Growing up, I was a sucker for “Knock, knock” jokes. I didn’t like all of them, and many of the ones older adults told went over my head. But for some reason, I wanted to hear more. One that has stood out to me is this:
Dozen anybody want to let me in?
Such a play on words for my mind as a child was half the fun (or challenge), learning how it makes sense, stopping to think and put it all together. Sometimes I’d even process out loud, “Oh yeh, ‘dozen’, as in a dozen donuts! Ha! I get it!” The goal of most of the jokes for me was to conquer it, to understand it, to get it; ultimately, to be “let in” as the joke is humorously referring to. I wanted somebody to let me in, maybe sub-consciously to let me in on the secret of who I really was. Isn’t that what these jokes are getting at, the “who”, not the what?
Before I left on a family summer trip to a Young life camp in British Columbia, I met with Dr. David Beyda. I had heard him speak at a graduation ceremony and was moved to tears while he was speaking. As he shared beautiful stories of death and resurrection, he had an emphasis on the “who” of a person, not the “what.” “Who are you?” he asked all of us, from the power of the podium, and tears started water-falling down my face.
“Who am I” I asked myself internally. Now one thing you have to understand about me, I have spent years teaching, coaching, and counseling people along the lines of finding their identity based on “who” they were, not by “what” they do. So this wasn’t the first time I had heard this. “I’m a veteran at this” I told myself. “Why am I crying? Come on Jeff, you know who you are. You know your identity is not found in having something important in life to do. A title is just a title, it’s not what defines you.”
But the honest truth that evening was I realized how much identity I still found in my “job” or “title”. I could preach the best sermon about finding your identity in Christ, calling others out on not looking to false idols to feel worthy or valuable, or reminding a congregation that Jesus is all we need. But over a year and half out of not having a “real job,” with no “title”, having walked away from pastoring a church that I had started years ago, and struggling financially, I was at a pretty dark, low place. My good friend and mentor Jerry Price, calls this a “Zero-State”.
For whatever reason, that night at the graduation ceremony, I was brought face to face with the sober realities of who I am in life. I was face to face with all of my failures, all the broken relationships that swirl around in my head, and the struggles of not being a very good provider for my family. As these realities confronted me, I knew then, that I am not defined by all of that.
The “who” of who I am is full of dark ugliness that brings death to those nearby, and at the same time beautiful budding flowers that bring about life and joy. This lesson was brought home to me later in the summer, at a Young Life camped called Beyond Malibu.
It was a couple weeks in, during our assignment there, when some of the death that Jesus wanted to renew in my life would be exposed. The “who” of Jeff, behind all the masks of pretension would come blazing out and I couldn’t deny it anymore; Jesus wanted to deliver me from the false “who’s” and bring me into the “who” that gives, not takes.
It was a weekday, the day after I had a very fulfilling day of work and investment in young men’s lives. I felt valuable and worthy because of what I was able to offer. But the following day, I was with all my kids, most of the day, while Amy had her turns. It was the end of the day and I had lost it with the kids and was sure to show Amy that I was done.
This wasn’t the first time I had played this manipulative game to make Amy feel sorry for me and see that I had “suffered” for the good of the family. Even as I type this, I cringe at how selfish this sounds, but it’s all true… this is what I was feeling and thinking internally. It was this day that my wife offered me a gift, a gift that has kept on giving.
She had put together that evening this behavior of mine and was done! This is coming on the heels of many years of her supporting “my vocation” and raising children with me being there in person, but not always present in spirit. This is after years of Amy sacrificing many of her dreams for me to do what I love and feel passionate about, and today was the last day that she would let me power play her with my lame attempt to regain any dignity I thought I had lost that day from letting her use her gifts.
She looked at me at let me know more or less, “On the day that I am needed and able to use my gifts, and you are with the kids, you are unhappy to be with them. It seems a good day for you is when you are being used outside this family. It is my turn. I hope this isn’t a competition against me because I was ‘used’ today and you ‘weren’t.’ ”
Ouch! She was so right. This was “who” I was inside, and it came out like acid in the eye. Painful. And instantly I felt like defending myself in the past, but I knew that Amy had called out my “Knock, knock” jokes, and saw past my attempts to make myself look better than I really was right then. I had no other option but to hang my head and admit that she was right. I had to face “who” I really was behind all the proper relational etiquette I had learned with spiritual language.
I was found out, and you know what, I loved it! This has happened before in our marriage, but not at a point where I had so much to lose. I was the pastor, the one who taught people how to live a “gospel-centered” life, I wasn’t supposed to be struggling with this. But there I was, struggling with it, and I was brought to a “Zero-State.”
I could go lower, but at this point it would be below ground, with darkness and coldness to look forward to. Or I could admit I was somebody I didn’t want to be and decide to be responsible. Amy offered me a huge gift that day. She offered me grace, grace that said, “I won’t put up with your crap anymore because I love you and want to really connect with you. This game you’re playing isn’t connection. I want intimacy with the true Jeff.”
I got answers this summer to a deeper level of “who” I am because of my crap being called out. And now I have the chance (and I hope I’m making good use of the opportunity) to drop all the false self’s that I had built up around the insecurity and shame of my life.
I know the world is a much better place when I am truthful with the masks I wear, for honesty and confession is the only way to truly strip ourselves of the false persons we have tried on over the years to cover up the parts of ourselves that we’ve been told were unacceptable and shameful.
I wish for you that you find hope in my journey, and that you have people around you who are as loving and courageous as Amy is. Maybe you may even be the one to be loving enough to say enough to someone in your life, of course with grace and love.