These days I’m getting a little more cautious about making statements that begin with “Oh I would never…” or “I’m just not the type of person who could ever…” because more often than not I find myself eating my words. It’s easy to say “I would never let my two year old have a pacifier” or “I would never use disposable diapers” or “I could never feed my family sugar cereals” or “I’m just not the type of person who could ever use coupons or live on a strict budget” or whatever your issue might be. It’s not until I’m put into a stretching situation and my pet assertion is on the line that I realize how tightly I’ve been clinging to some little piece of identity.
When I make those “I would never” statements about morally neutral things, what I’m really doing is constructing a self-concept apart from God. I’m saying, this is who I am – I’m too smart for this or too good for that or too cultured for the other thing. Not only is that prideful, it’s also insulting to others who are in different circumstances and its often not based in reality. I may say “I could never…” but the truth is I’ve been surprised what I can do when necessity demands it.
There’s nothing wrong with holding strong convictions – it’s good to be convinced in your own mind that some action or method is the right thing for you to pursue – but in my case when I turn a preference (such as “I think an organic whole foods diet is healthiest for my family”) into a principle (like “I could never be one of those people who shops at Walmart and uses coupons”) that is my clue that I’m holding too tightly to a piece of my identity – instead of being a personal conviction, it’s become a way to differentiate myself at other people’s expense and assert my own superiority. In many cases, God has used circumstances in my life to challenge these pieces of identity. I don’t think He does that to say “Ha! Take that!” but rather to help me see that the core of my identity needs to be in Him, not in my supposedly superior ways.
I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently in which he described identity as what makes a person distinctive, and he said that every other identity factor gives you a joy that is based on a feeling of superiority, whereas the Gospel creates a new kind of identity that isn’t exclusionary but by grace it allows you to connect deeply with other people who are vastly different than you are. There are a lot of things that make me unique and distinctive, but I don’t want to cling to them so tightly that they overshadow the most important distinctive of who I am in Christ.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I made all the statements above at one time or another and yet Jack slept with a pacifier until after his second birthday, I use disposable diapers part time, my husband has been known to eat Cocoa Krispies for lunch, and our budget is a lean mean fighting machine. I remember as a sophomore in college being lectured by a classmate about my unbalanced checkbook and extravagant shopping and told that my spending habits were “going to make some guy very unhappy someday.” Ha. These may seem like superficial issues, but they serve as good reminders to me when deeper issues are at stake. I don’t want to disdain God’s blessings, but I do want to hold them lightly, because my identity rests in Christ, not in my education or appearance or possessions or accomplishments.
Have you ever made one of those “I could never” statements and had it challenged by circumstances later? After re-reading this post I am now hoping I’m not the only person who has ever had this happen!