I’ve been asking the question: “Who am I when I leave?”
Who are we when we leave?
Who are you when you leave?
Who we once were has bearing on who we are now. We cannot entirely disentangle from our past; it is intrinsically linked to our present. Who we are now is continually reborn from who we’ve been.
I’ll start with me. Who was I, once?
A boy trying to follow the rules because it’s all he knew. A boy trying to be like his father because his father was the ideal image of Christian spirituality. A boy turned teenager who wanted to fit in and changed in order to do so, attempting to leave his father’s shadow. A once shy kid who grew into himself in high school, becoming social and having lots of friends. I played in metal bands and had a short rebellious phase—smoking cigarettes, drinking a little too much a few times. I was beginning to take a different, possibly unhealthy path, and then something changed. After a year and a half of community college I went to YWAM (as good Christian young adults did and do where I’m from). It was another context of the kind that claimed ultimate spirituality. I went, but still something was missing, a chasm remained between who I was and who I wanted to be (or thought I should be). I started making my own way and worked at a ski resort that next winter. Less than a year later I traveled around the world with a friend for nine months, trying to structure the trip around an idealized image of “missions.” But it failed me. Instead of changing the world, the world changed me, breaking me in the process. When I fell short of the image I had established, I felt defeated. At the time I didn’t realize how necessary it was. Eventually I went back to college and loved it, studying anthropology, which began shifting and broadening my perspective of the world and its people. Again, I tried living up to the image of hero and world-changer when a year or so after graduating university I went to Thailand to teach English, living and traveling in Asia for a year. It was quickly apparent how self-deluded I was. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and, even after a stretching, adventurous, life-changing year, I returned emptier than ever. Every time I tried to be something and someone “more” the experience backfired and I felt more disoriented than ever. An isolated year abroad led to an isolated year at home before moving to my dream place—Big Sky. Even then I still carried the idea of “ministry” to this small ski town. After a few years I got what I wanted, taking a ministry job at my church. Again, it failed me. A year and a half in, with increasing doubts and dis-ease, I was finally honest with myself—it’s not what I really want.
In all those years, through all those experiences, it’s as if some deeper voice was calling me to a different path but I had no frame of reference for any but the one I was on. To follow this call, this desire to make a difference, to “ministry,” meant to follow the familiar. I was given no template for a different way. It took so much trying and failing to get me here—to give up, stop trying, and surrender; to let go of all the identities that once made me somebody, something. For instance, after a year and a half of working for a church, I was forced to face the music—this is not for me, this is not who I am (at least for right now). When I left there was no fallout. I beat the curve. Had I waited, made myself stay, it would have been different. I listened to my perception, my intuition, and it was right. I didn’t foresee it would lead me here, to leaving (for now) what I have always tried so hard to be a part of.