A tear trailed its way down her cheek as she stared into the fire that held the last six years of her life. For three hours, she had stood watching her blood, sweat and tears being reduced to nothing but a pile of ash. At this point she could only comprehend what was going on around her as a ballet of firefighters and police, dancing to a song of sirens and shouting. They had moved into the house together, the new beginning of a partnership of love. Pouring her heart and soul into every section of living space, she created a home from what was once only wood and brick. It seemed that everything she knew, everything that defined who she was, resided within those walls.
“Honey?” She knew that she should know the face, but at the moment she could not place the person who stood in front of her.
“Let’s get you out of here. You should go try and rest, the police will get in touch with us tomorrow if they find anything.” She was aware of nodding in agreement, but to what she could not tell you. Slowly she was ushered away from the curb directly across from the scene and to a waiting car. As she dipped into the back seat of the waiting vehicle, she turned her head and took one last look back at the building that in a few hours would be nothing but a few coals and embers. One last look at what had defined her for six years, what she had allowed to label her very identity. The news would report about the mystery of a fire that had gutted a four-bedroom, two-bath home in a little less than five hours. She knew the next day there would be plans that would have to be made, new situations to contract for her and her family, but before she shut the door of the car, she threw the lighter that she held hidden in her hand, clinging to for the last three hours, into the gutter.
Many would ask,”What drove this woman to such extremes?” While burning down one’s own home is a bit severe, try to imagine feeling so tied to an object that it has become all that defines you. That is exactly what happens when we realize the imprisonments we force upon ourselves when we buy into the world’s definition of humanity.
In today’s culture of mass social networking, we are continuously asked to classify ourselves by labels. The old norm of self-categorization between male and female, married or single has branched into innumerable subcategories. Simple things like dwellings and musical preferences have become secret societies into which we are initiated by ownership of these self-made titles. Are you a home owner, or a renter? Emo or punk? Boxers or briefs? Where would we be without the nice little identities that the world has provided?
It is easy to see the lure of belonging, and without realizing it we give power to what defines us. This practice of needing to classify oneself has become so ingrained in our culture that we often don’t realize how much power we have given away. Many of us wear our titles as a badge of honor, “I am a survivor of [fill in the blank].” We may even collect them like trophies: “I am a married mother of two.” To some of us, they are a security blanket we carry to remind us from where we have come: “I am a recovering alcoholic.” But what if we stripped ourselves down to the bones? What if we discarded all the titles, categories and labels? If we instead looked to God’s definition of human, what would we find?
When we look for God’s definition of humanity, we need look no further than Genesis.
“So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, TNIV).
We seemingly insignificant human beings were created from the dust of the earth and breathed into life by the Creator of the universe. The Psalmist beautifully portrayed God as knitting us together in our mother’s womb. Each of us unique and beautiful, has been fearfully and wonderfully made. Man and woman, the great crescendo of creation. That however was merely the beginning.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
When God speaks of His people, He employs words like “holy,” “cherished,” “his treasured possession.” God has chosen us to be “a royal priesthood”—the physical embodiment of His grace and mercy. We have been sent to all corners of the world to proclaim His words. We are His promised and beloved. While this honor may seem overbearing, we have the assurance that we are not alone because the Bridegroom never leaves His beloved.
“For God so loved the world”—this is repeated in every childhood bible class a million times over. We repeat the words and memorize the Scripture, but the love of God continues to be one of the greatest mysteries of life. A love we cannot comprehend; it is immeasurable and yet it is the central definition of man. We are defined by a love that transcended death to meet us where we are today. It is within this love that we find who God says we are, and who we are yet to become.
Why is it then that we cling so tightly to these human definitions of self? Are they not "Vanity of vanities," self illusions we put on to try to guard ourselves from the chill of this world? Imagine owning each of God’s definitions, to truly believe you are created, chosen and loved. Imagine a world where we chose also not to categorize others in this way. Have you poured yourself into brick, soil or even flesh expecting to find an answer? Throw a match to it all. Burn it down, for it is just a house of mirrors—an illusion of the heart that has neither breath nor life.