All my life, I've been an Islander. I was born here on Vancouver Island, spent my childhood here, spent every summer here, spent countless weeks and months exploring throughout my life, and I have always longed to move back here.
The "Island Way" has shaped my way of life. The clothes I wear, the mannerisms I employ, the attitude I have, the hobbies I enjoy, the things I love, the way I talk... it all screams, "Islander."
The types of people who migrate here are the types of people I've always aspired to be like. This is wanderer country. The land of hitchhikers. Vagabond territory. Home of the wayfarers, prodigals, gypsies, drifters, and voyagers. This is where you go to get lost, stay lost, and enjoy it.
Being recognized as an Islander has always given me a kind of thrill. And now, living here for the summer, I've gotten tremendous pleasure from being able to call myself a true local, once again. Knowing the roads and the beaches and the forests and the trails, exploring new territory and being able to call this land my home... there's just nothing like it. The laid-back spontaneity, the West Coast adventures, the sunny days and ocean breezes- bliss. The surrounding culture of art and music, the camping, the swimming, the hiking- I call this the Life.
I love being an Islander.
And I'm sure you can relate, whether you're an Islander or not.
We've all got our little identities. We've all got personas and images that we've constructed for ourselves with the hope of creating meaning in our lives. Whether you're a hardworking farmer making a living out in the fields, or whether you draw your identity from living among the streetwise city folk, you can relate. Maybe you're a small town homebody, taking pleasure in neighbourly conversations and day-to-day community life. Or maybe you're an ambitious businessperson doing everything within your power to climb the corporate ladder, gain recognition and authority, and make a name for yourself.
Maybe you're a traveler, bent on seeing the world and telling the tale. Visiting new places, being always on the move, collecting relics and memories and photos- maybe that's your gig. Maybe you're an athlete, physically disciplined, competitive, talented, determined, and self-controlled. Maybe your performance is how you define yourself. Maybe you're good with cars- the designated "fixer upper" among your friends. Maybe you're a master in the kitchen- always being asked to cook up something special, or being praised for your famous baking. Maybe you've got an aptitude for design, and your home, your clothes, and your style are always being admired by others. Maybe your dedication to volunteer work gets you noticed. Or your proficiency in the realms of science and math. Or your ability to write and compose.
Whatever it is, you've got an identity. We all do.
And whether we know it or not, these identities can stealthily wedge themselves between us and Christ.
For my whole life, I've made "The Island Way" my mantra. I've been known to say things like, "I'll figure it out when I get there." "Just takin' it one day at a time." "Just do it- you won't regret it." Since I was a child, I've looked at the world through a lens made of sunshine and saltwater. I've walked through life with messy hair and sandy toes.
I'm an Islander. I've always been an Islander. And I've made it my mission to forever be an Islander.
But lately, God's been making it His mission to show me a new way of thinking.
You see, in just a couple of weeks, I'll be leaving the Island. I'll be heading back East to embark on the adventure of marriage on the Prairies of Alberta. And I don't know when I'll be coming back.
For the longest time, we've grappled with the question of where to live. Our mutual love of the Island brought us here, but that was it. Our love of the Island. Our enchantment with the scenery, our fascination with the culture, the enticement of adventure, and the thrill West Coast living lead us here. But that was it. We went after it because we wanted it. Period.
And over the past couple of months, God has been doing some painful deconstruction in my heart. My beloved "Islander" identity has been His demolition zone since Day One. He's begun taking away the veil of childhood fantasy and the facade of my make-believe identity, and revealing it for what this Island truly is: Not a paradise, not perfection. Just a place.
This Island is beautiful. But it's just land. And it's land that I've made into an idol.
And ever since He's begun taking away my starry-eyed infatuation with this big ol' slab of rock, He's begun to do the same with other things in my life. Things that for so long have held such charm and endearment in my heart have begun to lose their shimmer. Things that have enraptured me- things that I've lusted after for so long- they've begun to fade. They've started to lose their appeal. They've begun to look a lot less desirable and a lot more worldly.
And I'm beginning to notice a trend.
I wonder if God intends for us to become fed up with this world. To come to the point where there is no longer anything here for us. Where there is nothing left to captivate our hearts or capture our interests. I wonder if God means to allow this world to break our hearts, time and time again, so that He can fasten them, new and whole, onto His Truth. Onto Eternity. Heaven. Perfection.
All the things I love about this world keep letting me down.
And I wonder if It's been His plan, all along.
Every day, my heart grabs onto the temporary and carnal and loosens its grip on eternity. The trends and fads that run rampant in our culture are tantalizing as anything, and I'm afraid that I've often fallen prey to their deceptive promises of satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.
But the more I pursue Christ, the more I plead with Him to transform my mind, the more the lies begin to unravel before my eyes. I'm like a child learning the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy... all at the same time.
They aren't fun lessons to learn. Reality isn't always a comforting hug or a consoling friend. From my experience, accepting what is true and discarding old ways of thinking is often a grievous task. I'm finding that the letting go of my self-constructed "Islander" identity is a painful process. It hurts because it's an identity that I've always relied on to give me significance. I've trusted in it. It's been my security, my self-confidence, and my objective. It hurts because I'm laying to rest my beloved mask. My favourite costume. It's my cherished identity, and identities die hard.
So to have it stripped away is like ripping away all my protective gear. It leaves me feeling small, insignificant, exposed, and vulnerable. It leaves me feeling profoundly average and exceptionally normal. It leaves me feeling like I'm standing by myself under the penetrating light of God, with nothing around me to grab or hide behind. There are no cover-ups, there are no fig leaves. There's just me, and God.
Paul learned this, too. He had a bounty of impressive identities that he was able to rely on for the first portion of his life. But after going to face to face with Christ, his identities were shown for what they truly were: trash. He writes:
Philippians 3:5-9 - "I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pureblooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin- a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
"I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him."
I know that my dream of being an Islander is just one little identity out of a long list of others. I know that this is a process I'm going to have to go through again many times throughout my life. It hurts and it sucks, but I believe it's the Way of Life. The Way of the Cross. It's the Way for those of us who have been cleansed of our old natures and adopted by Christ.
The identity we have in Christ:
It's all we'll ever have, and it's all we'll ever need.
All that's left is for us to learn that it's enough.
Galatians 2:20 - My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So, I'm leaving the Island. Just Vancouver Island, for now. But I know there are many other metaphorical "Islands" left that I will have to leave, eventually. The Island of recognition. The Island of intelligence. The Island of youth and beauty. The Island of ambition and passion. The Island of popularity. The Island of social status. The Island of independence.
Whatever they may be, I can trust that God will reveal them in time. I have no doubt that He will let this world break my heart again, very soon. Surely, He will allow this life to let me down, and He will let me feel disillusioned with all of my identities. He will let my Islands sink, and He will let my walls crumble. He will let it all happen. I think He intends for it to happen.
Because as long as my Islands keep disappointing me, I'll have no choice but to keep running towards His impending Glory.