by Rachel Campbell
‘Who am I?’ is a question that has occupied many of the greatest minds in human history. It is a philosophical enquiry that I don’t tend to dwell on – life’s just too busy – but given that Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, perhaps I ought to give attention to the question of who I am.
I answer to Rachel, Our Rach to my parents, and Mrs Campbell. I am wife to Grant, and Mum to Ben, Grace and Lydia. I’m often referred to as the Mum of (insert a child’s name) and I love it! There are plenty of other things I could say about myself, some more interesting than others, but who I am in human terms is only part of the picture.
There is also an eternal dimension to who I am. In John’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). Drawing upon rural imagery, Jesus refers to his followers as sheep and describes his relationship with them in terms of their identity and connection to him: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-5)
Most relationships start with learning someone’s name, and our life on earth began with our parents deliberating over what our names should be. In a similar way, our relationship with Christ began because He called us by name. My name is so precious, God has engraved it on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16).
Because Christ has called me, my identity is now found in him, and nothing can change this status no matter what external pressures I may face. The frequent repetition of the phrases “In Christ” and “In Him” in Ephesians reminds me of who I am and whose I am.
I need this reassurance for those times when, for example, social media presents me with pictures of how much better everybody else’s life appears to be in comparison with my own. I feel the sting of jealousy when I hear the relative ease with which friends’ children face such things as exams. Our son has a chronic medical condition necessitating additional arrangements for and disruption to exams. I am proud of what he has achieved, but often think, if only... I have to remind myself that what I see of the lives of others is often the airbrushed version, while at the same time accepting that the life that I am living is not accidental but within the plans of a God who loves me.
Identity is closely allied to worth, and marketing makes a strong association between our worth and how we and our homes should look, of the career we should have, of where we should go on vacation. It is easy to feel inadequate when confronted by images of seeming perfection. In recent years, the area in which we live has become increasingly affluent; holding on to where my true worth is found, and manifesting the values by which scripture encourages me to live, while still operating in a secularized society, is a difficult balance to maintain.
Direct personal attacks can also cause us to question our worth, and sometimes those attacks can come from the unlikeliest of places. Our three children have faced medical diagnoses that have punctuated my life with hospital appointments. Most of the professionals have treated me, as parent and caregiver, with a great deal of respect. But a significant minority have devalued me, often to elevate themselves. My mind strays to one notorious appointment that my son had with a psychologist. She manipulated my words and motivation to such an extent that by the end of the appointment even I was beginning to doubt my ability to look after my children!
There are times when we can see the way God has been at work in our day to day interactions and circumstances. It’s as though he allows the curtain to be pulled back on his perspective. The appointment that I had with the questionable psychologist had been covered in prayer, and still everything went wrong, from parking issues to the main meeting with the consultant. I came home sobbing, and questioning why God had allowed things to go so badly. But then, over the next few days, through a series of little miracles, God opened up a referral for my son to attend another hospital, and to be seen by one of the country’s best endocrinologists. My son’s care improved significantly and we haven’t looked back. The awful appointment was the catalyst that we needed to precipitate something better.
But as we know, this is frequently not the norm of our Christian experience. Far more prevalent are the times when we do not understand, and may never understand, what is happening, and we are called to trust. This is not a fingers-crossed blind trust, but rather a reliance on the Rock when all around seems like shifting sand. In those times, like generations of believers before us, we can find comfort in God’s promise of care, provision, and protection, given to the people of Israel in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”.
Once more my future is looking uncertain. I’ve just received a letter confirming that my year-long work contract is coming to an end. If that wasn’t enough, my family is transitioning between churches. The fellowship that we have served for the last 20 years has appointed a new pastor who, like his predecessor, is promoting a younger demographic. While it’s painful to be relegated on the basis of your age, I have known God with me in the past, and so I can trust him to be with me in the future. As I was reminded recently, if God can get the people of Israel over the River Jordan in flood, he can carry me to new church.
It is not easy to be bombarded by Pinterest-perfect presentations of family life, to face the challenges of personal attack, or sustained trial, or whatever our personal circumstances might be. Yet, reassurance can be found in knowing that we are children of God, have been called by name, and our identity is now in Christ. Examining my life, with this eye to eternity, gives me the confidence to say, “That, Socrates, is a life worth living!”
Rachel Campbell lives in Manchester, England, in what she considers exile from her beloved Wales. She is wife to New Zealander Grant, and Mum to Ben, Grace and Lydia. Rachel leads the church kids work for ages 4 to 7, is undertaking a biblical literacy course, and takes an interest in education, parenting and pastoral care. She tweets at @OurRachToo