In times of stress, turmoil and grief we can sometimes feel we don’t know who we are anymore.
We might ask ourselves that question when life knocks us off balance. Perhaps because we have reacted in a way that surprises us, perhaps because we feel at the end of our tether or find we’ve simply run out of steam…and all the other clichéd phrases for times when life confuses us.
Most of the time, we don’t really think about such things, after all, life for many of us can be hectic, with so very much to think about.
But though no-one wants to face the difficulties life throws at each one of us, it is surprising how often people I have talked with, some of them having come through real testing times, have spoken movingly of how much they have learnt about themselves in the process.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev’d Justin Welby has recently felt his sense of identity jolted when it was revealed that the man he thought was his father was not.
He has said it was “a complete surprise” to find through DNA evidence that his biological father was the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne, Sir Winston Churchill’s last private secretary, and not Gavin Welby.
In a statement he said: “My mother and father were both alcoholics. My mother has been in recovery since 1968, and has not touched alcohol for over 48 years. I am enormously proud of her.
“My father, Gavin Welby, died as a result of the alcohol and smoking in 1977 when I was 21.
As a result of my parents’ addictions my early life was messy, although I had the blessing and gift of a wonderful education, and was cared for deeply by my grandmother, my mother once she was in recovery, and my father as far as he was able.”
In speaking publicly about how this discovery has affected him, the Archbishop said: “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”
“My role as Archbishop makes me constantly aware of the real and genuine pain and suffering of many around the world, which should be the main focus of our prayers.
“Although there are elements of sadness, and even tragedy in my father’s case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives. It is a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us; grace and power which is offered to every human being.”
Justin Welby’s words are a reminder to each of us that the question, “who am I?” is one that we ask because we are always discovering who we really are. And it takes a life time.
But God knows us better than we know ourselves, and he loves us, he accepts us and he counts us as precious in his sight.
Justin Welby said: “At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: “We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?” To which I responded: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in his service together.” What has changed? Nothing!