Friday, June 07, 2024

The Author of "Who Am I?"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes of the faith, and his writings have challenged me for years. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who led an underground seminary in Germany during the Nazi period, and was executed in 1945 for his role in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler. 

One of my favorite poems that he wrote is "Who Am I?". He wrote those words a few weeks before he was killed. The words are haunting, not just because of their mortal timings, but more so for their probing truths into the realm of our projected personas that we present to others. It has been said, "We are all living three types of stories, 1) There is the story that we want others to believe about ourselves, the face that we present to others. 2) Then, there is the story that I believe that I am living, that in my mind and heart I believe sincerely represents who I truly am. 3) Then finally, the true story. The story of my truest intentions, thoughts, and actions which are only known to God. 

Where we can really go off the rails is when we attempt to live three different stories at the same time. Our truth, is of course, always known to God, but we can easily rationalize our own behavior, even to the point of belief, as we seek to present a more nuanced appearance to those around us. You can easily imagine the energy and cost that comes with attempting to balance all these different stories.

That is why the poem referenced above means so much to me. Dietrich was a man of great faith and devotion, who had dedicated his life to serving Christ and yet the suffering he had been enduring had finally worn him down. Dietrich is left wondering, after his years of persecution, who is really his true self? Is it the appearance he has carefully cultivated to those around him? Is it the wandering and doubtful mind that sometimes, and more often than not, preoccupies his time in prison? Even more sobering, is he living a life based on faith or fear? 

Though I have never endured persecution for my faith, I am familiar with long, indefinite periods of suffering. Prolonged times where my dreams have fled, my thoughts have grown dark, and my fellowship with God has been severely dictated by my own desire for healing and peace. Where is God when everything I pray for ends up in the opposite camp? When my desire for reconciliation leads to even more confrontation? Where my pleading for His presence and intervention result in even more solitude and despair? When even the simplest request goes unanswered?

He is there. But sometimes, I am so blinded by my own reality, or possibly, my own perceived reality. When my circle has shrunk to include only myself, when gratitude is in the rear view mirror, when all thoughts, plans, and actions revolve around myself, then yes, it is difficult if not impossible to locate God in that fog of confusion and fear. 

But, that doesn't mean that He is not there. 

"Draw near to me and I will draw near to you." James 4:8

I invite you to join me next week as we look at Dietrich's poem, "Who Am I?"