One of the most endearing children’s books I’ve read is “What-a-Mess”** about an Afghan Hound puppy who becomes confused about his true identity. He thinks his real name is ‘What-a-Mess” because that’s what everyone says when they see him. When his mother muses one night “You’re no puppy of mine looking like that,” he decides to go on a quest to discover who he is.
He thinks he might be a hat piece until the hat owner sticks the long hat pin in him, with disastrous results.
A fish? He almost drowns. He finally gives up and returns home, looking even worse. As he goes to bed, he hears his mother say, “You’re a one-puppy disaster wherever you go but deep down you’re a dear.” He falls asleep happy to finally know who he really is: not a dear but a deer.
Here’s another example of an identity crisis, a bag that can’t make up its mind if it is a long thin grain, a dried fruit, or a nut.
Ingredients: toasted dry fruits, salt.
Bar code label: Riz Jaune Long
The other side isn’t any more helpful:
In one sense, labels aren’t that important. The mother of What-a-Mess can call him any name she wants, but he is still an Afghan Hound puppy. I can call myself a Christian too, but that doesn’t really matter either. It doesn’t change what’s inside the package. Whether I live a moral upright life on the outside is not what determines if I’m a Christian. What counts is accepting God’s gift of salvation.**
Names help us distinguish which person we’d like to speak to in a crowd [though that can be harder in a country where half the men are named after their religious leader and half of the women are named after his wife]. Labels can also determine how someone treats us. During the 60s, African-Americans marched holding signs that said “I am a man”. They had to assert the obvious fact to fight against the propaganda (sometimes propped up by twisted Bible verses) that they were unworthy of personhood.
Jesus didn’t carry a sign saying who He was and as a result, all through the gospels, people tried to figure out His true identity. Some said He was John the Baptist. Others said He was Elijah or a prophet. Some said He was possessed by Satan. Pilate called Him “king of the Jews”. Peter said He was the Christ. Others said He was a good moral teacher, others thought He was crazy, or the Son of God. Their conclusions made a big difference.
Some days I don’t pay much attention to who I am in Christ. My spiritual identity feels like an abstract concept, no more than an interesting thought. However on a practical level, it can deeply influence what I do and how I respond:
Not enough money– I may panic or be calm
Facing a new challenge–I may feel fearful or excited [or both]
Serving without being noticed–I may feel resentful or happy
Succeeding–I may feel proud in myself or I may feel thankful to God for His gifts to me
Failing–I may feel in despair or I may feel relaxed
Earlier this week I was going through my daily reflection questions,** paying attention to the feelings I had experienced the day before. It so happened that just about every negative feeling had come because I had not fully taken to heart what God has said about me**. I had felt sad, frustrated, irritated, afraid, proud, wary because I had forgotten His label for me: beloved, child, friend, Mine.
**What-a-Mess by Frank Muir, out of print but copies are out there.
**What Jesus had to say about people like who were only concerned with the outside:
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
Matthew 20:27-28 The Message
**Other times, I may feel these exact same feelings, precisely because I have taken to heart God’s view of me. But this week, it wasn’t the case.
**What God says about me:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
He who created you, Jacob,
He who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine…
Since you are precious and honored in My sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life…
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
and My daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by My name,
whom I created for My glory,
whom I formed and made.