Just Me (And Just You)

Originally published in March 1993

I read recently a story from James Dobson.It was about his desires to have his name on that tennis trophy from college.I was thinking back to my college dreams.I was to be traveling nationally and writing books and have a name as recognized as Rick Olson.Who is that, you ask?Like Dobson's tennis trophy which ended up in the trash (and lovingly rescued and restored where it sits proudly in his office today), Rick Olson's name is no longer known.He had his moment of fame, his moment in the sun, his moment when he had great influence.And now, he still travels and speaks but it is different.

My dreams of being that great famous youth pastor never happened.The last church I worked at as a youth pastor (where many great and mighty things happened) has pretty much erased my name from their history.This is due to a staff overhaul which led to a church overhaul.I meet youth from that church now when I speak and they say, "You were youth pastor there?"

 

The church I was on staff with before (another large church for my name to a legacy in) isn't even in existence anymore.A staff overhaul (again), new building, a church name change, and the church leaving the denomination doesn't even give me a building to point at to say I was there.

Yes, I know my legacy is written on human hearts forever.I stay in touch with as much of my legacy as they allow me.

Even knowing this, we still measure our success on different scales.Wrong scales.Is our name recognized?How big is our youth group?How much money do you make?

When it came to my career choice of youth ministry, I was “it.”I had opportunities that most youth workers would dream of--and I had them at a young age.The key word is “was.”

Then came the time that I lost such opportunities.From being it, I went into oblivion.I had a call into youth ministry, a dream for a new ministry, and who I am in God.After several years, all I have is who I am in God--and that is all I should have.Yes, I am a minister.And yes, I am the director of Wild Frontier.But what matters is who I am in God.It is not the success I was but who I am in God.Whether I am in the center of the attention or I am the most expertised youth minister in the Washington metro area (I'm not) or I am a substitute teacher, I am a child of God.That is where my identity comes from.

It hasn't always been that way.Having such opportunities at such a young age, I had grown to have my identity be “that youth pastor over at that big church who is doing such dynamic things with her youth.”Those words had become my identity.I was no longer a Christian or a child of God.I had become those words.I loved being those words.

No one would desire to be a guest at a meeting of youth workers.So often everyone talks about the numbers in their youth ministry or the success of a program or a mission trip?The appearance given is as if this is who they really are.Yet the feeling you go away with is not knowing who anyone is.You may also feel insecure about yourself--unless you were the one with all the success stories.I am sure those feelings cross over into other fields of identity.Even stay-at-home-moms get together over lunch and brag on and on about their children.It’s almost natural that we want our accomplishments to be successful and noticed.

Yet in that process to be noticed something human happens.I say human because I believe it is in our sinful nature.We stop striving to be identified as a child of God.We spend our energy striving to be “in” or on the inside of things.Or we strive to maintain those words that are spoken about you, the ones you take as your identity.And it never seems easy because we are always striving.

Where do you get your strokes from?

Samson had special gifts from God.Yet, he found his strokes in the approval of women.When he no longer received these favorable strokes, he would strive to receive them and the I'll-show-you attitude developed.The Philistines used Samson's wife to get to him, and he killed thirty of their men.Delilah only had to say, "Oooo, Samson, what big muscles you have" so many times to get him to tell her the secret to his strength.

Nebuchadnezzer had position, power and the favor of God.His whole being was wrapped into that position.The day came when he proclaimed, “Just look at this wonderful capital city that I have built by my own power and for my own glory!"Daniel 4:30.No sooner did he say those words did he become like a wild animal and began eating grass like the cattle, grew hair like the feathers of an eagle, and grew nails like the claws of a bird.Daniel 4:33.Only when Nebuchadnezzer recognized who he was in God and who had given him the position was he restored.

Where do you get your strokes from?

Such words last only for a season.Is your identity in a person?Is your identity in a position?Is your identity in words that create an image of you?If so, you have a shaky foundation.

In 1991, I was forced to put everything in storage and go back home to Minnesota with the outlook being I would never return to the place I felt called to since my youth.It was a very real possibility that I would never see the dream come to be.This was not part of The Plan I had received eight years earlier.In 1983 I received the dream and the call.I knew from exactly what college to attend (much to my dismay) to how I would launch into the Washington DC metro area.From opportunities I received to turning down marriage proposals, everything in my life had been directed to fulfill this.For the first time I found myself outside of The Plan.

In the lush of a Minnesota summer and through family and friends, I found myself again.I found the minister God intended me to be.It had nothing to do with what I've done or the opportunities I had been given.It had everything to do with my Father in Heaven loving me.He loves just me.Not the youth pastor, not the evangelist, He loves me.

I finally understand what Paul was saying when he said, “I have died, but Christ lives in me.And I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me.”Galatians 2:20.I've heard those words for years but now they finally make sense.(I mean finally in the sense of right now as I write this.)I have been crucified with Christ.All my striving has been crucified.Those words that I had become no longer live because Christ lives in me.The life I now live, I live by faith because God loves just me.Not the youth pastor.Not the overachiever.Just me.

This is the identity I am able to possess and identify with.I can possess it and say Brenda is great.Not Brenda the minister, not Brenda the overachiever.Just plain ol', loved-by-the-Father Brenda is great.

The Plan could fold.I would be okay because my identity is not wrapped into The Plan’s successes or failures.My identity is found in who I am in God.

This is a tough (and continuing) lesson for an overachiever to learn.