I stood on the bank of the Jordan River, a spot commercialized to celebrate the place of Jesus’ baptism. Compared to other sacred sites I visited, it ranks way down the list as memorable. But it was meaningful to me, and has been increasingly so since my return home.
While there, I imagined myself present, even among the baptismal candidates that day, when John immersed Jesus. I listened intently to hear the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Lk 3:22) I couldn’t hear it—of course, it was crowded and noisy. But I tried, and I didn’t hear it.
I was baptized as a young boy, age 7, at the Hickory Hills Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. Even though that’s been a long time ago now, I distinctly remember not hearing any such voice or statement of affirmation. That statement is, as Henri Nouwen repeated more than once, “You are the Beloved of God!” In truth, I have been struggling to hear “that voice” throughout my life—how about you?
In this core expression, at this decisive moment in his life, Jesus heard the affirmation of his Father, “You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.” In such, Jesus is reminded of who he really, really is.
I guess that is what I struggle to remember down deep within me—that my ultimate worth and identity comes from God. Don’t get me wrong, I am familiar with the Bible’s message of God’s love for me. I’ve read it, preached it, and recited it many times. But the ultimate spiritual temptation is to doubt it about ourselves and put our trust in the wrong answers to the question, “Who am I?”
“I am what I do.” When I am good enough, do enough good things, feel good about me and mine—that seems like a good answer. But when I mess up, fail, or start getting depressed I don’t do so well. Not to mention, as I get older and can’t do as I once did in a number of areas (golf, to name one!), I revert to saying, “Well, you should have seen me when…. Or, look, I did something good! Look at me!”
Or we might answer, “I am what others are saying about me today.” That’s all well and good too as long as people are speaking positively about you. There’s great power in what others say, isn’t there? Words carry tremendous clout, especially the negative. How sad we become when others don’t speak so fondly. Personal attacks cut deep into the heart. It’s a hard lesson—but one worth learning—what others say about you, good or ill, should not determine who you are.
It’s also easy to say—“I am what I have.” We get plenty of encouragement here from the culture in which we live. I am an American, from a fine family, with a good education, and have excellent health. I have…(you fill in the blank). But what happens when we lose it or you never had it to begin with—our job, our spouse or child, our health or house? What then? Do I just sink into oblivion?
I know better than to define myself by deciding “I am what I do” or “I am what others are saying” or “I am what I have.” When I do, I am doomed to an up and down, back and forth, kind of life. When things are good, I’m excited. When things are bad, I slip into the darkness.
Here’s the answer worth listening for—it comes from the One above. “You (your name) are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It isn’t easy to hear that voice in a world such as ours. But it is there, if we will only listen. That soft, gentle voice comes in so many ways—parents, family, friends, teachers, church, and even strangers who have crossed our path.
Listen for that Voice—from above, from within, and about. It is the voice of the Father who loves you.