Who Am I In Truth
The alarm wakes me from unconsciousness and I rise, dragging my feet as I do most mornings when I’ve managed to get an ounce of sleep, my body craving more of the illusive comfort. Sage is awake and we sit for a moment on the couch cuddling. I am not ready to break the stillness, the silence, but I can feel the clock pulling at me. It is time to get moving.
I hand Sage a doll to play with and head to the kitchen. It is still dark outside as I flip the switch on the electric kettle and wait for the noise of the water boiling inside. I wish I could turn a kettle on inside me some mornings, to warm the chill that creeps in and find the heat to start the day.
I pull a mug out of the cupboard and pour the hot water into it before sitting down at the table. I should go wake Thad. But, I’m not ready. I’ll just finish my hot water first. I grab my phone and out of habit click on the Instagram icon. It barely opens before my thumb hits the large white button at the bottom of my phone. That’s not how I want to start my day.
Instead I click open my bible app and read the passage for the day. Genesis 35 glares at me from the screen, as if it were a large road sign momentarily lit by the light of a speeding car.
There’s something here for me. But, I’m not exactly sure what. I switch translations and read it again slowly in The Message, and then in The Voice, and then I sit.
In the dark.
One word stirs in my heart, “Ask.”
I’ve been posing the same question to God for years, decades even, “Who are you?” I’ve been praying over and over, “God show me who you are, in truth. Not as I imagine you to be, not as people tell me that you are, not even just as I’ve previously believed you to be, show me who you are in truth.”
And another question, equally common to humanity, “Who am I?” has rested heavy on me. Lately it has held me captive. Who am I really? Who am I in truth?
These are the most basic questions, perhaps the most common, but they aren’t as easily answered as I’ve often been led to believe. These are questions we live into, these are questions we breath, questions we ask again and again sometimes getting one answer sometimes getting another, sometimes getting no answer at all but simply soaking into our hearts some truth completely incomprehensible to the intellect.
God tells Jacob to get up, arise, move. He tells him to go to Bethel, which means house of God. And so Jacob and all his household purify themselves, cleanse themselves. They take a bath. They take off all their jewelry, all the trappings they hide behind, and they set aside all their foreign, alien, false god’s. They gather all these false, foreign, extras and bury them.
In the dark quiet of my kitchen a prayer escapes from my lips, a question passes through my heart…
What is false in my life? What is foreign? What things am I hiding behind, clinging to, giving a place of honor in my life, wearing like jewelry on my heart, that are false? What things am I picking up that are foreign, that aren’t mine, that aren’t for me? What idols am I quietly collecting? Show me the things that need to be set aside so that I can simply and completely, in wholeness, be who I am, as you intended me to be. Show me the false, so I can see the true. Cleanse me, so that all that is left is what is true and real, right and mine. So that I can come to Bethel, the house of God, and meet with you in truth.
And God meets with Jacob again and gives him a new name.
“Your name is Jacob (Heel); but that’s your name no longer. From now on your name is Israel (God-Wrestler).” (The Message)
What did Jacob think of this new name? Is it what he hoped for? Perhaps not. It’s not exactly a feel good name, it’s not Father of Nations, or Prince of Peace. God-Wrestler invokes a certain amount of pain, doesn’t it? And yet it’s an honest name. We can see it in Jacob from our vantage point, but could he?
And isn’t it, in fact, a name full of honor? God Almighty let Jacob wrestle with him, allowed Jacob to bring all of his baggage and questions and frustrations right before the throne and wrestle it out with the God of the universe there. What a privilege!
Do I want God to speak an honest name to me? A name full of honor and privilege, but also, quiet possibly, full of pain? Or am I still wearing so much of my jewelry, and carrying so many of my foreign god’s that I can’t accept an honest name. Do I hold on to a name that is lesser than all that God has for me? Or strive after a name that is more? Can I let him speak honest truth over me instead?
Israel doesn’t seem to accept the name right away either. The text continues to call him Jacob.
And then a son is born and Rachel dies. Jacob is given a great joy with a great pain. And then the text reads, “Israel journeyed on…”
It’s as if that moment of mixed pain and joy confronts Jacob with his true identity, God-wrestler.
I again read over the last few verses of the chapter, names and places. It blurs a little. Stop. Pay attention, something has happened. Israel is Jacob once more. Why? Is it important.
Israel was an honest name, but perhaps it was also one that Jacob had to live into, like the questions. Perhaps that is how it is with us as well sometimes. God shows up and gives us a glimpse of who we are, at heart, in honest truth, and we don’t claim it right away, and then maybe for a time we do, we live into it, and then we revert back for a time to our old self, our old foreign falseness.
And maybe this is yet another place where we need each other, where we need community. We need people who can call out our real names. People who will remind us when we sink back into the old self. People who will speak truth to us, even when that truth looks harsh. People who will say, “This is not who you are. This is something foreign. This is something false. You need to bury this.”
Jacob had a new name. Perhaps for the first time in his life he saw himself rightly, saw himself honestly, as God saw him. And then he went back to his family, his sons and his father, and they called him Jacob. Rather than call out the deeper true identity, they saw the old, the “heel”.
Often in my own life I feel a great shift has happened, a peeling back of the false and a stepping into the true, and then, well, then life continues. And things go back to how they were. And perhaps there are hints of the change, but it isn’t acted out in completeness.
And sometimes, no often, even when those around me do call me by the truth and see the new or the could-be in me, I don’t believe them. I still cling to the lesser name.
There’s a chapter in Henri’s book The Inner Voice of Love that I haven’t been able to shake lately. He writes:
“When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don’t believe that these people are really seeing what they are saying. You have to start seeing yourself as your truthful friends see you. As long as you remain blind to your own truth, you keep putting yourself down and referring to everyone else as better, holier, and more loved than you are. You look up to everyone in whom you see goodness, beauty, and love because you do not see any of these qualities in yourself. As a result, you begin leaning on others without realizing that you have everything you need to stand on your own feet. You cannot force things, however. You cannot make yourself see what others see. You cannot fully claim yourself when parts of you are still wayward. You have to acknowledge where you are and affirm that place. You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.”
And there, hidden towards the end, lies some key to the spiritual life, “…trust that God…”
Trust that God will keep speaking truth over me. Trust that God will keep calling out my true name, and giving me others, at just the right time, who would speak that name over me as well. Trust that God will finish the work he began in me. Trust that it is God, by his grace, who does the work.
The light is beginning to creep through my kitchen window now and my cup is empty. A prayer lingers on the air...
And the day begins.
Grace and peace,