Growing a Gospel Identity
by Cary Schmidt
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”—Psalm 27:1
It had been a long winter, and Chad hadn’t gone swimming since last summer. The pool sprawling before him must have looked like a vast and dangerous ocean to his four-year-old eyes. As he stood at the water’s edge, his floating vest made him unsinkable, but that didn’t matter.
Noticing his fear, I grabbed his hand, scooped him up in my arms and said, “Come on, Buddy! Papa will take you.” His fear swelled as, without his approval, I stepped into the fresh water. Instinctively, my grandson wrapped both of his arms and legs around my body. I could feel his heart rate increase and his tiny lungs expand frantically. His mind raced with the dangerous possibilities before us as we sloshed our way toward the “lazy river.”
Two worlds collided in this moment—Chad’s fearful risk-aversion, and Papa’s confident reality. In Chad’s world, lazy rivers sweep children into raging torrents of destruction. In Papa’s world, lazy rivers are fabulous fun. Chad’s worldview is shaping a terrified psyche. Papa is giving Chad a new, fearless psyche.
As we waded into the current, Chad’s grip strengthened, “Papa, don’t let me go!”
“Chad, you’re okay. I’ve got you.” My warm, grandfatherly tones made no difference to his fear. He barely heard me. His fear was strong, and the voices in his head were loud.
How I wanted to calm his fear and release him from himself. The more I talked, the less he heard. Every second he grew more tense.
As I peeled Chad’s feet away from my waist his panic grew. He grasped, but I resisted, softly lowering him toward the water.
“Chad, stand up,” I coached, to no avail.
He was frantic, “No, Papa, don’t let me go!”
Ironically, we were standing in two-and-a-half feet of water, well below Chad’s head, and the mild current would have been no trouble. But his racing mind ignored the facts. His actual reality was overwhelmed by his fear-constructed view. Truth was shouted down by feelings, and Papa needed to orchestrate a redefining moment.
Perhaps God has orchestrated similar events in your life for the same reason.
He’s not going to like this, I thought to myself. I had to let him go for a split second, and when I did, the look on his face was heartbreaking. Papa, how could you? His eyes widened; he cried out, expecting to be swept away.
Then Papa did something unthinkable. I reached under the water, grabbed Chad’s free-floating ankles and began to pull them down. This time the terror-stricken look in his eyes seemed to scream, Help! My Papa is drowning me! This emotion was but a fraction of a second as Chad’s four-year-old feet quickly landed on the solid ground six inches below. His frantic kicking for survival halted. With my face mere inches from his, I smiled into his eyes. He paused. His confusion cleared.
“Stand up,” I whispered, trying to stare tender confidence into him. His fear fled, and his face softened. He half-smiled, a bit embarrassed. Then he looked at me, released his death grip, and slowly stood with broadening confidence. I’ll never forget what he said next.
“Ohhh . . .” became a wide smile.
That moment transformed Chad. He moved from fearing to fun, and spent the next week playing, sliding, floating, and standing on the solid ground just under the water. His new confidence transformed his psyche as the gospel transforms ours.
We go at life, knowing we are vulnerable—that life can be unexpectedly brutal. Our fear is neatly tucked away behind well-put-together exteriors. We seek security, acceptance significance—all the things that make for a solid identity, or “sense of self.” But all the places we seek to find this identity only provide us with temporary, fragile results—a sense of self that can easily be swept away in the life-altering currents on planet earth.
We look to others to approve us—frantically trying to live up to their demands, fearful of failure and the resulting rejection.
We look to material things to secure us—overworking and over-extending ourselves, knowing that the ground we’re standing on can give way at any moment.
We look to fragile definitions of success to find significance and value—all the while fearing that it is all losable.
In time, we tire—growing exhausted from this long, fear-filled, water-treading experience called life. The currents wear us down.
Is there solid ground on which we can stand, rest, and actually enjoy this short trip through time and space?
Where do we turn? Where is the strong sense of self—acceptance, security, significance—that our hearts crave, the durable and fulfilling identity we don’t work hard to achieve and can never lose.
Enter the gospel with the true identity that only Jesus can give. He said in Matthew 11:28–30—“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Yes, you can stop treading water. You can stop fearing what the raging torrents will do to you. You can stop trying to achieve strength, and rather receive it and begin living from it, not for it.
You can receive the true identity that your Creator had in mind when He designed you.
Jesus is the only unshakeable solid ground your feet will ever find. In Him, you are indestructible. In Him you always have solid ground beneath your feet, no matter what’s happening in the river of life. In Him, you always have a safe landing place.
As Papa grounded Chad, Jesus can ground you. He can plant your feet (and heart) in unlosable love. Your soul can rest. Fear can flee. You can finally rest in being who you were created to be.
There’s nothing more durable than the solid ground of a gospel identity. In the midst of raging times, rather than fear, let Jesus look into your eyes and hear Him say, “Stand up.”
When your feet hit solid ground underneath your swirling circumstances, you will look into His eyes, break into a wide smile, and say, “Ohhh!”
Excerpted from Stop Trying—How to Receive, Not Achieve, Your Real Identity by Cary Schmidt (Moody Publishers, January 2021).
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.