Monday, 3 February 2014

When the Towers Fall: Rebuilding your Life in the Rubble: Part 4

One of the great challenges in life is to discover who you really are - not the you that has been moulded by your upbringing, your job or your community, but the 'you' that God created you to be.

What I'm talking about here is identity and that's something that doesn't just vex teenagers and people going through mid-life crises.

It affects all of us.

Deep down, we all from time to time ask the question, 'who am I?'

Indeed, this is one of the three most important questions that human beings ask.

Where am I from? 
Who am I?
What is my purpose?

I call this H.I.D: for History, Identity, and Destiny.

These things are hid from many of us.

They need to be discovered.

TV programmes such as 'Who Do you Think You Are?' seek to help well-known people to find facts about their past (history), to answer questions about their present (identity) and to discover clues concerning their future (destiny).

They are watched by millions because millions have exactly the same issues.

In fact, all of us do.

Deep down we want to find out who we really are.

We don't want to settle for a socially constructed version of our selves - a version shaped by others. 

We long to build our lives upon a spiritually discovered understanding of our selves - who we really are as God sees us.

That takes revelation.

And revelation so often comes in the rubble.

This brings me to my fourth message of hope from Rubble Town.

When the towers fall - in other words, when catastrophe hits - many people experience a loss of identity.

If their sense of self was defined by their relationship with a loved one who has now gone, or with a valued job that has now been lost, then there can be a sense of inner uncertainty.

People in the rubble are left asking, 'who am I?'

So much of our sense of identity is shaped by the people that we love and by the work we do that when these things are removed we can lose our bearings and experience an earthquake of the self.

In such situations I would like to suggest a fourth tool for rebuilding:

Treat your disaster as the opportunity for discovery.

I have come to the place in my life where I can say with conviction that disasters can be the contexts for some of our greatest discoveries.

In times of trial, we can make discoveries in the following realms:

SPIRITUALLY: knowledge that we had about God before our disaster - which often existed in the realm of theory - now becomes embedded in the world of raw reality. We now know things about God's kindness, presence, goodness and so on and that knowledge is personal not propositional. Forged on the anvil of suffering, it is now theology on fire.

INTELLECTUALLY: the wisdom that we discover on the trash heap or the ash heap is deeper than any that you can acquire in the place of abundance. When we live life superficially we tend to think superficially. But when we wake up in Rubble Town, deep calls unto deep. Cosmetic tweets won't do. As Job discovered, something more than platitudes is needed.

RELATIONALLY: in Rubble Town you discover who your real friends are. They are not the people who loved you for what you did or who you knew. They are the people who love you simply for who you are. C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed that friends crossed the street to avoid him after his wife Joy died. In times of trial, your real friends walk with you.

These are just some of the areas where we can receive momentous insights.

Perhaps one of the most important areas is PERSONALLY and has to do with our sense of identity.

When we experience the searing agony of loss - whether this is the loss of a loved one, our health, a job, our finances - we are confronted with one of the greatest opportunities of our lives.

It may not feel like it at the time because the sense of disorientation which comes with loss can result in a loss of clarity.

We feel lost at sea.

But when the mist from our eyes starts to clear, one of the issues we start to address is the issue of identity.

Circumstances now make this urgent.

No longer is this merely the quest of middle-classed people with the luxury of a lot of time on their hands.

It is everyone's quest.

At least in Rubble Town it is.

Whether we are rich or poor, single or married, in work or out of work, academic or self-taught, every inhabitant of Rubble Town has to discover who they really are.

This is both frightening and exciting all at the same time.

It is frightening because it can be painful to discover the degree to which our sense of identity has been socially constructed.

It is not easy to let this self go, because this requires kenosis - self-emptying - and kenosis feels like crucifixion.

For Christians it is particularly distressing when we realise the degree to which 'ministry' has defined our sense of self.

It is scary confronting the false self created out of our job or our role within church settings.

When ministry goes, identity can often go with it.

But this process can also be exciting because it can be the seedbed in which your true self in Christ grows and flourishes.

It can be the context in which the false self is buried and the true self - your God-ordained YOU-NIQUENESS - can grow.

What is absolutely essential for that growth to happen is accountability.

You have to involve trusted others in the discovery of your true self in Christ.

For me, this means fortnightly visits to an insightful and non-judgemental Christian counsellor and psychotherapist.

With their help I have come to see that I've lived much of my life out of my shadow - a mythical version of myself.

It was close enough to the substance - my real self - to make me invest in it with great commitment.

But it was not the real me.

The real me is what I'm discovering in Rubble Town and I'm learning it through accountability.

One of the things that I'm asked in my sessions is this: 'Is this slick, religious Mark? Or is this real Mark?'

I need that.

If the version of my self which I believed before was a fiction, it is imperative that I don't exchange that fiction for a new one.

In other words, I cannot simply re-mythologise who I am.

If the version of my self which I believed before was a fiction, it is imperative that I don't exchange that fiction for a new one.

In other words, I cannot simply re-mythologise who I am.

In Rubble Town I have to commit to transparency, humility and reality.

But the process is working.

It is gradual, yes, but there have been stunning moments of revelation which have led to profound discoveries about myself.

This has released hope, as prophetic revelation always does.

If living out of the false self leads to frustration, living out of the true self leads to fulfilment. 

That's hopeful!

If you're going through the process, you're not alone.

Keep persevering.

Brokenness has always been the context for brilliance.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:

'If you only look at us, you might well miss this brilliance. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparably great power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles but we are not demoralized.'

We are not demoralized.

We are not disheartened.

We are not dismayed.

We are on the path to discovery.


  1. thank you for writing in this way. I recently watched a typical hollywood action b movie, standard fare and forgettable but it had this scene which stuck with me afterward, 2 of the main characters speaking over dinner 'lets not do small talk, lets really talk' ... an acute insight is made 'aah now we are talking'. Rubble town has an outer suburb I think smalltalksville ... leafy detached houses, curtains closed, doors shut tight everything pristine on the surface but behind the curtains, the doors... I see Jesus being present much more in Rubble town than smalltalksville .. thank you Mark for really talking, keep re-building

    1. Love that quote from the movie. Says it all. GB you so much for the encouragement, Mark

  2. yes, write on Mark. Loved your Breakout and other books - very influential. A new transparency here in the rubble, perhaps. May there be a new breakout in this season too.