Who Are We When We’ve Lost Everything that Mattered

Have you ever been separated from the things that once defined you?

Maybe it was your career, your marriage, your appearance, or an ability you had, but lost. How lost did you feel? How hard was it to meet new people and to answer the most basic questions like where do you live, or what do you do, or are you married?

There really is no way to understand the naked exposure of losing that something that defines you until it happens. Then, even though you know in your mind that others have gone through it, still, you feel alone.

Once, there was a night janitor where I worked.

He was a hard worker, but pleasant, too. His English wasn’t fluent, but we had brief, friendly chats. One night, he said to me, “You are so kind to me. I want you to know that in my own country, I used to be somebody.”

I used to be somebody.

I understood what he was saying. Here in America, he works three, sometimes four jobs. He wears coveralls and arrives as everyone else leaves. He mops floors, cleans toilets, and takes orders from a young man who could have been his grandson. People seldom speak to him except to point out a spot he missed or to ask if he’d mistakenly taken a member’s missing cell phone.

Three times they ask him, “just in case.”

In his country, he was a professor at a university, head of the department. He taught Psychology. He enjoyed his subject, his research, and his students, but there were limitations on his life and certain dangers. In this country, he is no one; but in this country, his children don’t live in fear.

Sometimes, there are compelling reasons to leave what defines us behind.

Usually, it’s not a venture we take on willingly. There’s a trigger, an inciting incident, a personal tsunami that rolls in. When it rolls out, we’re stripped of that which used to hide the naked truth of our unadorned selves.

Now, here we stand. Just a person. Without credentials or references or photo id’s. We simply are.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

Especially, when others are dressed so well in their degrees and designations, their designer clothes and deeds of ownership, their pedigrees, histories, accomplishments, and their entourage ready to offer testimonials on their behalf. We think about how, in our old country, we used to be somebody. How now, we’re not.

Most of us only enter this condition when compelled by forces beyond our control.

No one volunteers to be a refugee. Except Jesus.

Jesus willingly stripped off all that would identify Him as God, as Creator of the Universe, as THE WORD, and became a nobody, just a baby born to some poor couple on a busy night in the city.

When He stepped into our story, He came as no one, revealing His true self only to those who took the time to take a second look.

The apostle John wrote one of the saddest passages of scripture in this: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:9-11 (ESV)

Have you ever experienced that? Rejection by those who used to call you their own? Refusal by those once close to you to acknowledge you. Have you ever become nobody in front of everyone who once thought you were somebody?

Jesus did.

Like the night janitor, He had a compelling reason for leaving everything that outwardly defined Him and outwardly become nothing – His love for and obedience to His Father who loved us so dearly, He sent His only son. He, too, wanted His children to live free from fear.

He showed us that becoming nothing is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Giving up our identity, leaving our home, descending from the heights, this is nothing to fear.

Separation from the Father’s love – that is a fearful condition.

Because Jesus came, we never need to fear that again, if we receive Him.

To find our identity in the measures of this world is natural.

To find our identity in our relationship with Jesus Christ is to touch our eternal selves and to know the freedom of living indestructible lives.

When our identity is sealed up with Him, we inhabit fearless lives that nothing on this side of glory can destroy. This is the gospel. That is Christmas.

O come, o come, Emmanuel! How are hearts long for home!

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    The Conversation

  1. Cindy says:

    Wonderful article. Thanks for the blessing. I am nobody but definitely am somebody in Christ!

  2. Lisa Harper says:

    Life brings changes (seasons) as we evolve through them. Mine is being home for a little over two years ago now, as I threw in the towel of a working career. I do keep busy, but many days I find myself wondering and questioning if this is where I am suppose to be. I do miss the interaction with people. Though, I do see others while out and about in various errands, functions,etc. The guilt of no longer contributing to the household budget weighs heavy many days. Maybe that in itself, is reminding me that I am a little older; wiser though..because many times I find myself looking back at earlier years when things were quite different. God has a plan for all of us. HE has never left me, so I will keep thinking positive thoughts. I know this is where I am suppose to be. God, family, and friends..I am truly blessed. This devotion hit home. Thank you.

  3. Nico says:

    Stunning – thank you for reminding us, with so little, who we are in Christ with so much.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Lori, for reminding me!

  5. Tim Shoemaker says:

    Oh, Lori … powerfully good reminders in here. Thanks!

  6. Charles Huff says:

    I’ve lived a full life, now retired, but a life I built from the ground floor as I’ve gone through the doors Jesus opened for me. I have a list of accomplishments that I’m proud of. However, I have also lived a life buried under the visible, one that I was ashamed of even though I was the object of actions, not the initiator. That life was not my fault, yet it defined me. It held sway over my actions in my visible life.

    If only for me–for more inner healing, Jesus has led me to telling my story of surviving an abusive, alcoholic father who once attempted to kill my mom and me, and how Jesus planted and grew a heart of forgiveness in me. It ultimately brought Dad to the Lord’s saving grace and me to levels of love and forgiveness of Dad I never dreamed possible.

    Sometimes, stripping away the things that define a person is a good thing. And, it all brings us to the point that our new identity in Christ is more than a slogan. We have truly become a new creation.

  7. Connie says:

    I, too, have had a “janitor encounter.” A Vietnamese man. He spoke very little English. Hard worker, I frequently made eye contact and asked him how he was doing. One day, he explained to me, in very broken English and lots of motions, who he had been. He was an officer of some kind, like in our FBI. He had been improsoned, living in a cell so small there was barely room for him to lay down to sleep. He had been shackled. I can’t imagine what he lived through, and how he treasures the freedom we sometimes take for granted. His kids are free, excelling in school and pursuing their dreams. I’ve never really thought about Jesus’ coming to earth, giving up everything to come live among us, quite in this light. What a gift…His willingness to “be a nobody in the eyes of the world” so we could be free…free from sin and death, and free to enter into the presence of God!