The Radical Path to Self-Discovery: Finding Your True Self in Death

We may not actually say we want to “find ourselves” or “discover who we are” or that “we’re on a journey of self-discovery,” but the fact is that most everyone is. Part of our mind is constantly engaged in the quest to answer questions such as these: Who am I? Where do I belong in the world? Do I even belong in this world, or am I a mistake, a freak, an accident? What sets me apart from others? How do I make my life what it needs to be to achieve happiness? The list goes on, for the mind never stop asking. We need to know, we must know, for our life demands purpose. No one wants merely to exist; we all yearn to live life to the fullest. For many years that quest to find myself, and to find happiness with myself and my place in this world, set my feet on a path that appeared right. I decided that a certain career would make me happy, so I pursued that career with gusto, with planning, and with eventual success. It was a career within the church, but a career nonetheless. And it defined me, all of me. What I did was who I was. I found my life in being called and ordained; a pastor and professor; a writer and speaker. If someone were to have asked me who I was, I would have described myself in vocational terms. And even though I would have employed language that avoided outright bragging, I would have been proud to tell them about myself. I found myself, my place in this world, my purpose, my happiness, in what I did.

And then one day, the earth opened up beneath my feet, swallowed everything by which I had defined myself, and I was left without a career, without a job, without a calling, without accolades or happiness or purpose. But man cannot live life that way. He must have something, anything, by which to understand who he is. So I tried other methods. I turned to a woman, then another woman, then a string of women, and pieced together a motley self-image that found faux happiness in the sexual chase and catch. I turned to running, first 5ks, then 10ks, then half-marathons, then full marathons, and found purpose in training, in pushing myself to painful physical limits, in crossing the finish line. I even turned to anger and hatred, and defined myself as one in opposition to hope, a despiser of the divinity who had abandoned me. As I told my ex-wife one time, God had become for me the Great Deceiver. Throughout all this, in these various ways, I still found myself, my place in this world, my purpose, my (short-lived) happiness, in what I did.

I didn’t know it, in fact I consciously rejected it, but the truth is that throughout those years, both in times of success and failure, God was up to something. He was guiding me down a very long serpentine road, full of switchbacks, dead-ends, and long waterless treks, to the ultimate discovery of who I am. And although I’m still slow and stubborn, I’m closer now than I was before to finding myself, my place in this world, my purpose, my happiness. And one thing I can tell you for certain is that it doesn’t consist in anything I do. In fact, I have found myself in loss, discovered my life in my death, define who I am by placing someone’s else definition after my name.

Who am I? I’ll let Jesus Christ tell you that.

He says, “Chad, you have died and your life is hidden with me in God the Father. I took your life away on the day I held you under the water of the font until the only breath you could breathe was the Spirit. While you were under the water, I closed the chasm between the present and the past, in order to take you all the way to my cross, where I joined you to me—thorn to thorn, nail to nail, wood to wood, flesh to flesh, blood to blood, and finally death to death. You went to Jerusalem with me, suffered many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and were killed, and were raised up on the third day. The life that you now live, you live by faith in me. Indeed, I am your life. I am in your body, and you in mine. In me you live and move and have your salvation. Who are you, Chad? You are the one who lost his life in me, and so found my life in you. Who are you? You are with me, of me, in me, beside me, inextricably united to my identity as God’s Son. That’s who you are.”

So, there you have it. My journey of self-discovery ended not at the foot of the cross but on the cross itself. I found myself by losing myself in that crucified man. And in Him I found that happiness does not consist in what I do but in what Jesus did for me. My identity doesn’t consist in trophies and diplomas on the wall but a font full of water, a chalice full of blood, a plate full of body, a book full of divine speech. A life lived to the fullest is one in which all of who we are is emptied into Jesus, so that all of who Jesus is might be emptied into us.

“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” Jesus, Matthew 16:25