Is Your Identity Safe?
Junk mail. We all get it today and we all got it before the age of electronic communication pressed its way into our lives. Junk mail probably existed before the Pony Express in 1859, or even before Ben Franklin’s appointment in 1775 as the first U.S. Postmaster.
Nowadays, we’re able to filter electronic junk mail directly to the appropriately named Spam, Junk, or Trash folders. We don’t even have to face it. Every once in a while, however, we’ll receive that stray bit of digital propaganda that happens to evade the filtering powers-that-be and squeeze its way into our beloved Inbox.
I usually get annoyed when that happens. Though it doesn’t take much effort to correct the problem, it’s still a few moments of my precious time wasted to put that spam in the trash and make another note in my mail service’s digital HR file about just how it messed up and how it can avoid making that mistake in the future, lest it get fired.
But, sometimes, junk mail can be inspirational, as it was for me last week.
And I’m glad I’ve waited a few days to write about it, because something else happened just yesterday that has magnified the lessons that little bit of marketing “junk” initially stirred in me. I almost deleted it, ready to strike a blow to my email server for once again failing me, when I hesitated, rethought, and then decided to flag the message for later. Not because of its content, per se, but because of its subject line, which read:
“Is Your Identity Safe?”
That’s so foreboding a question, especially in this day and age of rampant identity theft. I feel lucky not to have had faced the anxiety of knowing someone else out there is pretending to be me and subjecting my hard-earned primo credit score to the slatherings of spend-thriftiness.
(Though someone did use my credit card recently to make three $700+ purchases at BestBuy.com and then go on to celebrate with margaritas at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas (rightly, I wish I were that guy! Par-tayy!), thanks and kudos to Capital One® for monitoring those unordinary purchasing patterns and mending the problem before it got out of hand.)
But ponder it long enough and the question may change its tone. What identity? Philosophically speaking, we all have many of them and can list them all as an abundance of nouns. Mine may appear as follows:
Hay Fever Sufferer
Blossoming Green Thumb
“Friends” FanVerizon customerThrift Shopping FanaticSelf-EmployedCollege Graduate
Etc., etc., etc…
(Ok. So maybe not “grill master” or “Pilates enthusiast”, but I try my best in those areas.)
My point is that it’s important sometimes to take what we’re given and reconsider it. In regard to how my spam mail intended, my “identity” is my credit score: how the banking and economic powers govern how trustworthy I am, how much credit I deserve, and whether or not I’m capable of handling my own finances.
And, not to downplay the importance of protecting my financial self, but my identity is more than the bills I pay, the debts I owe, or the money I make. And the first lesson in identifying WHO we are is that we first must learn to
Take life and look at it from another angle.
Have you heard the fable of the man that climbed a mountain and returned home with a different view of the world? Then there’s the “not seeing the forest for the trees” idiom, the “judging the book by its cover” expression, and the Biblically grounded “walk in another man’s shoes” saying.
So quick we are (yes, Master Yoda) to glance at something, deem it unworthy, and toss it away without a second thought. There are a dozen or more ways of making this same point, which is that we need perspective to get a well-rounded view of what we’re up against.
And what if – WHAT IF – we stood back a second and let that so-called “problem” absorb us? If we took that trouble and faced it from another direction—from atop a hill, from a friend’s shoulders, from your child’s eyes, from God’s eyes—and got out of our own heads to see what we were battling?
A book I’m reading, Operation Synapse, makes a good point of this on page 323 when one of the main characters, Professor Smyth, talks about facing a tumultuous time in his life (emphasis added):
“[My circumstances were] quite a shock to me. It was like going down a gentle stream in a canoe and all of a sudden encountering a huge boulder in my path. It was impossible to fight or resist the boulder, so I had to accept the situation, detach from it and change direction. I realized then that situations in life are brought to us to ensure that we make the necessary changes to get back on our predetermined path. [I] was no longer on my path. But where would I go […]?”
And that leads me to the next lesson:
It may be WE who are in the wrong, not the ones being wronged against.
Any problem we face may not really be a problem at all, but a way to change our direction from a wrong path onto a right one. God may be trying to make a point, specifically, “You’re not where you’re supposed to be!”
He made us each with specific gifts and gave us those gifts for specific reasons, whether that’s to teach a classroom or to build bridges or design aircraft or to write books… or, we may not even like our jobs, but we might be able to make a bunch of money in order to give it to those in need, and that is our driving force behind the “job” we hold: not the work itself, but the ability to do good from the paychecks that work provides.
I write about this subject a lot, I know: purpose. But in the grand scheme of finding out “who we are” we often do the exact opposite and lose ourselves. We become entrenched in the education we got or are getting, obsessed with our identity as a cashier, or teacher, or manager, or salesperson, or… you fill in the blank.
But get quiet for a moment. Slow down, breathe. If you notice a scratching, sandpaper aggravation gnawing the back of your soul, that’s the thing telling you that something is off. That’s the thing telling you you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, that you aren’t in the place you’re meant to be, that maybe it’s time to seriously assess which path you’re on, and if it’s really the right one.
There were times in my life when I tried too hard. It may have been for truly unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) reasons, like trying to juggle plans to make one specific piece fit in and then, when time came, I didn’t even like how that one piece turned out anyway. That happened on my 30th birthday. I was absolutely determined to have a big party with all my friends and, from start to finish, the whole thing was a mess and I cried about it later that night, so overwhelmed with anxiety I could barely even enjoy my own celebration.
But I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I was never a party person—even when I was young—so why try so hard? It just wasn’t ME. It wasn’t part of my identity. I was on the wrong path.
And I’ve tried too hard for bigger things, like attempting to force relationships that, in the end, didn’t pan out. At first I blamed the man I was with but, one night, praying and crying, I realized I was to blame: again, I was on the wrong path. It wasn’t part of my identity, of who my deeper self was. Everything about the relationship was hard work, sun up to sun down, and not in the way relationships are supposed to be hard, but in a way that eats away at you, turning you into a person you don’t recognize, who you don’t even like. Being young, I thought it was commendable to tear out my soul for a relationship, the stuff of romance novels and fairy tales. Knowing what I know now, it was brave, but utterly foolish.
Tanya Tucker says it best in one of her hit songs from 1988: “If it don’t come easy, you’d better let it go. If it don’t come easy, there’s no natural flow.”
Again, in the words of Prof. Smyth: “Accept everything that comes to you as an opportunity to learn.” (328)
Yes: even the crappy stuff.
The saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it.” Oh, how delightfully and terribly true. In that forced and ended relationship I lost myself. Not for long, but it was long enough for me to realize what I had, long enough for me to see that I’d lost my joy, lost my happiness. It made me realize—oh, so clearly—that:
Our identity is invaluable.
Money is one thing—necessary—but it is not everything. In that trial that unofficially defines my current perspective, I made a course correction and suffered for it financially. I lived in a dark, dusty spare room of some acquaintances for a month while I made arrangements to rent a terribly (and delightfully) dumpy apartment in a slightly questionable area of town. I had to quit my good-paying job (that I also happened to enjoy) as a preschool teacher and found new employment as a part-time Cracker Barrel server and a full-time warehouse employee, and still I could barely make ends meet.
But, though my new path was rocky, I knew it was right because there were blessings I wouldn’t, then or now, trade for the world.
First, I reestablished my relationship with Christ through attendance at a little church across the street from my apartment complex. Second, I made new friends at my apartment complex and in my new jobs that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Third, I was able to rekindle my affection for singing through scholarship (so, yes! For free!) at a talent school a block away, an affection that my prior companion had hardly indulged with even an evening out to a karaoke bar.
While those three things are hardly comprehensive of all the blessings I gained from diverting from the wrong path onto the right, they were taste enough for me to know I’d made the right decision. Even though life was hard—I was living on a Dollar Tree grocery list, powdered milk, and no internet or TV—I was joyful again. I’d regained my identity.
And it is beautiful.
Here’s to knowing thyself,
P.S. — A little twist on the US Pledge of Allegiance. Let us not forget to pledge allegiance to ourselves!
I pledge allegiance to the path
given me on this earth from our Heavenly Father
and to the love for which it stands:
ONE purpose, under God, indestructible,
with prayer and passion for all.