If you think about it, most of us spend our whole lives trying to be relevant.
We all have this innate desire to be needed in the world, to know that we “offer” something, to know that people care about and value us. And although that does not necessarily sound like a bad thing, what that desire to be relevant does is put your self-value in the wrong place, or at least it can.
For as long as I can remember I have battled low self esteem. My whole life I never seemed to quite measure up. I was never tall enough, pretty enough, outgoing enough, brave enough, smart enough… you name it. It was completely debilitating at times and lead me into some very dark places.
There came a point in my life, however, when I allowed God to begin heal those insecurities… and I can remember very well how free and peaceful I began to feel when I let God begin to redefine me.
But of course the scars were deep, and I find out more and more each day how much there is still left to let go.
I never considered moving to Thailand and working at Nightlight “starting over” because “starting over” sounds to me like you are running from something and I don’t believe I was running from anything. But in a sense I am starting over. And I’m not just starting over in another youth ministry gig in my own culture, I am in a new country trying to do a completely different kind of job and I am coming to find out that many of the useful things I have done or accomplished in life are completely irrelevant here so far.
I’m came prepared to be a servant, in whatever capacity that meant. I was warned way ahead of time that much of the work I would be doing would not be glamorous at all… counting beads, making copies, making databases. I was forewarned and prepared and honestly, I have been settling quite nicely into these day to day things.
But these day to day things have nothing to do with the experience I have and the education I have obtained and there is this growing desire for acknowledgement. Like a “do you know who I am, the type of experience I have, and what I gave up to be here?!” type thing that has me wondering what I have had closed up inside me all these years unresolved…
Suddenly almost nothing I have accomplished before is relevant and it makes me so incredibly uncomfortable.
All of the skills that were oh so practical as a youth minister along with my fancy degree from Fuller Theological Seminary are lost simply due to the language barrier. Until I learn the language much of what I do will have nothing to do with what I am experienced in.
All the relationships are new too. No more connections or reputations are left to speak up for me. Its just me, no bells, no whistles.
But there is something about losing your relevance that forces you to rediscover your identity.
I got a taste of this identity crises when I stopped working at New Song a few months before I came here. I remember going to this meeting full of people who worked at churches and as we were introducing ourselves to each other I remember feeling a little panicked when I realized I couldn’t tell then that I worked at a church too… as if I didn’t matter as much because I did not have that role anymore.
Coming here has heightened that feeling of panic of irrelevance. Here, I’m like a child again, starting over, completely vulnerable, and unadorned… which is not, I have found, a bad place to be in.
I have nothing to offer but my vulnerable self. I must now find my identity not in my accomplishments, but in God alone.
Henry Nouwen puts it so well:
“The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.”
And if being irrelevant makes you uncomfortable, this forces you to ask the question of how much you were doing for your own glory as opposed to God’s glory? How much of this was I doing to make myself feel better and more important and more useful and how much was I doing out of response to God’s love alone?
I’ve found it’s a finer line than I thought…
Which is why I am so much enjoying this ongoing adventure… He keeps on surprising me.