I Am a Child of God
by Terry Wardle
Identity is the foundation of the life we live. Regardless of whether you spend time seriously considering what your life is founded on, it still matters, and it matters greatly. The security of your identity directly impacts how you perceive yourself, build relationships, respond to the circumstances of daily life, engage at the workplace and react to criticism or rejection.
Where you place your identity is the foundation of personal well-being, whether that is the quality of your physical, psychological or emotional health. It also profoundly impacts spiritual matters, including how you pursue Christian maturity, the level of security you have as a believer, the ways you engage and resist the strategies of evil and how you perceive the admonition of Scripture to walk in practical holiness.
Where you place your identity determines the difference between dancing to the tune the world plays, hiding parts of yourself to gain acceptance and significance from an ever-judgmental world, or being secure enough to say yes to God’s invitation to allow your true self to emerge as the chosen, beloved and empowered child of God you are. Once you understand who you are in Christ—a loved child of God—you will be able to stand against the constant messages the world throws your way and enter the rest that comes to all who are confident of the Father’s eternal acceptance and love.
Howard Thurman was born in Florida in 1899, and lived in Waycross, one of Daytona’s black communities. Faith was a foundational pillar of his life, influenced by his mother, Alice, and his maternal grandmother and former slave, Nancy Ambrose.
Thurman was a brilliant young man. He went on to serve as pastor, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader. He was respected as one of the most important figures, not only in African American history, but in American history as well. His influence on Martin Luther King, among countless others, is well documented.
Howard Thurman wrote over twenty books, several celebrated as required reading at countless institutions across the globe. His writing has certainly influenced my own thinking, not least in the area of identity integrity and Christian values. For almost twenty years, I have required all my doctoral students to read his classic work Jesus and the Disinherited, a profound treatment of the evil of racism and marginalization and of the need for people everywhere to find their true identity in God alone.
We must not forget that the focal point of Dr. Thurman’s critique is those disinherited by society, declared to be less than and unworthy of equal treatment and respect under the law. Thurman is seeking to infuse understanding regarding the plight of the marginalized and to impart hope to those who have been pushed to the back of this society’s bus. I would never want, nor intend, to minimize the horrendous and unjust discrimination some have suffered by suggesting that we can all relate to Thurman’s descriptions of the disrespected.
I do believe, however, that we can learn much from Thurman’s warnings about allowing a broken world controlled by darkness to determine our value and importance as human beings. Even those who would undoubtedly be categorized as the privileged have been undermined at the foundation of their lives. Evil has tried to drive all of us to seek security and significance through striving and performance, all the while reminding us that on our own we simply do not measure up. Unfortunately, plagued by the disease of comparison and competition, many take sick solace in the thought that some folks measure up even less than they do.
While embracing the call to champion social reform and social justice for all, Howard Thurman knew that in the final analysis a person must find the strength and significance of his or her life in what God and God alone declares to be true.
Thurman believed that the truth of one’s identity in Christ must be repeatedly declared to all people. It is the only way that men and women might reject the disqualifying and demeaning messages so often vocalized in this world and rise up to allow the wonder of individual uniqueness to emerge in full view.
When a person’s identity rests on such sure grounding, he or she is able to resist the strategies of this world to beat people down as a way to get them to measure up. Instead, the child of God is able through Christ to sense his or her own worth and dignity and to allow the true self to awaken in strength and glory. If we could rest in what is true of us in Christ, we would see through the efforts of a darkened world to blind us to how Jesus really sees us and desires that we see ourselves.
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