For a while, it was a goal of mine to have a huge personal library with hundreds or thousands of books. Then, I moved a few times and had to pack up all those books that adorned my shelves and I was quickly convinced to rid myself of a few...hundred. Now, I’m trying to whittle down my book collection to only the most impactful books and authors.
One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen. A Catholic priest, Nouwen was one of the most profound spiritual writers in the last century. Much of his work centers on humanity’s belovedness, identity, personal and spiritual formation, and ancient contemplative practices. I’ll read anything and everything he has written (and I encourage you to do the same).
Nouwen speaks of three lies we believe about ourselves in order to earn love, happiness, reputation, success, or belovedness. These three statements he calls the lies of our identity. They are:
I am what I do.
I am what I have.
I am what others say or think of me.
It is upon these statements, Nouwen believes, that we try to build our identity and our lives.
We try to achieve so much we can feel like human doings rather than human beings. We purchase unneeded material possessions to impress people we don’t really like, sometimes with money we don’t even have. And, we believe the thoughts or words of another person, even a stranger, summarize the entirety of our personhood. Building our lives upon such statements, though, often brings more stress, frustration, and unhappiness than peace, joy, or love.
The profound mystery of the spiritual life, however, is a truth that proves these statements to be lies. For the truth is you are not what you do, you are not what you have, you are not what others say or think of you.
You are so much more than that. You are a beloved child of the Divine. That changes everything. I hope you’re reminded of that today.