Who Am I?
Who would have guessed that a college psychology class could be so shattering and yet start a healing at the same time? I found the class fascinating until the day we had to do an exercise that devastated me. The exercise was simple. I had to draw a circle, and in that circle, put a dot for everything I knew about myself and who I was. I sat for some time looking at that circle. My mind was blank. I put one dot in that large circle. That dot represented my role as a mom. I could not come up with a single other thing about myself, my roles, my character, anything. I had just seen my own emptiness.
I grieved the loss of that person I used to know so well. Where did she go? Why was she gone? I was so lost. I had just come out of a bad marriage. That was one reason I was no longer who I had been. I had taken medication during that marriage that would forever change me. The side effects were horrendous, but it was the only way I could possibly have more children which was something I deeply desired. That was another reason I was no longer who I had been. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m not here anymore.” Wow. I certainly knew why I was empty and I grieved.
Many things can cause a loss of identity like this; divorce, death, loss of a job or home, or even prison. Perhaps you have experienced a loss that leaves you wondering who you are. Nehemiah is a book in the Bible that details the rebuilding of Jerusalem. There are several stages in the book that we can learn from and use in rebuilding broken lives.
Nehemiah and the walls of Jerusalem
Nehemiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible.. In this book, an Israelite named Nehemiah took on the task of rebuilding the walls to the city of Jerusalem which had been destroyed decades ago when the Israelites were taken into captivity to Babylon. There were definite stages to this enormous project. Consider underlining or defining the “definite stages”
In Nehemiah 1, he is given the report that the walls of Jerusalem are down and the gates burned (3). In verse four we learn that Nehemiah was deeply affected by the news. “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” He first grieved and prayed. As I sat there that day in class, I grieved for who I had been and wasn’t anymore. And I prayed.
Nehemiah’s next step was to assess Jerusalem (Chap. 2:13-15). He looked at those broken down walls and burned gates without letting anyone know what he was doing. He needed to see the damage before he could figure out how to start to rebuild, just as I had to see that one lone dot in that circle so I had a picture of where to start rebuilding my life. Seeing that nearly empty circle actually became an exciting picture for me. I was wide open for change.
Nehemiah almost immediately had opposition come against him. I did as well. Satan, the father of lies, does not want rebuilding. He wants defeat and destruction. I think Nehemiah understood that. I did not. I had to learn about Satan and how to fight him so I could rebuild. The only way to do that was to read the Bible to see where he acted in his evil and how he was defeated. I learned, not perfectly, but enough to be able to continue to rebuild. I prayed for protection from the lies of the father of lies and the doubts he would try and instill in me. I prayed to know the truth about who I was and am. I learned to pray offensively, before the attacks came.
Nehemiah came up with a plan for rebuilding. He had a strategy. His strategy was to have the people rebuild next to their homes. They were personally vested in the rebuilding of the walls. At the same time, they set out with protection against their opposition. They learned to work with a sword in one hand and a tool in the other. That’s what I had to learn. My sword was who I am in Jesus. I learned that I was His child (John 1:12), protected under His wings (Psalm 91), and loved with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). All the tools in the world could not keep me rebuilding without this foundation of faith. There were too many enemies trying to tear down the walls as fast as they were rebuilt. Enemies like discouragement, doubt, and fear, just like Nehemiah and the Jews experienced in their rebuilding. They did not give up and neither did I, even when I wanted to.
Just as rebuilding the walls and gates was a process, so is rebuilding a life. A life destroyed by some kind of trauma is not rebuilt in a day or a year. It takes time to learn to trust, to know who you are again. It certainly took me several years to rebuild what I had lost. A key to the rebuilding is acknowledging the progress made so far. Periodically, I would get out that circle and add dots again for the new parts of me I had discovered and nurtured. God opened doors I never expected to walk through. Doors like starting and leading a divorce support group, teaching at my church, moving away from family with my small family, meeting and marrying my second husband and so much more.
The Rebuilding Completed
For Nehemiah, when the walls were rebuilt, the first thing they did was read the Book of the Law to the assembly in order to remind the people who they were and who their King was. The people mourned and wept when they heard this reading (8:9). They had been away and now were back both physically and in their faith. Nehemiah understood this. Verse 10 gives them their next instructions: “Then he said to them, ’Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” Their relationship with the Lord, the Restorer, was intact again.
The Jews were back in their homeland worshipping their Lord once again. They had left captivity, come back to where they began, rebuilt their lives, and rebuilt their relationship with the Lord, and they celebrated. I was building a life again that I was comfortable living where I knew myself far better and appreciated my strengths and weaknesses.
Repairing and Rebuilding
Over time, that almost empty circle of mine began to have more dots in it. I learned that I have great empathy for others, a solid work ethic, intelligence, a love for family and people as a whole, talents I didn’t know I had, and oh so much more. But it took these steps to start rebuilding within that circle:
- Seeing my emptiness.
- Understanding why I was empty.
- Grieving my emptiness.
- Turning to the only One who could help me fill up my emptiness again.
- Praying about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be as a person.
- Being excited to see changes coming.
- Praying offensively, keeping my shield out.
- Having a strategy. My strategy was school and learning all I could academically and about myself while there.
- Periodically acknowledging the progress I was making.
- Understanding it is a process.
- Making sure my relationship with my Restorer, Jesus Christ was intact.
- Celebrating each step along the way, adding dots to my circle.
- Finding my joy in Christ.
I imagine my circle will not be complete until I take my last breath here on earth and my first breath in the presence of the Lord. Until then, I will keep filling it up, growing into the person God created me to be in the first place. I will celebrate my rebuilding just as the Jews celebrated the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
If you are in a place where you need rebuilding, know you can take heart because you are actually in a great place. Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, sometime in the future, you will look back and see the opportunities starting over had for you to be someone you like and appreciate. Put your life and who you are in God’s hands. He won’t fail you. He didn’t fail me.