I just dropped off my daughter at art class fully decked out in her personally-chosen, perfect-for-who-she-is Halloween costume. She decided to be a fawn this past spring (we talk Halloween costumes year round in this house) and never wavered on the choice. She likes gentle, beautiful animals. Most of the time she's pretending to be one (or catching one).
We spent an hour this morning doing her makeup. Here's what she looked like when she jumped out of the car:
I am swooning.
Not just because she looks beautiful. But because she looks so much like herself, like London Jane's inside turned outside.
Isn't that a big part of what life's about, trying to get what's inside (the good stuff, anyway) to bloom, to manifest on the outside?
Every year I tell my girls when we plan Halloween costumes, "Be who you want to be." I don't show them a catalog. We don't go to the costume aisle in Target. We brainstorm, and I welcome almost every idea. Within my two rules (1. We will not glorify death or evil and 2. We will not expose our bodies), nothing is too far-fetched. If you really want to be a fawn or Indian warrior or Glinda the good witch--that is what you'll be. Their choices spring from dreams, aspirations, fantasies, and their personal sense of identify.
Now, this way of doing things isn't easy. Especially since I can't really sew. It's inconvenient. It involves brainstorming meetings with the kids, sketches, multiple shopping trips, scavenging sessions at Goodwill, and late nights with a glue gun. It's not for everybody. But for me, it's a chance to teach a really important lesson.
I'm trying to use this small thing to show them something big: that they don't have to pick who they want to be from a small list of uninspired choices.
That dreams don't come in convenient packages.
That identity is something God grows inside us, not something we shop for at Target.
I want them to know it will never be easy to be who you want to be, but it will always, always be worth it.
I've noticed we adults are often bad at being who we want to be. We make excuses. We're not creative. We pick pre-packaged identities and try to cram ourselves in.
We choose what's easy instead of what we know we could and should be.
Think about it for a second. Who do you want to be? If you could suddenly transform into the ideal version of yourself, what would it look like?
(Follow these two rules as you brainstorm: 1. Don't compare your ideal you to anybody else--don't say, I'd be successful like her or happily married like him. 2. Don't try to kick out essential parts of who God made you to be--no matter how much you might want to.)
It's possible you have the answer right on the tip of your tongue. It's possible you think about this a lot. Some of us don't, especially those of us over the age of 30. As we age, it gets harder and harder to think about a better self because we know more and more how hard it is to make happen.
Either way, thinking about it or not thinking about it, there is too often too big a gap between who we want to be and who we are.
Christians feel this tension just like everybody else. In fact, in some ways we feel it more. Because out of all the people, we know most clearly what's "best." We know (or should know) what could be, but we regularly settle for less. We see mediocre versions of the life Christ calls us to and instead of wanting more, we do what's required to blend in, thankful for the excuse not to try harder.
We read the Bible and see radical generosity. But we don't really want to do the hard work of figuring out how that would look in our lives so we grab a ten percent tither costume off the rack and call it a day.
We think maybe our life is too crammed with things that don't matter and not crammed enough with the Spirit of God so we drop a show from our weekly line-up of TV watching and buy a book with 365 daily devotionals, readable in two minutes or less.
Maybe we know we're buying too much so we give away our extra, donate three bags of clothes to charity, but we never change the way we're buying, never root around in our hearts to figure out what hole we're trying to fill with all this stuff, and so we keep buying irresponsibly and single-handedly stocking Goodwill. Isn't that great?
Maybe we want to love more and better so we do the stuff that makes us feel good like paying for the person behind us in the Starbucks line while continuing to avoid the stuff that makes us uncomfortable, the stuff that might push us and grow us like forgiving our addict sister or the dad who left when we were little.
Way too many of us Christians are settling for a mediocre version of ourselves, wearing ill-fitting costumes that itch and pull.
I see you yanking at the collar. I know you want more.
The first thing you need to do is decide what more looks like. Who are you going to be?
In Philippians chapter 3 the apostle Paul writes about his own desire to be made into the man Christ wants him to be. He says, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
What is Paul trying to take hold of, exactly? If you look back two verses you can find it: "that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."
Paul's goal is Christ-born, faith-founded righteousness. In other words, he wants to be a better version of himself, the version Christ died to enable.He wants it AND he's going to do what it takes to get it.
Here's what I can learn from Paul here in Philippians about being the me I want to be:
1. I have to have faith.
God's vision for you is spectacular, but know you can't achieve it without Him. When you come to God, when you surrender your will, His Spirit takes root in your heart and begins the work of transformation. When we trust God to shape us He will. But remember, trust is active. Trust does what God asks. If I have faith that God will make me the person He wants me to be, I have to actually do what God wants me to do.
2. I have to forget what's behind.
Paul had both good things and bad things to forget. He forgot his accomplishments and position as well as the dark, God-defying acts in his past. If I want to be the me I want to be, I'm going to have to stop looking back, to let go of my past achievements and get over my guilt--both of which are like millstones around my neck, making every step forward much harder than it has to be.
3. I have to strain toward what's ahead.
Straining toward what's ahead is simply persevering in hope--it's doing hard work with confidence it will eventually pay off. Yes, being the me I want to be is difficult, but the transformation, the blooming of my Christ-shaped heart, is so worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Embrace the spiritual disciplines, welcome trials, be courageous and take risks, ask hard questions, do things that make you uncomfortable, make commitments--and do all of it knowing it's leading to the "prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Folks, you probably know who you want to be, who you really want to be. Go ahead, follow Paul's example and be her. Be him.
If you don't know, figure it out. But figure it out with God, far away from the catalog of options dished out by a world offering only extra small and small sized dreams. Don't settle for some de-saturated, vanilla version of you that looks more like the Target Halloween costume than the real thing God has planned.
Be creative and courageous with your dreams, and be diligent and determined in partnering with God to make them real.