“He has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” – 2 Corinthians 1:22a
The corn fields rested muddy, smelling of some combination of life and death that felt a little too familiar. Patchy blankets of grey-white mist guarded their secrets – things left hidden, like words waiting to be spoken.
I wore a red fleece to be seen by passing cars, but there weren’t any, and for that I was thankful. My feet pounded weightily on the pavement of my childhood, but my womanhood pressed hard from every angle, and everything about my life felt new, raw, and exposed.
It was my first year as a teacher, and I wondered if I’d make it through. The reprieve of my Saturday morning run felt like glory, and all I wanted to do was keep heading west – into the misty hills and beyond.
I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was mostly feeling like my life was one giant failure.
Everything I hoped, imagined, and dreamed was coming undone at the binding, and it was ripping open my center, leaving loose pages to scatter in the fog.
The dreams I cherished about nurturing students and making an impact on hundreds of lives were dead. I was trying to maintain order in a special needs classroom, trying not to get punched, trying to defend pregnant coworkers when my students attacked with sharp objects, and trying to make sure there were never two students in the restroom at the same time. It wasn’t anything like I’d imagined.
My personal life wasn’t much better. A broken relationship left me reeling with pain, doubting everything I believed about the goodness in people, and numbing myself with almost anything I could find. I was eating too many carbs, lingering too long at happy hour, and jogging too far, just to feel the endorphins.
A verse from my seldom opened Bible pounded through my head, while my feet pounded forward: “You are seated with Christ in heavenly places..” (Ephesians 2:6, my translation).
I wasn’t devoted to living for Christ at the time, but I loved him and believed in him, and I was doing the best I could.
I was holding onto dozens of worldly comforts, dreams, and parts of myself I wasn’t ready to hand over, but deep inside, I knew I’d one day surrender each one.
A break in the fog caught my attention, and I looked up into the pale blue of a newly dawning day. I longed to ride the clouds through the blue firmament and dwell there, literally seated with Christ in heavenly places. I knew the verse was more about my authoritative position in the spiritual realm than riding on clouds, but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.
I saw myself standing among the clouds, worshiping God with arms held high, something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing in public at that point in my life, and I saw freedom. I saw joy and peace. I observed that all the cares of the world and the labels with which I identified myself remained below on the earth, like the fog covering the corn fields. My identity as a teacher, girlfriend, friend, writer, and a prom coordinator weren’t attached to me as I worshiped in heavenly places. My identity rested solely on the fact that I belonged to Christ.
His love for me sealed my identity.
My self-perceived failures as a teacher, girlfriend, friend, writer, and prom coordinator weren’t a part of my identity. I was created to worship Christ, and I could let go of my performance in life.
I wish I could say that revelation was the obvious beginning of a breakthrough in my life, and I suppose it was – it simply started with slow, subtle shifts. I didn’t see the effects of the breakthrough for years. I continued to struggle with my failures, relationships, and decisions. Teaching got harder before it got easier. I faced the repercussions of years of poor decision making in my personal life.
In the midst of it all, one truth did stick with me: I’m not defined by my failures.
I am defined by my position in Christ, and as his follower, I am seated with him in heavenly places. The world, and its cares, will all pass away, but the Triune God will never pass away.
Wherever you’re feeling like a failure today, may this be your reminder: You are not defined by your success or your failure in life.
If you are a child of God, you are defined by your position in him, and you are seated high above the cares of the world. God will use your failures to mold you into his image.
I can attest to this because that morning jog through the fog took place a decade ago. Throughout the years since that jog, there have been highs and lows, major relationship changes, children, a bittersweet decision to leave the classroom, and slow growth toward my Lord.
As I slip into my red fleece and tie my running shoes this morning, I look to the fields. They are layered with thick blankets of fog. I press in and press through, failures falling behind, eyes fixed on the One with whom I am seated. I release my grip on names like mother, wife, writer, leader, and prayer coordinator.
I am simply his.
We press on together, and I lift my arms in worship. I am no longer ashamed, I am fully his, and my failures will never define me.