When I met a homeless man recently who had been robbed of the few possessions he owned, I commiserated with him as he shared with me how every proof of his identity was now gone. Not just his money had been stolen, not only his backpack that served as his traveling dresser since he no longer had a home, but his birth certificate, driver’s license, and any and every proof of identity had been mercilessly taken from him. He had been stripped of all his possessions but for the clothes on his back. Though I have never been homeless, thankfully, and though I have never had my birth certificate stolen, I know all about the ultimate strip tease from my own not so long ago past. I know what it is like to be stripped of what I looked to as proof of my identity only to come to discover what my true identity is. And the ultimate strip tease has nothing at all to do with how people ordinarily think of the words “strip tease”, but instead has everything to do with a strip tease that can prove in the end to be utterly life debilitating or entirely life changing – the stripping of what one clings to as one’s identity.
Though I am thankful to this day that I did not lose my home or my ability to pay the bills, nor of food and clothing, I can honestly say the stripping I experienced a few years back was what I was utterly convinced at the time was life debilitating. But when I saw in retrospect what God was doing at the time, I came to find that the stripping I had to undergo would prove to be phenomenally life changing.
Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything that matters to us to discover that what truly matters to us had no meaning, or real significance, or should not have been our highest priority anyway. It was only when I was stripped of my husband, my marriage, my friends, the church I attended, some of the Christian community I was part of at the time, thanks in part to other people’s sins as well as definitely thanks to my own sins, that I found what lay beneath everything that had been stripped away from me.
When I had lost almost everything that I thought had mattered, and found myself crying out to God as I lived in a dirty basement apartment with countless dogs housebound by blizzard after blizzard, I found that the foundation of my life was not the foundation that I had thought was there. Where was my identity when almost all that I had thought that mattered had been stripped away? Oh sure, I was a believer in Jesus Christ. But what I found once I had been stripped is that I did not have a rock solid personal relationship with the Lord. In fact, I had no relationship with the Lord at all.
Underneath all the people and stuff I had been clinging onto for dear life, now that it was all gone, I found that I had had a relationship with churches, with pastors, with friends, with the Christian community, with Christianity itself. But stripped of all that I had cleaved to, I found that I did not have an intimacy with the Lord Himself. I was a hearer, and a student, of God’s Word. But I was not a doer. I was a broken down, hard hearted, woman who had been holding on for dear life to the world around me instead of to the Lord. I was a believer in Jesus Christ, but not a follower.
Some strip teases are slow, and some are quick. In retrospect, I understand now that some people and things were stripped from my life slowly. Others, so quickly I could not even fathom they were gone. But all in all, when I reached out desperately to take back and clothe myself once again in all the people and things I had sheltered myself in, I realize that I am thankful that it all was stripped away. If you know what it’s like to peel a stuck band aid off a wound, those few moments of pain were nothing compared with the grief I underwent losing most of what I had thought mattered to me.
Oh, how thankful I am now that I underwent the ultimate strip tease. It could not have been more debilitating to my flesh, as far as I was concerned. But it proved to be entirely life-changing. My life has never been the same since. For once I saw that what was missing in my life was a rock solid personal relationship with the Lord, I cried out to Him relentlessly, desperately, passionately, and step by step, day by day, began to develop what I had needed all along – a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and the commitment not to just believe in Jesus Christ, but to follow Him.
If everything were stripped away from me today, I now know what lies at my foundation and in whom my true identity lies.
Jesus Christ, Savior of the world!
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James 1:23-25 NASB