I’ve been reading through the Gospels lately because I’ve been feeling an identity crisis coming on.
I get identity crises like I get colds: a few times a year, some worse and longer than others, and usually when the weather’s changing and I haven’t been doing a good job of health maintenance. I should totally see them coming by now, but I’m the world’s slowest learner so I can never connect the dots in time to stave them off. One morning it’s, “I don’t feel so great,” and by evening all the symptoms have set in and I just want to crawl in bed and cry because everything is AWFUL and I’ve NEVER felt this way before and I’m NEVER GONNA BE OKAY AGAIN.
(I’m clearly super calm in the face of crisis, and not a hypochondriac AT ALL, OKAY.)
You know what I’m talking about though, right? Maybe it’s set off by a comment someone made, a change at your job, a new baby (holla), an unexpected bill (ahem), or even just a lull in life when things aren’t awful but aren’t particularly great either, and you’re just getting through each week. Whatever prompts it, your sense of identity just gets shaken, and you start feeling more unsure of yourself. You begin to overanalyze and doubt your choices, are confused about your purpose, and, in general, are simply more insecure than usual about who you are and whether what you’re doing even matters.
I’ve learned that the best thing for me to do when I start to forget who I am, is to momentarily drop whatever Bible reading plan I’m doing and switch over to a Gospel.
I call it “stop, drop, and Jesus.”
(Not really, but I so will now.)
A college professor forever changed the way I read the gospels. I was taking an intro New Testament course at a small conservative school, and one of our first assignments was to read the four books in the following order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. We were to read them slowly and intentionally, taking notes chapter by chapter, specifically paying attention to the different author’s writing styles and unique observations of Jesus, then turn in our lists of findings along with a summary of what we’d learned.
Like all college freshmen I followed the syllabus to a T, paid close attention to the prof’s frequent reminders, and completed the assignment ahead of schedule with no stress involved whatsoever.
And by that I mean I procrastinated the entire thing and crammed all four books in one weekend.
But looking back, I’m so glad it worked out that way. The previous semester had been hard – full of changes and adjustments. I was 17, didn’t have a car or even a driver’s license, and was feeling homesick for my family who was an ocean away in Russia. I had chosen a college in a town where I knew no one, my high school boyfriend and I were doing the long distance thing (I’m looking at you, Stud), and I was trying to get plugged into a church and make friends and choose a major and go through culture shock all at once. Everything was overwhelming, even though almost all of it was good stuff, great stuff even. But I felt a little lost, and was constantly second-guessing myself.
Then on the perfect quiet weekend, I hid in a corner of the library to start the assignment I’d been putting off for weeks, and I started reading Mark. Themes like Jesus’ patience, especially in contrast to the people’s pitiful tendency to doubt and forget even the most remarkable things, kept popping up. Mark was action-oriented, unafraid of repetition, simply concerned with writing what happened as he witnessed it and oh, how much he witnessed! It flew by, and when I began reading Matthew I immediately felt the difference in pace. While they both covered many of the same stories, Matthew seemed so much more concerned with why Jesus said what He did. There were more and longer chapters, and he included more information about Jesus’ history than Mark did, including his genealogy, birth, and escape to Egypt.
The more I read, the more Jesus was becoming real to me, and less of a character of the stories I’d learned as a child. I’d been reading for hours by now, and had hardly noticed that the library was about to close. I headed back to my dorm room mulling over the details of the miracles and parables, and the next morning I opened up to Luke without even crawling out of bed first. I was hooked.
Luke was similar to Matthew in many ways, but I loved that he included unique details of Jesus’ origins like the beautiful visit of the pregnant mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist, and glimpse of Jesus as a young boy. By the time I got to John I thought I couldn’t love Jesus any more—and couldn’t have been more wrong. John read so differently. He wasn’t just a follower of Jesus, a describer of events—he loved Jesus with his whole heart, and that deep relationship was evident in every word. Stories the other three gospels included, John left out entirely, and in their place were longer monologues of Jesus, conversations we’d never know about if John hadn’t written them for us, and an entirely different tone in Jesus’ voice altogether.
I was profoundly changed by that project. I hate that it took an assignment to force me to really dive into the life of Jesus, but I will be forever grateful for it. I felt as if someone had re-introduced me to my Savior. All four perspectives gave me different things to appreciate about the life and words of Christ, and that weekend I felt a renewed sense of my identity. I was His disciple, saved by His gospel, and I no longer wanted to live my life overwhelmed by the world—I simply wanted Him.
I can’t recommend reading through these four books in this manner enough. Every time I do it the Lord reveals new things to me about His Son and His story. Details pop out in a way they never did before because I’m in a different season of life each time, learning new things and needing specific truths to pierce my heart and spur me on to action.
Please don’t get me wrong: 2 Timothy 3:16 is clear, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed” [emphasis added], and is timeless and true. None of its 66 books are more or less important than any other, and I personally don’t love when Bibles print Jesus’ words in red letters, because I believe that every word is valuable and true, useful and good. If you’re going through a tough time, God very well may have perfectly mapped out your Bible reading plan to include a word that addresses exactly what you need to hear on exactly the right day. I love it when He does that, and it happens to me often.
My point is simply this: all of Scripture points to Jesus already. So what do you do when that identity crisis creeps up? Or when the storms start to hit and your inner compass is shaky and you can’t find due north? Cling to Christ.
Because I don’t care if you think it’s a cliché, it’s true: Jesus is always, always the answer.
Remember His life, His humility, His compassion. Immerse yourself in the stories of His patience with the little children, with those maddening Pharisees, even patience with His own disciples who just didn’t seem to get it no matter how many times He spelled it out for them: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Watch how He intentionally carved out time to pray to our Father, and laugh at His calm, wise questions in the face of those who would bring Him down (as if).
Let the saga of His brief, but perfect, life, undeserved murder, and glorious resurrection amaze you. Let it break your heart and heal it all over again. Let it remind you of your true identity: co-heirs with Christ. Dearly beloved disciples. Brothers and sisters of the Savior, who are promised both persecution and an eternal reward beyond what we can fathom.
“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:25-26 ESV
About the Author
I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.
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