Who Am I? (Favorite Quotes)

(photo by Pedro Travassos via Creative Commons)

When I had an office I turned the wall in front of my desk into a mural of quotes. One of the quotes was a poem by Deitrich Bonhoeffer entitled “Who am I?” I believe at this stage in my life I’m coming to appreciate and comprehend Bonhoeffer’s words more than I have in the past.

Recently a friend paid for me to take a personality assessment. It was analyzed by a consultant. The consultant said I’m a highly self-critical, analytical, introvert who is torn between a strong sense of urgency and an intense desire for perfection. These two drives yank against one another in my heart. One voice demands I finish things “right now!” The other demands I “get it right!” That I don’t screw it up. That I make it perfect. 

If I only had the latter, it would take me forever to finish anything, but when I finished something it would be awesome.

If I only had the former, I would finish a ton of stuff but it would all be half done.

If I view this internal division through positive lenses I can say I finished a large amount of high quality work. Hopefully this is what other people see.

What it actually means inside of me is that I live in a desert of harsh anxiety. I always feel behind. I always feel the need to produce faster. But I’m never satisfied with my work, so it is hard for me to say something is finished. 

The consultant also said I’m an introvert. Wendy and I were talking about this. It’s clear. He’s right, but I haven’t always been this way. In college, when Wendy and I met, I loved being in large groups of people. I wouldn’t say I was an extreme extrovert, but I was different than I am now.

Sometimes I think it has been the fast pace of our lives that has driven me toward finding solace in isolation. Three churches, a neo-monastic community, a charter school, ten moves, four amazing kids, and one on the way – that’s a lot. Thinking about it makes me want to hide. It’s not the activity. I’ve had an amazing life with incredible people. Each moment, even the mundane ones, have been beautiful experiences. I treasure and am grateful of each moment. But the voice of self-criticism in me is strong. It’s difficult to forgive myself for mistakes, to see beyond them. When I close my eyes at night, I ponder what would be if I had done that one thing four years ago, or that other thing three years ago, or that moment ten years ago, what if I had done them a little bit differently. It isn’t regret I feel. It’s not that I want to change the end result. It’s the perfectionist in me. I’m unsatisfied, constantly uneasy with the path I’ve left in my wake. I feel it should be neater, straighter, less improvised. And I’m nervous those who know me can see the mess I’ve been. On the other hand, my increasing move toward “introvert” may have nothing to do with this at all. It may just be that I’m becoming grumpy with age. I fully expect to some day soon scream the words, “Get off my yawn” from my front porch at a bunch of kids.

These brief thoughts only scratch the surface of what the consultant said. The report was thick, and detailed, and spot on. He nailed me. Processing it forced me to look in a mirror and take stock. It was a painful but necessary process. The question I’m left with is “Now what?” Yes, I have a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I understand better how other people perceive me. And yes, I know better when I need to pull back the chaotic tornado of urgent-perfectionism that roars inside me.

But at the same time, nothing good in my life has come from me. I’ve participated in it, but all the accomplishments, all the wonderful moments, all the beauty I’ve seen – its all been a gift. Whether I become a deeper introvert or turn the tide and move back toward an older version of myself, whether the tension within me continues or I find a way to settle, whether I continue to pick myself apart or learn to be satisfied with who I am, all that truly matters is that I remain faithful. Every good and perfect thing has come from above, so it matters not how I storm and rage. The key is to stay focused on Christ and not turn inward. Reflection is good as long as I continue to understand that nothing good, nothing of true value comes from my strength. If there is love, or joy, or peace in my life it is a gift from the Spirit. 

“Who am I?” by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

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