Published on October 17th, 2013 | by Amy Jane Helmericks
(Life & Fiction) Identity and Hope
Today I can only talk to some of you.
That’s the case most of the time, but today, I really feel it more than ever.
Because I’m talking about identity, and our hope that is tied to who we are, and we do not all share the same identity. We all have different hopes and levels of freedom to identify or pursue our hopes.
First example, starting with identity: as a Christian, I am exhorted to “find my identity in Christ,” which is beautiful in concept—freeing, even, as I learn to step away from my own efforts and foolishness and frailties, accepting God’s terminology for me: Daughter. Transformed. Beloved. Life-giver. And more.
It is a beautiful legacy I am grateful to embrace, but…
When I think of identity in a day-to-day way, well, I think of the question I was challenged with by a near-stranger:
Who is Amy? What is it that make you unique?
And my mind goes, as it is wired to do, to a familiar quote, this one from C.S Lewis: God makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.
I have held onto that quote like a hope-charm for 14 years.
There is no doubt in my mind that I or any person I have met, has value. There is no doubt that each one of these people has a heart, talents, and a gift to share with the world. The trouble is that most of us don’t know yet what those are.
What I learned (and yet, still need to be reminded of) is that hope and identity, even if they are dropped into our laps, are still things we need to take hold of.
There is that identity in Christ (for Christians), identity in marriage, identity in birth—but they are all starting places. They are not the end of who we are, or else everyone born into the same family would be the same. Every Christian would be the same (and you hush if you think we ought to be. Read that earlier quote again).
In his challenging and thought-provoking book, Scary Hope, Gary Moreland does a really thorough job talking about hope and putting it in action, but the game-changer for me was when he said, “You don’t get a certificate of authenticity with your name and an official embossed stamp naming your hope.”
Like most people I am swimming, trying to keep my head above water.
Ten months ago, my husband left for a month-long trip. Dark of winter, weeks of 20-degrees-below-zero (Fahrenheit). In addition to the three kids I had to feed daily, there were chickens and rabbits to care for and two goats I had to milk twice a day.
It made me think of a TV show. One character’s tardiness was blamed on a “personal crisis.”
“Personal crisis?” said her boss. “It’s called her life!”
I decided I needed a way more-efficient crisis mode.
Since that time we’ve sold off (or eaten) the rabbits, reduced the number of chickens and increased the number of goats. Not sure if we came out ahead, or not, but our life is more stable than it was, and I could finally look at feeding more than physical bodies.
I do not know who I am “supposed” to be, but I know who I want to be, and barring some huge red flag that has yet to appear, I’m learning that want is a perfectly acceptable path to walk on.
Still on the path, I have begun to treat each day, not as if it’s my last, but as if it’s my forever.
What if this life didn’t change? What if this is who I am, what I’ve got, and it’s everyday. Then what? Would I choose this?
Here’s example two where I’m only talking to some of you. In my depression, such a mindset might have killed me, so I don’t recommend this for everyone, but I’m in recovery now. I’m stronger (but not strong), and have gotten caught in a pattern of when—looking ahead for delight and satisfaction, rather than living my hope now.
Coming around to the Fiction side of this L&F column, I am delighted to inform you that I will be writing a novel next month for National Novel Writing Month. (I’m Iliamna on the official site, so if any of you Wyn readers are also taking the challenge I’d love to “buddy up”!)
Noveling is my hope and delight. Not my eternal hope or greatest delight, but they are the spark that energizes me or resonates like that perfect chord in the concert hall. This is why I’m here. This is why I ________________.
A song, a phrase, an idea I don’t (yet) have the nerve to deliver straight-up, they fall perfectly into the stories in my palette.
I don’t have a lot of (local) writing friends, and fewer who write fiction, but I have a few who will listen to me glow about my imaginary people as though they were a new boyfriend, and one of them pointed out this year that all my stories seem to be about identity.
There are a number of different kinds of stories, but she’s right. So far they’re what Orson Scott Card calls character stories and often follow an individual from his or her starting place (not knowing who he or she is), travel through the story, and arrive at the changed and/or accepted self.
And I am that struggling character surrounded by struggling characters. I write what I know. Over time we discover new gems, eggs, almost, that can break open with new life. We don’t have to continue to struggle in circles all our lives, waiting and doing nothing with the good stored up in us.
I believe I am on this earth for a purpose. Probably for many purposes (we’re all extras in someone’s play). Some of those I get to choose. If I decide I’m not interested anymore (good-bye, rabbits), I can change my activities.
We are not locked into a single, unchanging hope. But until we start acting like our life is happening now, we are unlikely to realize our true hope.
In either sense of the word.
Life & Fiction image altered from a photo by Kruno Knezevic.