It’s that time of year again! School is going to start in a week or two and I can’t wait. In the meantime, new college students are figuring out what to pack and hoping they will fit in with their new peers. It makes me think about the day I had to leave for college. I wasn’t all that popular in high school, and was a little worried. I shouldn’t have been concerned! It didn’t take long to get a new reputation at college, all thanks to my Mother. I had a few happy face things in my room as a teenager, so before I left my mom sewed me a blanket made from happy face material. So my dorm room had a happy face theme, and I quickly gained a reputation as the happy face guy! What a great chance to re-invent myself…
Giving Birth to Ourselves:
When it comes to identity, we don’t get a chance to choose most things about our lives, so moving to college feels like a first chance to craft one’s own identity. This is why young people are encouraged to go as far away from their family and friends as they can get—it allows more freedom to establish a unique identity apart from your family. In fact, this rite of passage has become so important that some have compared it to a second birth; but one where we “give birth to ourselves.” Robert Neelly Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1996), 65. In our day and age, nothing seems more important for young people than establishing their own identity.
What Abraham Teaches Us about Leaving Home:
When I think about stories of “leaving home” from the Bible, the story of Abraham is probably most memorable. However, we can’t fairly compare his story to today’s world because in Abraham’s day, leaving home “was not a source of freedom but in many societies resulted in almost certain slavery.” Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the Iworld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 36. On this point, it is hard to fathom how different the ancient world was when compared to our individualistic world. Scholars describe ancient people as interdependent, which means that identity was not found in what you did or where you went, instead, your identity was found in relationships. This meant that people like Abraham were “constantly requiring another to know who he was.” So in Abraham’s story, we need to remember that God was not asking him to leave home so he could craft a new identity for himself. Rather, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his entire identity, and in exchange promised him something far better.
Consider the story this way: “When God comes to Abraham, he says, ‘Abraham, get out of your homeland … and follow me.’ Abraham says, ‘Where am I going?’ And God essentially says, ‘I’ll show you later.’ God wants Abraham to give up the right to determine for himself the best way for him to live.” Timothy J. Keller, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (New York: Dutton, 2013), 200-201. In calling Abraham to Himself, God is offering Abraham something better than earthly identity. In its place, God is offering the promise of his presence! Although a wanderer, Abraham’s identity is settled because it comes from knowing, and being known by God. With no land to call his own, Abraham the wanderer becomes instead Abraham the pilgrim, whose true identity is “a citizen of heaven” (Hebrews 11:8-10) and a “friend of God” (James 2:23).
How to Leave Home Well:
Today, the story of Abraham provides help for college students about to leave for college. Abraham found an identity that goes beyond earthly value by doing one thing: he took God at his word. If you too want a deep-seated identity that this world cannot shake, don’t work hard at gaining a new reputation. Instead, work hard at realizing that Jesus calls you “his friend” (John 15:15). From that identity, become like Abraham by remembering that God’s goal for your life is not to help you find yourself, God’s goal for your life is to help you find God.
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