With the passing of Easter Sunday, the religious season of Lent is over and people who follow the liturgical calendar are once again eagerly returning to coffee, Facebook, chocolate or whatever it was that they decided to “give up” for Lent.
Traditionally, those who give things up for Lent chose something that would involve a significant sacrifice and encourage them to spend time in self–examination. I wonder if these days, some people make decisions about what to give up for Lent by considering what they could do without successfully, what would be the least inconvenient. Perhaps some of us have come to focus more on achieving a successful outcome rather than embracing an identity-shaping experience.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference called All In and listen to keynote speaker, Jason Johnson. The conference sought to encourage and equip people to engage and be present with the vulnerable and marginalized in our societies.
One thing Johnson said that resonated for me was the idea of the being aware of the paradigms that influence the way we live. Specifically, he asked whether we were approaching life—asking questions and making choices—from an outcome-informed paradigm or an identity-informed paradigm.
Johnson contrasted these two ways of navigating in the world by highlighting questions and key statements that each one would ask and illustrating with examples the related answers would then shape the action we take.
For example, an outcome-informed paradigm focuses on counting personal costs and makes decisions that will maximize personal satisfaction. It gets us to ask questions like “what will it require of me?” and “How will it make me feel?” and “What are the long-term effects?”
In contrast, an identity-informed paradigm focuses on counting the cost to others and making decisions that will maximize benefit to others. It asks questions like “Who am I?” “What kind of situation is this?’ and “What does someone like me do in a situation like this?”
I was struck by the realization that the type of questions we ask ourselves, and the way we understand and view things will influence the answers that we get, the directions that we choose and the decisions that we make.
“Who am I?” and “what will it require of me?” are two very different questions. The contrast brings to mind a short story that is found in the gospel of Mark. In the story people are giving monetary gifts. The wealthy people gave generously, putting in large amounts with a lot of fanfare. A poor widow simply put in two small coins, all that she had left to live on. The poor widow was seen as having given more than all the wealthy contributions. In her giving, she did not focus on the personal costs or effects of giving her all. She gave from who she was.
This story challenges me to reflect on my own paradigms and ask myself “who am I?” Do I angle to get the best outcome and response for my own benefit? Or do I seek to align who I am with my living and way of being?
In reflecting on these two paradigm lenses, it becomes apparent that I need to ask myself who or what is forming my identity? How do I understand who I am? Do I see myself, in the vulnerability and weakness of my humanity, as someone who is created to connect and be in relationship with others? It is from there that I am invited to reach out, from the place of my own broken humanity.
There is a sense of rest and freedom, a spaciousness, when we can know who we are and live out of that identify rather than striving ceaselessly to perform based on outcomes and what is in it solely for me.
When we live this way, we not guaranteed to be comfortable or have a smooth and easy life. Instead we are asked to lean into the difficulties and the mess. It isn’t about doing or fixing but about being and presence. As Brené Brown, researcher and story-teller, states, it is “all about leaning into the discomfort of ambiguity and uncertainty and holding open an emphatic space so people can find their own way.”
An identity-informed approach encourages us to lean into the mess and the discomfort of our humanity, to lean into our vulnerability and our shared humanity and into connection.