A year ago, our family moved countries again – this time, to the UK; our third country in five years. It’s been hard at times, but understanding shame has really helped me.
Transition is all about losing an identity and finding a new one. You give up the groups and communities that you’re part of, and these days it’s our relationships that define us. As I say in the book, there’s a strong link between identity and shame: shame can make us need to “be someone”. The problem is, when you’re in transition, you’re no-one. David Pollock’s model of transition talks about moving from the “transition” phase (“status-less, structureless, clueless”) to an “entering” phase (“uncertain of knowledge, must initiate relationships, special knowledge without use”) before you feel settled and secure again. “Entering” is a desperate time: “loss of self-esteem, loss of identity, loss of continuity with the past.” Nobody knows who you are, or what you can do, in the way that people used to – and so you start to wonder who you are too.
For me, that hits hard, because I’ve come to realise that I have a tendency to want to prove myself and find identity and usefulness through what I do. And while one of the roles of the faith community is to help us find our identity in the image of God, transition is also a time when your community is taken away – double whammy!
But earlier this year, something strange happened to me. I was starting to feel that old desire to prove myself; I was thinking about gathering people together and starting up new a prayer group or a discipleship group, or pushing myself forward to find a teaching or preaching role or whatever… all good things, but for the wrong reason – I was just looking for something which would show myself and the world around me who I was and what I could do.
But then I felt God gently saying “no”. It was obvious why I was trying to do it, and equally obvious that I should stop trying to make something happen until I had found my identity in Him again.
Here’s a funny thing. There’s a section in the book where I tell my own story, and in a draft early last year, I had this paragraph:
Sometimes, when our work for God becomes an idol, when our ministries determine and define our identity, there comes a time when God calls us to put our ministries to death, our ambitions to death, our desires to death; to lay down all that we do before His altar and say “this was always Yours and never mine”. “A period of which we are shorn of our power is good for us and reveals whether we are truly free.”
In the end, I took that out. I wasn’t really sure why I had it in there in the first place, because it wasn’t something I had actually experienced at that point. Well, now I know!
Maybe it was God’s way of preparing me, because in a strange way I’m sort of enjoying this time. Last week, someone was praying for us, and felt God saying to us “You don’t have to prove yourself, to yourself or anyone else.” It’s true. I feel like the pressure’s off. I know in the past I would get to a certain point in the evening and think “Right, better make sure I’ve achieved something today”, and head for my computer. These days I’m more likely to head for bed! Maybe I’m just getting older.. but I think more likely, I’ve really started to internalize the idea that I don’t need to achieve anything to be acceptable, either to God or myself. I’m OK with just being, not doing.
I’m appreciating the challenge of transition – it’s challenged me about where I find my identity, and encouraged me to find my security in God. The voices of insecurity are still there, but this time when I hear them, I head in the right direction…