March 24, 2010

March 24: Finding our voice and identity


By Arienne Johnson, a senior history and Bible and religion double major from Herndon, Va.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 50:4-9a (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

As a kid I faced a daunting personal dilemma known as “indecision.” With two stubbornly opinionated older sisters dominating matters at home, I learned from an early age that to “agree” was a survival tactic. No use holding a dissenting opinion of my own if it would conflict with that one universal greater good: peaceful sister interactions! Right?

Wrong. Eventually I realized that this practice of giving up my own opinions actually eliminated my capacity to HAVE opinions at all. Genuine uncertainty followed me everywhere and any kind of decision-making threw me into paralysis-mode. My immediate reflex to questions directed at me was: “What do YOU think?” or “What would make YOU happy?” I used to believe this response was a type of selflessness and humility.

But this was not selflessness; it was a defense mechanism. In forgoing my honest opinions, I symbolically “hid my face” from the potential mocking and spitting of my peers. By doing so, I did not empower oppressed peoples in a true spirit of selflessness, but I allowed my identity to be trampled until even I could not recognize or respect it.

After acknowledging my “agreement reflex,” I began a journey to re-establish my identity. The first question I asked myself was “Who am I and what do I believe?” The next question: “What need I be afraid of, if I am grounded in God?”

Conflict? Accusations? Insults? Being disgraced? No problem! The fact is, we all face controversies in life. Conflict is inevitable in our families, churches and even on Mennonite college campuses. The Scripture passage for today reminds us that as life-long students, we are called to keep our ears open, listening to and learning from what God is saying in our midst. It also reminds us to ground our identities in God. We are all commissioned to stand firm on the solid platform of God’s love, and if we do this, we shall have nothing to fear.

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 50:4-9a (NRSV)
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens —
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.



Comments (19)

  1. I had a “stubbornly opinionated” older brother growing up. I read myself in your description. It’s amazing, Arienne, that God gave you such wisdom about how that affected your ability to express your true self at a younger age. It took years away from home on my own to be able to do that effectively, and sometimes I still struggle with “paralysis” in my 40s. Thank you for this insight and for helping me understand how this also impacts the way I empower (or disempower) the oppressed.

    Tony March 24, 2010 |
  2. I do a little prayer service once a month and today my theme is “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?” I made a copy of your devotional and plan to use it. Thank you. I really appreciate receiving these devotionals every day and even though I only infrequently comment on them, find them inspirational and am reminded of them during the day as life presents itself!

    Karen Flaherty March 24, 2010 |
  3. Oh, Arienne – thank-you for the thought and time you put into this meditation (I accidentally typed medication. That fits too!)! I love this scripture, and your reflections have met me at a critical point in my life. Touched deeply, and will print it out to read again. Peace to you in your journey! Kathy H

    Kathy March 24, 2010 |
  4. (Great to find you when I opened the devotion :)
    This are important words and thoughts for us today – thank you!

    Frances March 24, 2010 |
  5. Dear Arienne, Thank you for your encouraging meditation that helps me become a full blown Christian personality standing on my feet and putting across and defending what I sincerely think is right. There is so much intimidation in our church that produces “yes men (and women). With people like you to help this can be corrected.

    Mervyn Carapiet March 24, 2010 |
  6. How blest are we when our actions (and reactions) mesh with interactions with God (and others).

    LeRoy Kennel March 24, 2010 |
  7. We are blessed when our actions meet with reactions and also with interactions with God.

    LeRoy Kennel March 24, 2010 |
  8. Dear Arienne, Your interest in history and the Bible are a good combination. I hope you continue to share what you are learning during your journey . . . both the the joys and the sadness. Thank you for giving us the courage we needed today.

    Mary K. Mishler March 24, 2010 |
  9. Arienne, your devotion spoke to me so deeply, for I too developed the same kind of ‘defense’ as I grew up. Sometimes I still find myself responding to others in that same way – thank you for reminding this morning that God ‘has my back’ in all things.

    Judy Sherk March 24, 2010 |
  10. I like who you are and who you are becoming.

    Mom Johnson of Arienne March 24, 2010 |
  11. As I read today’s evotional I found myself shaking my head in agreement. It is hard being a child and having to live with adults who want to control your every thought. I was orphaned at a very young age. My mom died when I was 6, my dad remarried but left us with this stranger, when I was 8. All I had was my sister. Thank goodness we had each other. However, we couldn’t express our opinion or our disagreements. Abide by the rules of this person who took care of us. She did provide us with a warm bed at night and food for our bellies and clothes for our bodies. But, dont’ have an opinion….one that disagrees with mine. I became an introvert and never shared my thoughts or feelings. If I dared to express a disagreement, I can still hear these words, “remember, you are a guest in this house….the door swings both ways.” So very sad to live with this anchor around your neck. Thank God I never gave up on the true Anchor in my life… childlike trust and faith in God kept me on steady ground. Thanks for reminding me of my childhood that in spite of the odds, enabled me in Jesus, to be an overcomer.

    Leeann March 24, 2010 |
  12. Wow, this devotional has hit me right between the eyes. I’m 47 years old and I have been realizing for just a few months that I also have this “Agreement relex.” I am so thankful for the perspective of this Scripture to help me relearn how to interact with others and not be afraid. I see myself as a life-long learner and am delighted to delve into another Scripture passage that will lead me closer to my ture identity in Christ.

    Debbi March 24, 2010 |
  13. Blessings to you Arienne! Your sharing reminds me of myself and that I need to be authentic as a child of God.

    Pam March 24, 2010 |
  14. Beautiful, helpful and enlightening thoughts and Scripture.
    Thank you!

    Sylvia March 24, 2010 |
  15. thank you for this meditation, arienne. i very much appreciated it.

    sarah conrad yoder March 24, 2010 |
  16. Arienne, I’m 69 and am in awe of your insight into the “agreement reflex” at your age. By the time I was in my 50s I had lost myself in being agreeable, swallowing my feelings and opinions, and making others right regardless of the situation. In becoming myself, which I’m still working on, I saw God loving me as others are loved, and that with that love I can speak and be in the now. Thank you for articulating so well one of life’s lessons for many of us.

    Barbara A. Clark March 24, 2010 |
  17. look at all these responses! You are so special!

    Mom Johnson of Arienne March 25, 2010 |
  18. Arienne, you have written such a thoughtful; and wonderful devotional that has obviously touched an awful lot of people. You are clearly an “old” soul. Blessings to you. mary

    marycts March 29, 2010 |
  19. I liked reading through and believe this website has some really usefull stuff on it!

    Atlanta Interior Design December 4, 2011 |