Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Identity as a barrier to faith

Once in a while I get to know someone whose main barrier to faith, besides the spiritual barrier of pride and self-direction that all of us face, is their identity.  For whatever reason and in whatever way, these people have adopted an identity that they view as incompatible with faith in God.  I wrote about one woman whose primary barrier seemed to be her identity here.

After a lot of years and a lot more conversations with people, it seems to me that all identity-barriers are not the same strength.  For example, identities that we are given by others but don't fully own might not be so hard to let go of.  If I have someone telling me that I'm not good enough for anything, and I believe it and I start to live in that reality, then that can present as an emotional barrier to faith in God.  I might believe that I'm not good enough to be loved by him and I might avoid receiving his love and pursuit of me.  But if I didn't choose that identity and I don't really like it, then maybe it's not going to be so difficult for me to lay it down and walk away from it toward Jesus.  Difficult, yes.  Scary and vulnerable?  Of course.  But not impossible.

But what about those identities we choose?  What about those identities that we go through the process of excavating from the dust of our lives?  What if we uncover or decide to be something after a lot of thought and struggle?  And what if that identity is contrary to everything that Jesus invites us into?  Can that barrier be overcome?  What does it do to the person to lose that identity?  What would it take to make that person want to lay down one identity to receive the identity that Jesus is offering?  Does the process of laying down one identity that's closely held and receiving another identity destroy a person?

These seem like such important questions to me.  At the emotional barrier level, I feel like I've kind of figured the dance of give and take and listening and challenge and prayer that helps people move through those barriers toward Jesus.

But the identity level seems like a whole different ballgame.  First, because the identity I've chosen or uncovered is important to me.  So important that I can't even imagine letting it go.  If I chose it, then I chose it for a reason.  And if I uncovered the identity then I probably don't feel like I have the ability to choose another one, even if that other one looks really good to me.  It seems that here, more than anywhere else, the Spirit has to move and Jesus's invitation to follow and assume a new identity has to come from him.

So these are just the beginnings of questions and thoughts for me, but I think I'd like to take these identity questions one at a time as I process them.  I'd like to think out loud here about the possible implications for conversations and invitations to faith.  I feel like this is my next step in learning to walk with people spiritually wherever they are in that process.

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