I had breakfast with one of my mentors this morning. He doesn’t live in Malaysia and we meet up in person at most once a year. He didn’t know that my dad had passed away. He listened as I shared. He recounted his own experience of the death of his father and we both reflected afresh about the meaning of life and death.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye and I couldn’t help but ask him some of Soo Inn’s perennial questions: “What should I be doing with my life at this stage of my pilgrimage?” “Where should I be?” As always he refused to play the role of the Holy Spirit in my life but this time he left me with a timely piece of wisdom.
He observed that in many of his mentoring groups, there was much talk about “calling” in terms of what one does. In recent times my mentor had discovered that it was more important to first see “calling” as who one is. In other words identity preceded vocation.
I volunteered the phrase “do what you are”. He liked it and I quickly told him that the phrase was actually the title of a book by Paul D. Tieger, and Barbara Barron-Tieger, that explored the relationship between personality type and career choice.
My mentor pointed to the example of Jacob. All his life, he was Jacob – “he cheats”. That was his name and that was how he lived. After his decisive encounter with God (Genesis 32: 22-32), he was given a new name. He was now Israel, “the one on whose behalf God strives”. Empowered and defined by his new identity, Jacob/Israel goes on to fulfill his calling to be the father of God’s special people and the heir of God’s promises to Abraham.
My mentor suggested that we might receive different names/identities in the course of our lives. Periodically, and perhaps after a major crisis as in the case of Jacob, we need to ask the Lord afresh, “Who am I?” Or maybe it is the Lord who will be doing the asking: “Who are you now?”
I saw much wisdom in this line of thinking. Indeed clarity as to who one was would make it easier to answer a whole host of subsidiary questions like:
What should I be doing? — Will this job allow me to be more or less of who I am?
Where should I be? — In some sense this becomes less important. Wherever you are you will still be you! However, there may be places at a given point of our pilgrimage that allows us to be more of who we are. (By the way, for some, that might mean being on the mission field!!)
Who should I marry? — Will marriage to a particular partner allow me to be who I am? Am I happy and able to help this partner be who he/she is?
For the rest of the day I pondered afresh as to who I was at this time in my life. I thought of my name, Soo Inn. It was given me by my mother. In Chinese it means “one who remembers grace”. I have always felt that it was such an apt name. My life is a canvas filled with numerous brush strokes of grace from God and friends. However, I wondered if there was another name more specific for this particular point of my life.
After a short nap (it is amazing the number of times the Lord has spoken to me after a nap), the name “wounded encourager” came to mind. Doesn’t sound quite as cool as “dances with wolves” but it feels right. I’ll try in on for fit for a while.
Well here we are at the end of yet another year and at the threshold of a new one. I suspect that many of us are consumed by the usual questions about career and relationships.
What we really need may be to slow down and be quiet enough, to hear from life and from God as to who we are at this stage of our lives. When that is clear perhaps other things will be clear as well.
Your fellow pilgrim, Soo-Inn Tan