimming to drowning isn't always sudden. Major life changes can be as traumatic to our sense of identity as a shark attack ... but sometimes all it takes is the hint of a cramp or the tug of a current.
Losing the sense of who we are can be as subtle as waking up and feeling like everything has moved an inch to the left. We're living the same life: same job, same relationships, same parents. Except it's no longer quite the same. Something has changed. A crack, a discordant note. A different quality of light that doesn't seem as promising, as hopeful. Work begins to feel more like work, lovers seem more like friends, the sense of possibility more like expectation.
You knew who you were, and those things that made you you were everything—until they weren't.
Did you squander them? Were they taken from you? Was it fate? I'm not going to answer the why here because the what is painfully, inevitably, humanly universal. These things happen to us all.
If you don't know the truest thing about yourself, you don't know yourself. And that matters. What you believe about yourself determines how you live. We were made for something. Something bigger than the little things we seem fated to surround ourselves with.
Understanding identity is an act of hope. We want to know who we really are because we believe that knowledge will make a real difference in how we live.
It's also difficult, and not just because of the issues that it will raise inside your heart and mind. Some of what we talk about might offend you. This discussion might make you uncomfortable or even disrupt the way you see other people. If you have a habit of being quick to place people into categories of right and wrong, holy and profane, then what I hope is that you will first examine yourself.
Take a vacation from worrying about others. What's your identity?
Excerpted from THE TRUEST THING ABOUT YOU by DAVID LOMAS, D. R. JACOBSEN. Copyright © 2014 David Lomas, D. R. Jacobsen. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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