Who am I? They also tell me I would talk to my warders freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.
Individuation:The process of forming and specializing one’s individual nature. It is the developmental process of the psychological individual or personality
eCOMMENTARY: Two Fathers
The greatest hurdle I faced in deciding to leave a career in dentistry to pursue my calling as a bible teacher was the pain of disappointing my parents. I was their only son and they had sacrificed big time to put me through dental school.
Having gone through the horrors of the Japanese occupation in Malaya during World War Two, they very much wanted to see their son in a job that was secure and stable. It seemed such a waste at best and career suicide at worst to leave dentistry for bible teaching.
It was also much easier for them to explain to friends and family that Ah-Chye (son) was a dentist. Church related vocations were completely confusing to Chinese of the diaspora many of whom had fled China to make a new secure life in their adopted countries.
Therefore when it became increasingly clear to me that I was to give my life to the bible teaching ministry full-time, I struggled long and hard with the tension of what my heavenly Father wanted and what my earthly father desired.
After I graduated with my dental degree I chose to work for a while for a number of reasons. I needed to save for my wedding. I needed time to decide what seminary I should attend. And I needed to pray that the Lord in His mercy would open the heart of my parents.
At the end of two years dad and mum said that I could go pursue my vocation in bible teaching. They said I was old enough to decide what to do with my life. They sprung this “release” on me when the family was taking one of its after dinner drives by the sea front. (These drives were a Penang practice called “chia- hong”, literally “eating air”, driving around for fun and conversation with no specific destination in mind.)
However they said that they had no money to sponsor my seminary studies. I told them that their blessing was all I needed. If indeed it was God who had called me to a vocation of teaching the Scriptures, He had to put up. And He did.
I didn’t know it then but this was my first real experience of my “individuation” process, the journey of becoming who I was supposed to be as opposed to what others thought I should be. I also didn’t realize it then but the process had a long way more to go.
It would take the death of one wife, a divorce, clinical depression, and a few other assorted crises to force me to really ask myself: “Who am in Christ, really? What is the script that God has for my life? When do I stop living out the scripts that others press on me and start living out my own script?”
After all if I have no clue as to who I really am, how can I know which direction I was meant to go? If I didn’t know who I truly am, how could I stop apologizing for who I was?
I believe Jesus illustrates this tension between becoming who our heavenly Father wants us to be, versus whom others want us to be, in the incident of His visiting the temple when he was twelve (Luke 2:41-51). Even then He knew He had to be in His Father’s house. Even then earthly parents didn’t understand.
Prodigious as He was He listened to His earthly parents. After all He was only twelve. But when mum and brothers came a calling many years later, apparently not approving of His vocational decision to leave carpentry to be an itinerant preacher, His answer would be different (Luke: 19-21). Then He understood that finally, for Him and for all of us, our calling is “to hear the word of God and do it.”
Jesus journey points us towards our own. Every day, every year, we should be journeying towards becoming what we were meant to be when God created us (Jeremiah 1:4-5). This journey will be easier for some of us than for others.
Some of us have parents who support us in our search and help us in finding out who we are and what we were meant to do. Some of us have to walk that journey braving parental disapproval. Sometimes that is so hard we never make the journey at all. Or we finally make it but with deep wounds of guilt and anger.
The irony of course is that many parents guide their children out of deep love and concern. Yet we need to be clear that we do not own our children. They belong to God. And we are allowed to care for them with the understanding that we would help them become what God wants them to be not what we would like them to be.
So when No.1 son said he no longer wanted to major in science but wanted to pursue a degree in management and marketing, I was cool. It rang true of what I knew of him. And it was a choice confirmed by a number of vocational tests. And his grades.
Many of us will be celebrating the Lunar New Year this weekend. And January 1 wasn’t that long ago. It is a good a time as any to reflect as to where we are on the journey to becoming ourselves.
We may never be completely sure. And life doesn’t stop while we grow in our journey of individuation. So we continue to trust God and bless people wherever and whenever we are. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, we may not be completely sure of who we are but we are comforted by the fact that whoever that is belongs to God!
Still, at age 50, I am glad to report I am a bit clearer as to who I am. And that I am a little more at home with that person. And I wish that for you too. At any age.
Blessed Lunar New Year!
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan