Theme - What Does God Think of Me?
Scripture – Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...
Roman Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen once wrote, 'My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself and it is what God thinks of me. There is something wonderfully freeing about what Nouwen tells us. Who we are, how we act, how we respond to obstacles and challenges, hurt and pain, how we choose a course for life, are all centered, not in the agendas and opinions of others, but in listening to 'the God who loves me.' The demands and expectations of family, while at times encouraging, can also be a pressure that inhibits us from growing into our truest selves. Traditions about what is good & acceptable can give us strong roots, but social pressure can also diminish us. For instance, many teens suffer the social pressure of bullying because they do not live up to certain standards. Think about what our culture has decided is both acceptable and attractive for a woman's body size and shape. Or think about the number of transgender teens who are homeless and who attempt suicide. In all of these situations, Nouwen's words offer hope. Before all of these thoughts, opinions, standards and images that shape who we are, is what God thinks of us.
Nouwen's words echo the words of God to the prophet Jeremiah. They are God's response to Jeremiahs own self-image. Jeremiah's own view of himself is that he is 'too small' to be the one who speaks for God. I don't know if that means he was literally very young, or that he sees himself as insignificant. The point is that the Jeremiah that God has created and sees potential, is much more significant than the Jeremiah that the prophet sees in himself. The self that Jeremiah saw did not believe that he had adequate words to stir the souls of his neighbors or the authority to even be heard. But God saw a different Jeremiah, who could speak with authority. What God saw the potential and the need for, God could provide the courage to pursue. That is one of the great challenges of the life of faith. It is God's call to reach beyond what we think is possible for ourselves as individuals or as a community of faith, trusting that God will provide what we 'know' we do not have. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge for the Church of Christ in this age when our social capital in on the decline. Fewer people attend, fewer people trust, fewer people care. But God's promise to provide strength when in faith we offer our weakness and our fidelity, still stands.
But the even greater challenge to us as disciples of Christ might be the centrality of faith to our self-understanding. Unfortunately faith and its practices, whether worship or even prayer, I fear have become occasional add-ons to our lives. Far too many other identities and practices lie at the center of our identity than Christ himself. Often Democrat and Republican, Conservative and Liberal, Native and Immigrant, shape who we are, how we act and how we think. The words of God and Nouwen and Merton do shake us from a cultural view in which each individual alone has the authority to choose and shape their own identity. And they shake us from the habit, innocently nurtured in which faith and its practices (worship, prayer, service, mission) are add-ons when convenient but easily dismissed when inopportune. Jeremiah was created and shaped by God for a great purpose. To awaken his nation to the evils they accepted which created poverty and suffering.
Prayer – Forgive us Lord for shaping ourselves in our own images, forgetting or ignoring the Divine Image we are created to bear. Forgive us if we has accepted or celebrated as a virtue character traits that do not reflect your son Jesus. Liberate us from the images and identities forced upon us by culture, by authorities, perhaps even family or friends. Rescue us from thinking too little of ourselves and free us to enjoy our identity which is your beloved. Empower us, in all we say and do, to reveal to others that they too are your beloved, even when they are not at their best.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.