One of the hardest questions to ask oneself is: “Who am I?” We put immeasurable time and effort into curating a well-crafted identity, hoping to project an image of how we want the world to see us (and even how we wish to see ourselves).
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 is one of identity loss. Before going to the land of Dothan, Joseph lived a life of relative privilege. His family owned land and had wealth, evidenced by a luxurious cloak that Joseph wore. In Hebrew culture, a cloak like Joseph’s was a symbol of identity. Colorful tunics were expensive and signaled that the cloak wearer was of a certain social class. His cloak likely also had long sleeves that covered his hands, meaning that he did not have to do manual labor, unlike his brothers who toiled as shepherds. And perhaps the most significantly, Joseph’s cloak was given to him by his father, indicating that he was loved and favored over his brothers.
Joseph’s cloak represented an identity of wealth, privilege and favor. But when Joseph went to Dothan, his brothers tore off his cloak and threw him into a cistern to die (later they decided instead to sell him off to slave traders).
And so it was in Dothan – a foreign and unfamiliar place – that Joseph was stripped of his identity.
Many of us are feeling that way now. Covid-19 has been our Dothan and we have felt our identities stripped away. We have lost the things we put our identity in – our jobs, apartments, communities, friends, and plans. These were our cloaks.
The challenge is that we find comfort – and even worth – in our cloaks, most of which are worn situationally. At work, we wear the smart, professional, capable cloak. With our friends, we wear the sociable and confident cloak. At church, we wear the smiley, wholesome, everything-is-going-well cloak. We have a closet full of cloaks and we don them so often that many of us have forgotten who the person under the cloak really is.
We struggle to answer the question, “Who am I?”
Parker Palmer wrote: “What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own.”
Soren Kiekegaard once said” “By the grace of God, I shall become myself.”
So, this is a reminder of where our true identity lies. Our worth is not measured by jobs, bank accounts or beauty. Our worth is found in an identity that cannot be stripped away.
We are children of God.
I John 3:1 tell us: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
When our identity is in God, our cloaks no longer define us. Our worth is not in the temporal, but the eternal. Our joy is not found in our circumstances, but in steadfast love of the Creator. And our confidence is not in the paths we find ourselves on but in the One who can make our paths straight as we follow Him.
We are children of God. And this is not just another cloak to occasionally wear (most likely on Sundays and major holidays); rather it is the “you” who has been hiding under those cloaks all along, the “you” that God desires to set free.