Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Secret to True Identity

The Secret of our True Identity

Years ago, my father gave me a cryptic message by showing me the headlines of a newspaper article he was reading. It was a talk given by a respected elderly statesman. I can still remember vividly the phrase: "To be or not to be. That is the question."

I didn't know what my father was talking about. He didn't really explain his thoughts. I possess no special cognitive ability to read minds. Neither did my father transfer any telepathic skills to me. The words look exactly as they were: words. Only years later do I recognize the existential implication of that question. Still, I am left guessing what my father is trying to say to me at that time. Perhaps, he is not interested in saying anything more. He just wants me to think, to ponder, and to meander from time to time the deeper meanings behind the philosophical saying. I know now that it comes from a famous play in Shakespeare's Hamlet. One can interpret it to mean desiring to live or to die; to do or not do; or to verbalize one's predicament before making important decisions. Whatever it is, it is a famous phrase that pushes us toward a Yes/No ultimatum.

Educators will be downtrodden if life is simply reduced to a yes-no process of selection, as it leads to a premature end to any lively discussion. Computer programmers will be lifted up in ecstasy, to learn that life can be programmed simply with a series of IF-THEN-ELSE subroutines. Philosophers generally prefer not to answer such a question but meander all over the different dimensions of the phrase. Existentialists will argue for the affirmative. Utopians will prefer to anticipate a brighter tomorrow. My reflection continues to reveal insights into my father's phrase. "To be or not to be. That is the question." Here lies my thesis.
MY THESIS: "We cannot adequately answer this question without first recognizing our sense of identity. We cannot appreciate our sense of identity without recognizing our adoption in Christ. "
In other words, the secret to our identity is not titles, not subtitles, but to know our entitlements as children of God. Let me frame this discussion with the words, titles, subtitles, and entitlement.

What does it take to be a millionaire? This popular question was posed to my cohort during my graduation year. Lecturers ask it. Students wish it. Some hope but most thinks it is out of their humble reach. For a young graduate, like a bird in hand is better than two in the bush, getting a job beats dreaming about a million dollars hands down. Yet, the desire to be successful sings strong in the hearts of many aspiring graduates entering the workforce. For an ambitious person, it takes less than a year before one starts to wonder about status in the organization. Usually, the title reflects a certain prestige. As one climbs the career ladder, usually a bigger title comes with a higher salary, or better privileges.

I remember a time when I was an engineer in an electronics firm. Life was good and fun. I enjoy the projects and the challenge of meeting deadlines. I find programming fun. I find interacting with fellow engineers enjoyable and of course. I see getting paid to do what I enjoy doing as a big blessing. As each year passes by, as new and younger engineers join the fray, I start to wonder what I need to do in order to be ahead of the pack. What about being promoted? What about getting a position that allows me to supervise other engineers? Thoughts of a promotion start to occupy me constantly. I can practically visualize all the extra benefits that come with a senior engineer title. I had thought that it made me feel important, that when I meet vendors and business partners, I can flash them my name card that says: "SENIOR ENGINEER." Boy, that kind of feeling is exhilarating. Yet, there is something that is different. My past relationships with my fellow engineers seem to change with my promotion. They no longer complain about management in front of me, as I am considered part of the management team. Their sharing appears muffled, compared to our carefree days as peers. It takes a lot of time, and open assurance to help them be more relaxed with my presence. The situation eventually improved, but never the same as before. Titles come with privileges, but also limitations. It opens a new door, but closes old ones. Adjusting to this new phase can be tough. When we are not ready, do not ask for a title. When we are ready, don't depend on a title to behave accordingly. If we equate our sense of importance with titles, we deceive ourselves and slowly lose our sense of identity.

Living in a fast paced culture can be a challenge when trying to cultivate relationships. Even among family members, I remember relatives asking my mum what kind of job and what position I am currently holding. It seems like family pride is connected with position and status titles of the offspring. My grandmother used to boast to my distant relatives that there is a doctor and a lawyer in the household. While it is true, it hides the fact that there are many unique family situations behind the flashy titles. This pattern is repeated even in social circles. My colleagues and friends readily exchange name cards at parties and annual get-togethers. From Senior Analyst to Principal Consultant, from Entrepreneur to a CEO of a highly visible MNC, from Senior Engineer Level 1 to Chief Engineer Level 5. Yet, the title of the person is not enough. People's sense of respect rises in proportion to the name of the organization. It is one thing to be a manager of ABC company. It is more 'credible' to be a Managing Director of a Fortune 500 conglomerate. During my time, any consulting job with a management consulting firm, especially the Big 8 (at that time) is an automatic entry into many comfortable invitations to corporate presentations, meals and vendor attention.

Likewise, the moment one leaves the company, or gets retrenched, one's sense of importance falls. The end result can be downright discouraging. For a person who have felt important because of a title, he will soon realize that it works the other way too. When "TITLE = IMPORTANCE," "NO TITLE = "NO IMPORTANCE."

This leads me to observe that, if we let our sense of importance be determined by a 'title,' our sense of identity becomes an oblivious 'subtitle.' People has sometimes described their individual phase changes as 'identity crisis.' When that happens, they are not exactly sure who they are, and why are they living on this earth. I cannot help but suspect, that one chop leads to three losses in order of seriousness: loss of income, loss of pride, loss of identity. Some people never truly recover after a setback like this. I know of one person who received his pink slip in the morning, returned home a few hours later and subsequently ended his life. Our sense of identity must go beyond titles, subtitles or no-titles. It is linked to Someone bigger than ourselves.

I have said at other times that our modern era comprises a growing young generation of people expecting handouts and demanding a piece of their entitlement. Despite expert advice that asks people not to expect automatic promotions, people still behave as if it is their right for a promotion, for a salary increase and for a better recognition in the corporate ladder. This is not the kind of 'entitlement' I am talking about.

I believe in Jesus, and his promise for all. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, and He will come again to usher in the full and perfect kingdom at the right time. It is coming. The 'entitlement' I am talking about is the assurance of salvation in Jesus. This is the treasure for us to cherish. This is the promise for us to keep. This is the hope for us to long for. Underlying this sense of 'entitlement' is grace. Grace unlimited. A grace that is freely given and awaits us to freely receive. It is in the light of this grace, that we recognize that our sense of identity has been redeemed by God. No longer are we slaves to worldly depictions of importance=titles. Being a child of God automatically means we are entitled to the goodness of God in all its glory. Nothing will be held back. Everything is for us to receive. Here lies the crucial link toward an authentic identity. In Christ.

A Sense of Identity Redeemed
Before I get accused of promoting a brand of prosperity-driven gospel, let me state that I believe God's riches are infinite. It is so infinite that his riches is not mere unidirectional. I know for some people, they think that God can *only* prosper them in terms of bigger and more impressive statistics. No! The first beattitude clearly says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God." This means that the blessings of God cannot be restricted to one-direction only, ie more and more. God must be allowed to choose to bless people with more as well as with LESS. I remember a friend telling me about her employer wanting to reward her for her wonderful work one year. Instead of asking for more money, she asks for less. Puzzled, the boss asks why. She then goes on to say that she wants to work less, to get less pay so that she can spend more time with her family. What a wonderful way to communicate life principles in the office!

God riches can be given to us whether we are rich or poor, slave or free, sick or well, or any earthly condition we are in. As the significance of the kingdom of God breaks through into us and through us, we will realize that job titles, subtitles and all kinds of earthly titles will grow strangely dim, in the light of God's glory and grace.

Looking unto Jesus, we can be free from the bondage of our importance with our titles. Looking unto Jesus, we can be liberated from the chains of earthly reputation in favour of heavenly revelation. Looking unto Jesus, we let titles and subtitles disappear into oblivion, as we let the Person of Jesus appear more and more in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We cannot appreciate our sense of identity without recognizing our adoption in Christ. In other words, the secret to our identity is not titles, not subtitles, but to know our entitlements as children of God.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,And He who formed you, O Israel,"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isa 43:1, NAS)



Commander Win-Win said...

We need to cultivate a generation of young people who do their best out of love for God rather than from inner insecurity that craves desperately for recognition by others.

YAPdates said...

Yes. I like the word 'cultivate.' I too like its twin: "demonstrate."

May believers in Christ not only cultivate a sense of security in others, but also demonstrate theirs by being able to rest and abide in Christ.


Latest Posts