A good friend of mine (perhaps I have mentioned him to you before), who used to be a minister of religion, once preached what turned out to be his swan song.
It was a most challenging series of sermons – about four of them, I think – in the lunchtime services that he ran every Thursday in his inner-city church.
His chosen theme was: What is the basis of your identity? Or something similar.
For example, if you base your identity on your physique, you are young and sleek and strong. Your self-confidence might be impressive, but it will be short-lived. Who will you be if and when your body starts to sag? Some call it ‘the great migration to the south. You’ll be a person in your fifties, maybe your sixties, and you won’t know who you are.
And he asked: what if your identity is bound up in your wealth, your social standing? Who are you – and we’ve seen this often in the last decade – who are you if you suffer a financial crash, whatever the cause? Do you obsess with the task of rebuilding your empire, riding roughshod over everyone until you are financially secure again?
There were a couple of other examples. I can’t remember what they were, but they certainly were thought provoking.
However, there’s another that he didn’t speak about that we’ve all come across, either in our personal lives or in our circle of friends and family. It’s the married couple, maybe together for years, even decades, and they begin to drift apart, slowly and imperceptibly at first, but a point is reached that looks like the point of no return.
Maybe the damage is repairable; revisiting the site of hurt might bring healing; perhaps redoubling your effort to stand in the other’s shoes; compromise might be called for; or even a second honeymoon to retrace those early steps in the hope that you’ll fall in love again. But what if all that fails, you’re just too far apart, you or your spouse or both have changed too much too quickly?
What to do? For some it might be a case of reinventing themselves, starting from scratch and rebuilding from the roots up. Who can say?
However, that’s not what I want to address right now. My question is: what can we do to equip ourselves to deal with these changes, some of which we will inevitably be called upon to handle?
Tony Campolo once likened the individual to an onion: the layers are the different aspects of our personalities, we are the sum of our relationships, but if you peel away the layers, he argued, there’s nothing left.
Well, I’m not so sure. I think there’s more to us than the layers of an onion. Surely there is an inner core that we can be reduced down to – and that’s the conclusion I have arrived at.
So what is that core? It is the Spirit of the living God who takes up residence way down in the depths of our beings. Take all away, and that’s what’s left. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said: ‘My Father will love you, and we will come to you, and make our home within you’.
If we can embrace that truth, surely we will be more than well equipped to withstand whatever life throws at us.