Where do we get our Christian identity? When does it become more than blind adherence to someone else’s beliefs, whether our parents, a spiritual guru or trusted teacher, or some other external source? When does it become our own so that we stand before God naked (symbolically like Adam) and are just who we are, not the reflection of someone else? Mike Russell at Eternal Perspectives has begun exploring this issue in his current posting Spiritual Identity and Maturity.
He postulates, using material from Diana Baumrind (and according to a commenter, James Marcia) that there are four stages to our identity growth, including our growth as Christians in the course of our discipleship. They are identity diffused, foreclosure, moratorium, and identity achieved.
The most significant of these, at least for me, is the moratorium stage, the time in which we call everything into question and attempt to make the transition from being what other’s believe to being what we ourselves believe. It is an exciting and dangerous time, the period that some people “lose their faith”, if that is really possible. But beyond that first great time of questioning that we all go through, what interested me is Mike’s initial exploration of how these moratoriums can reoccur throughout our Christian life. Indeed, I would go so far as to say, that every major step in our growth as a Christian is preceded by a moratorium stage in which we fundamentally question something we formerly just accepted or took for granted.
An interesting analogy I once toyed with was looking at a Christian’s life like a remodeling project. God doesn’t come in with a bulldozer and just scrape the ground clean. He knocks at our door, comes in when invited (Revelation 3:20) and sits down with us, taking up residence. Then like a skillful remodeler He begins working with us to redo our abode, who we are, all the while never destroying what it was that made us us the unique person we are. However, remodeling requires demolition, tearing down some of the who/what we defined ourselves as being and often this is related to our acceptance of how others defined us and established us in who we were. When the construction begins on the replacement portion, it makes that part of us truly our own, built with our own hands, by our own decisions, albeit through the grace and sovereignty of God. (I guess this is where I expose my tendency to lean, at least a little bit, towards a more eastern co-operative view of God’s sovereignty).
From my viewpoint this remodeling goes on until the end of our days here on this earth. Many people only do some minor painting and wallpapering. Others tear out a wall or two or redo a room. Some gut the kitchen or bath and do a major overhaul. A few go all the way and systematically over the course of their life rebuild the whole structure, even to the point of tearing out some of the early efforts now that they have gotten better at seeing what needs to be done.
I guess you could call each destruction or maybe planning for the destruction phase a moratorium period where you question what should be there, how it should look and who you will trust to advise you on your decisions. However, from my perspective, there is one thing a born again Christian will never do, since in this God and His calling are utterly sovereign, and that is abandoning the house. Once you invite God in, He never leaves and the only way to get away from Him is to abandon the house. I don’t ever see a child of God doing that or even God letting them do it.
In my own personal spiritual journey I have done some major remodeling several times and recently I have been tearing down some walls I thought were finished long ago. Here is my problem though. Tearing down for some of us is not the hard part; it is deciding what to put up instead and then having the energy and persistence to finish the job. I have met all too many Christians who never seem to finish, who leave almost everything half done. I pray I am not one of them, (not someone in particular, like the Pharisee and the Publican or because I think I am better) but ask God’s mercy on them and me, if indeed I am such a person.
God grant you grace today as you transverse His will for your life and may you never be afraid to tear down what needs to go and may you always have the energy to build up what He has asked you to do.