By: Bill Delvaux– In my work with men, they often come to me in a state of difficulty or crisis. Their poor choices and inward struggles are symptomatic of what is really going on. They are wandering in a no-man’s land of lost identity.
My own story traipses through large tracts of that no-man’s land. I kept trying on different roles, much like a man would don different overcoats. I assumed that if you found the right one and wore it long enough, it would answer the identity question. But as I wandered through seasons as a folk musician, youth minister, church planter, Bible teacher, and running coach, it always felt as if I were plastering something on top, not living out of something blazing underneath.
I believe this is the story of most men. We find something that seems to make us feel strong, something that wins affirmation, and cobble together some sense of identity from it. But the price tag for such a maneuver is huge: our identity is forever chained to that role. When it suddenly changes, often against our will, we are thrown back into the same no-man’s land to wander again. But the biggest mistake behind our maneuver is the belief that identity can be self-constructed. Somehow we think we can figure out who we are.
So how does a man find out who he is? How does he solve the riddle of his identity? The answer is simple. He can’t. Our lost identities can never be found by looking for them. The riddle will never be solved by more searching. There is only One who knows who we are.
It is here we find God revealing the mystery of a man’s identity. He reveals it in a new name. In the name is how God sees him. It is a stark contrast to the names most men would give themselves: My name is Stupid. My name is Vile. My name is Sinner. My name is Worthless. My name is Addict. My name is Reprobate. My name is Nobody. It is heartbreaking to hear it stated this way, but that’s exactly how so many men feel about themselves. They need healing. They need renaming.
But the name God has for us is different. It’s how He sees us. It’s what He created us to be. It’s the secret of our souls. The renaming begins in the Old Testament with Abram as God renames him Abraham, the father of many nations. In the New Testament, Jesus renames Simon as Peter, the rock of the church. Each of these men became a turning point in the history of redemption. Each needed to know that he was so much more than who he thought he was.
My first experience of being renamed came on a backpacking trip I took with some men a number of years ago. I was hiking on my own at one point, with my friends ahead or behind. I remember walking beside a small stream on the left with bamboo stalks rising high on the right. The path was clearly cut, so I was not thinking about the hike. I wasn’t thinking about anything important, and I don’t even remember praying. What I do remember is an unexpected whisper in my soul: “You are my treasure.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I responded in doubt, “What?” Again there was the gentle whisper: “You are my treasure.” There was no mistake about whose voice it was. But it was difficult to receive. My inward response was typical for that time: “OK, that was strange.”
Here’s the backstory. So much of my inner life had been constructed around feeling unworthy of love. The only love I could find was through achieving success in some endeavor and then receiving the applause of onlookers. I received admiration for what I did, but not love for who I was. I could perform well, but in the secret places of my heart, I felt such shame and aloneness. Into those secret places, God was delivering that word: “You are my treasure.”
That night around the campfire, we all processed the events of the day. With some hesitancy, I told my story. Would my friends think I was weird? I even doubted myself. Was I just hearing my own thoughts? I had to find out. When I came home from the backpacking trip, I looked up the word treasure in a Bible concordance. It took me to Exodus 19:6: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” My stomach flipped. The words spoken to God’s people then were spoken personally to me now. This is how God saw me. I was His treasure. I was the Treasured One. This was my name before Him. Countless times I have held onto that name in the chaos of life’s battles. It anchors me like few things can.
When a man is renamed, he learns to own who he really is before God, not what everyone else may think he is. He is no longer catering to the expectations of others. He is becoming his own man.
So how do you get there? You start asking, “God, who am I before you?” Keep asking, and then listen. He will find you in His own time and tell you the secret of your soul.
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served as a pastor and a high school Bible teacher. Presently, he leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and author of Divided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree and Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God. He is also the editor of Stand Firm, Lifeway’s devotional magazine for men. Bill and his wife have two grown daughters and reside in Franklin, TN. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillDelvaux.