Who am I? “Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cells confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country house…Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win…Am I really that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself?…Who am I? This or the Other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once?…Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1945)
During the media interview a few days ago, the journalist asked how I would personally define my ministry. I answered, “Words abounded, although I didn’t own the answer. Conviction abounded, even when I wasn’t on the right track. So I want to go back to my first love for Jesus and to the calling I received 40 years ago.” Looking a little baffled, the interviewer began to encourage me saying that he appreciates the depth in my sermons and how I appear to have a solid presence in New York although it has been only about six years. I thanked him for kind words, but there is a discrepancy between I known by me and known by others. Only God knows me for who I really am.
But it is “by the grace of God I am what I am,” wrote Paul, and “he knows the way that I take” confessed Job. God knew me before I was formed in the womb and it was also God who knitted me together in my mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:13). Augustine acknowledged, having looked for pleasure, beauty and truth elsewhere than in God, “our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” (Confessions, I,I.) In God is life’s true happiness, but more often than we look elsewhere to be filled, losing hearts over what isn’t true and thirsting over things that will never quench our thirst. When Jacob wrestled all night long by the Jabbok (“emptying”) River, God asked Jacob, “What is your name?” The same question Jesus asked the man who lived among the tombs and graves in the Gerasene.
A certain essayist wrote, ‘I’m finally at peace with myself in later life.’ And I’ve been practicing that. While a bit awkward, I try to enjoy being who I am. There is a scene in the Korean drama ‘My Uncle’ where a middle-aged man talks about how he “cried and gave myself a hug for the very first time.” He wept out loud while eating alone in an empty house and gave himself a hug after being betrayed by the people he trusted.
But the Risen Lord goes to Galilee to meet the disciples who betrayed and denied him. Jesus embraced Peter and extended his hands to Thomas; he appeared before disciples who were hiding in fear and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus did not leave his disciples to define their present and future by mistakes of the past. The disciples could finally see, in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, that the future is in God’s hands and that they were invited to work with God to shape better tomorrow.
As a pastor, I come across all sorts of life stories and personalities. I suggested to my ministry staff that we should practice prudence before we react, grow a keen sense to recognize the unseen and hear the untold. It will help us to guard our hearts from passing rash judgments about others and do ministry through the eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. After all, that’s how Jesus loved and received us in the first place, shaping each of us by grace into persons that we are.
Peace is in finding our rightful place. Peace is with us when we come to see ourselves as beloved, redeemed by God in Christ. I may not fully know who I am, but Jesus knows me – nothing more, nothing less, and that is enough.