They say be strong and assertive, but not too assertive because you don’t want to appear bossy or come across as a demanding control freak. Be strong, just not too over the top. They say be confident, but not overly confident. You don’t want people to think you are arrogant or rude. You don’t want to come off like a snob or anything. Be sure of yourself, but not too sure.
Be smart, but not too smart. You know, not like a know it all or like you are too good for the rest of us. Be smart but don’t make anyone feel dumb. Be sensitive, but not too sensitive, otherwise people will think you are weak or too emotional, or that you can’t handle your emotions.
Be creative, just not too creative because we don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or feel out of place. Express yourself but just maybe not challenge ideas. Be open but not too open because then you might change how you think about something or change how you feel about other ideas and insights. Be open, just not too open. What I mean by all this is, just be you. Mostly. Kind of.
Is it any wonder that young people struggle with knowing who they are, their identity or relationship to the world, or struggle with just being themselves? Is it any wonder that adults wrestle with knowing how much of themselves to be or reveal and when and where and how? Or who they are once their kids grow up, who they are if they have no kids, or who they become if they are married, not married, divorced, or widowed?
Identity. On the one hand it’s a simple thing. On the other hand, it is a multi-faceted and challenging undertaking. It is something we are born with yet we spend our entire life growing into.
The book of Psalms gives the best example of who we are and who we are to be as God’s people and what it means to live into our identity. It is a book of tragedy, hope, and justice that speaks truth to the reality, pain, sorrow, love, victory, and joy of this thing we call life. It has been described as, “both, humanity's words to God and as God’s word to humanity” (NIB 642).
As we consider the meaning, power, and purpose of compassion as it relates to the meaning, power, and purpose of being ourselves (individually and collectively), may the words of Psalm 139:7-16 teach us who we are.
God created you. God knows you. There is no where God cannot find or pursue you. Your life derives from God, belongs to God, and finds its purpose in God. I believe you are never too old to hear again who you are. Your identity, individually and collectively is found in God. The key word in Psalm 139 is the word “known.” It may be entirely coincidental that it occurs seven times; the number indicating fullness or completion, but such a pattern reinforces the message that the psalmist is fully and completely known by God. The very first word of the psalm is the divine name “yahweh,” and the first word of verse two is the Hebrew pronoun “you.” So while verses 1-6 are often described as a statement of God’s omniscience, what really matters about God to the psalmist is that the divine “you” knows the human “me.” One commentator put it this way, “from beginning to end it is I and you” (NIB 1235).
God’s gift of compassion is in that I - you relationship which in turn allows us to participate in the you - we relationship. Compassion is God’s gift of love poured into our hearts that we might have and express compassion for others, ourselves, and the world. God created and designed us for relationships. Strong, meaningful relationships understand the depth and purpose of compassion. At the heart of that compassion is the freedom to be you - the God created, perfectly imperfect, flawed but trying, you. The presence of such love / compassion invites both fierce loyalty and sweet surrender to God first and our human connection second.
Being you is not about making everyone happy or trying to be everything to everyone (individually or collectively). Being you is not about thinking you have to forfeit what you believe or deny your core values. It is not about anything being taken from you. It is not about political games, manipulative power plays, or sacrificing who God made you to be. Being you is about knowing that you are known and have purpose in the God of the universe. Why would you as an individual or as a collected body called the church, want to be anything or anyone else?
Compassion is about being you the person and you the church and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and use your interests, passion, talent, skill, education, experience, and resources to be a beacon of hope in our world. Oh how our world needs hope. Compassion means to be a people and a place of hope; a place to come home to, a safe place to land. To be a people and a place of welcome and refuge; of healing and growth; of learning and transformation.
Being you is not about having all the answers, it's being willing to ask the questions and listen for understanding. It is not about being right or wrong, or keeping score. It is about being willing to seek wisdom and truth alongside others; along other “yous” and live into the answers together.
Be you church. Don’t make it harder than it is. Don’t get bogged down in what ifs and what abouts, just be you. Be you - try something different, explore opportunities and find fresh expressions of hope, of ministry, of transformation. Be you individually and collectively - the you God created and brought together. Don’t let fear dictate faith. Don ‘t let conflict control decisions or commitment level. Be you - and allow the God who knows you to use you as God’s expression of compassion to the world. You be you. I’ll be me. We’ll be us and God will lead the way.
May it be so. Amen
Pastor Jenothy Irvine