Who{se} Am I?

Sometimes, I liken my brothers to Pa Ingles in the Little House on the Prairie books—always restless, always searching for something else, something different. Never content to both plant trees and stay long enough to enjoy their shade.

But the same trait is also present in me. I have an insatiable desire to see more, do more, be more, know more. While I love constants, rhythm, and ordinary days; there is a piece of my soul that longs to be where I’m not, can’t be, or never will be. I dream of the sea—an overwhelming bowl of blue, a liquid salt shaker, and endless back floats looking into the sky but seeing heaven. I also long for Lake Michigan in chilly autumn—rough, loud waves ever pressing into rocks with determination on their faces as they seek to go higher on the shore every time. And I miss my secluded farm along the Interstate—tall, gentle grass nodding in greeting as I pass, a pond of stillness at my feet, and the squeaky windmill with the broken blade.

At night I wake up but I’m not in any of these places. Many times I wake up looking for something but I never find it. The crying of the owls in the trees outside my window echoes the question of my heart: Who? Who? Who? Who am I?

The deep places of my soul know the answer to this longing. It’s not so much a question of who am I? Rather it is wrapped up in who{se} am I.

It’s the little trailer on this word that makes the difference.

There are many things that “have” us—relationships, finances, career, stress. These things and so many others like them can consume us. These things can lead to the restless, desperate crying of our hearts to go somewhere else, be someone else, do something else.

Whose seems to be far more accurate than who. For me who seeks to answer things I may or may not know. It contains descriptors like: personality, preferences, work—things I know about myself; but it also carries lists of things I don’t know about myself—strengths, giftings, why I do and don’t do the things I do, etc. This latter list always leads to more questions and less answers. For the life of me I don’t know who I am. Most days I don’t even know why I’m here in this exact space of time, in this definite place of the entire universe.

The who of my being is what makes me long for something more, something else. But I get it all wrong when I start with this premise. It was never meant to be the opening question.

Instead the real answer is found in whose I am. Whether we like it or not, something has us—even owns us, if you will. Who I am is hidden in whose I am.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a beautiful poem from his prison cell in Nazi-controlled Germany titled “Who Am I?” Throughout the poem, we feel the tension of restless longing to be somewhere else, mixed with the questions about who he really is and who people think he is. And do the two even match? Or is he two people?

By the closing lines, you can sense a noticeable shift to peaceful resignation of knowing the answer to the biggest question:

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

No matter who I really am, I know so well Whose I am.

Whoever I really am, Jesus, you know, I am Yours.

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