Meditations: Remembering Who We Are

The 1980’s spy thriller, The Bourne Identity opens with a mysterious man being plucked from the Mediterranean ocean by a fishing boat. He’s suffered several bullet wounds and a head trauma. The man is an amnesiac and doesn’t know his name or his history. He struggles to learn his identity, sifts through the evidence and concludes that he was an assassin. Over the course of three novels, Bourne faces countless dangers only to discover things were not what they seemed. He was not an assassin, but a government agent who had assumed a secret identity in order to hunt an assassin.

Bourne’s accident caused him to lose touch with who he really was and the results were costly.

I identify with Bourne’s character. I’m not a killing machine, or a spy, or particularly heroic. In recent months, I have lost touch with who I am—and like Bourne— I’ve paid a price. Let me explain.

A handful of weeks ago, my boss took me out to lunch and asked me if I was ready for a “small shift” in my job description. The last time my job “shifted” I took on the supervision of the youth and college ministries in addition to the children’s ministry. This time, Derek asked me to take on Sunday morning adult education. The ministry, in a plain speech, is in a state of disrepair: There are few teachers, no job descriptions, no policies, no training materials—and oh, just a handful of weeks before the Fall launch. Gratefully, Derek had already recruited a brilliant high capacity volunteer leader to be the point person for the ministry. Diane and I have been meeting weekly, racing against the clock so we could have a respectable Fall launch.

Supervising the youth ministry has taken more time than normal this Summer. And we’re migrating to a new database this Fall which meant extra training hours and prep time.

This Summer I’ve been doing children’s ministry on the back stroke. And if I’m going to be perfectly honest, it’s shown. Not having adequate time to recruit, we’ve gone into most weekends a few volunteers shy of a full complement. My “coaches” have borne the brunt of the burden and have spent too much time putting out fires.

And this week, it caught up with me. I began to wake up feeling high levels of anxiety. I found myself waking up on the edge of tears and fearful. A few evenings ago, Amy and I were having a disagreement and I completely over reacted. My anxiety levels were simply too high to work through a low grade conflict with any measure of emotional intelligence.

My blow up was enough to motivate me to call a college friend of mine who makes a living as a life coach. Lee asked me what the source of my fear was. I responded that I feared disappointing my coworkers and volunteers.

Lee probed deeper. Why did I fear that?

My answer surprised me. I’m afraid that apart from my performance that I have no value to my teams.

As soon as the words escaped my mouth I knew what my problem was. I had forgotten who I was. For a number of reasons, some healthy, some not, I’m a competitive, performance oriented person. It wasn’t until my college years that the light bulb clicked and I realized that my religious achievement didn’t impress God. God loved me… because he loved me. Grace is a tough concept for a type-A knucklehead to embrace.

And recently, in all my busyness, I forgot—again—who I was. I am not acceptable to God, and my community, because of my ability to perform as a good worker bee. My worth comes from being God’s creation and his child.

I’m immediately took a few action steps. I stopped by a coworker’s office and laid out all my cards on the table, even though I hate being weak. I did the same thing over lunch with one of my best friends and key volunteers. I also sat down in front of my calendar and protected key hours to be with God.

Immediately the fear and anxiety levels lowered. Sure, the Fall is still bearing down on me and I’m behind. But the fear of failure has lost some of its power.

I’m learning that the best Christian leaders, at their core, know who they are. They are children, God’s children. This knowledge drains much of the fear out of leadership. When I anchor my identify to my performance, I’ll actually play things a little safer. I can’t take real ministry risks because if I fall short, I lose (in my warped mind) personal value).

A “child leader” actually has the freedom to risk more. A leader who remembers that he or she is a child of God has the freedom to take real risk—Their Heavenly Father will catch them when they fall. Their peers love this leader, not for the achievement, but for whom God made them to be.

My prayer for you, and I, whether we are leading our own lives, or others, is to remember our identity in Christ, and to have the freedom to serve without fear.

"Our Father, Who art in Heaven..."


  1. Wow. I turned on my computer this morning to blog about this very thing. I, too, in the busy-ness of summer & things shifting on me, have forgotten who I am. God called to me yesterday in the story of Mary & Martha. Jesus said, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details. There is only one thing worth being concerned about" (Luke 10:41-42 NLT). I had forgotten my one thing, and in a position of leadership, it can be very hard to admit. Thanks for your honesty. I relate.

  2. I have clients in ministry who might have some of the insights you had but cannot bring themselves to take the steps you did. It takes guts and faith, and you have both, sir.

    Of course, I just began a new job and am slowly falling down the same hole. I'm also starting to think about all those long term accomplishments and accolades that run academics right into the ground. Maybe I just put your post on my desk. Thanks, man.

    Incidentally, I have always thought of you has a heroic killing machine and suspected that you might be a spy. An overworked pastor is the perfect cover.

  3. I would just like to say that Matt Damon's Mom was one of my professors in Grad School. We LOVED it when she told stories about Matt as a kid...or even as an adult!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Larry. I've been struggling with finding my identity in Christ as well and having the feeling that I will be overwhelmed soon. Your post has definitely helped.

  5. I'm so young and can hardly relate to the stress and pressure here but I know a great article on leadership when I read one. A lot of Church leaders that I know could benefit from this sort of wisdom. Thanks.

    And by chance are you the Erie Storm in the football league...because we have first round dog fight if you are.

  6. The Erie Storm is my team. As a Philly fan, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the term "dog fight" anymore.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your struggle with us and, significantly, the steps you're taking. I'm in the midst of struggling with saying "yes" too often because of my feelings of inadequacy. Slowly, the tide is turning but only, as you say, in proportion to the extent that I'm learning to rest in my relationship with God and the realization that knowing Him is, indeed, enough.

    I want to hang out with you... when are you coming out west???

  8. Richard, I was just in Portland. The next time I'm out West for a Mentoring Project board meeting I'll look you up.