This is my article that was published yesterday at Liberate.org. If you're not familiar with the website, check it out. It's an invaluable resource for the church. Mark Twain would have been proud of me. He once quipped that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. Not only had I figured out why I came into this world; my answer defined me. It furnished me with an identity. It told me what was most important in life. It oriented my relationship with everyone from my God to my boss to my wife. I had figured out why I was born into this world. But, in a sad irony, that answer that identity that purpose, eventually led to a day during which I wished that I’d never been born to begin with (more on that in a moment).
Why are you here? Why did God knit you together in your mother’s womb? What is the goal or purpose of your existence? To those questions, I would have responded that I was born on May 30, 1970 to be a doer, an achiever, and a go-getter. There was work to be done, and God put me here on earth to do it. That was my chief end, the reason God made me. God created Chad Bird in order that he might have another person to labor. Because of that, my work defined me. If I wasn’t actively doing something, I felt useless. And the things I did, in particular, serving on the faculty of a seminary, gave shape to my self-understanding. If you’d have asked, “Who are you?” I wouldn’t have said, “I’m a child of our Father in Heaven,” but “I’m a servant of the sovereign Lord.” To work was why I was here; work gave me purpose; work gave me identity.
Maybe you’ve been there. You worked your fingers to the bone to build a successful business from the ground up. You poured your life into a ministry that now serves hundreds or even thousands of people. You got married, started a family, and now juggle carpools and meetings and backyard BBQs. All of these are good things. But what if they are taken away? What if that business goes belly up? Your ministry falls apart? You find yourself widowed, or in divorce court? What happens to your identity when the work, the service by which you defined yourself, is in ruins?
One option is to pick yourself up from the ground, begin again, and find a new career or a new relationship or a new ministry by which you can redefine yourself. In so doing, you’ll return to work, to service, as the goal of your existence. Or while you’re lying in the dirt, you can pick up a handful of that dust, let it fall between your fingers, and see therein the stuff from which Adam was made. And you can ponder, in a new and fresh way, why God not only created him, but you as well.
That, in essence, is what happened to me. Through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault, the perfect little world I had created crumbled around me. The career, the job, the marriage, the reputation—what I’d worked my whole adult life to attain—everything was gone. That is, all of my answers to the whys of life were gone. I was a man lost, lying in dust, wondering, “Who am I now? Why was I even born? What good can I do amidst these ruins?” But let me tell you, I ended up learning more about myself, and my God, in the dirt than I ever did at academic institutions. It turns out that suffering and loss and the demolition of self-created identities are a special kind of sanctuary of theological learning.
While lying for years in the dirt from which my first father was made, I discovered the reason that I was created, too. Adam was created, and I was created, and you were created, all for the same reason: because our Father willed us, spoke us, into existence. “Let us make man in our image,” God said (Gen. 1:26). “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:27). Of course, there was work to be done, as there still is today: being fruitful and multiplying, exercising dominion, and whatsoever labors God gives us to do in this life. But that work is not the reason we exist. We are not here because God needed servants. We are not here because God needed glorifying. We are not here because God needed anything. We are here because the God who is love, who is our Father, who created all things in and by his Son, willed us to be hisbeloved children.
That realization is more than a game-changer; it’s a life-changer. At least it was for me. Before, I had thought that work was why I was here; it gave me purpose; it established my identity. But I was dead wrong. Sometimes the best way to discover our true identity is to experience the loss of our false identity. To have it “stolen” by a heavenly hand that takes away precisely in order that he might give something better in exchange. The identity God has given me is not that of a worker but a son. Because God is, I am. He who is love loved me into existence. If there’s one word by which my purpose in life is defined, the goal, the end, it is this word: Beloved. I am the beloved of God, the recipient of his grace in Jesus Christ, the son upon which he lavishes gift upon gift upon gift. He created me; he created all of us, in order that he might have children upon whom he could bestow his blessings.
Of course, we labor. We marry and raise children. We have jobs and careers and hobbies and do volunteer work. We glorify God and praise his name. We serve our neighbor. We do lots of things. But these things do not define who we are. Take them all away—family, career, job, friends, health, everything—and leave us naked and homeless and jobless and friendless. Who are we then? What defines us? We are who we were all along: we are the children of our heavenly Father in Christ Jesus.
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. Well, not quite. The two most important days are the day you are “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), and the day you figure out that you were redeemed for the same reason you were created: to receive the good gifts of a good God who has done all good for you in the crucified and resurrected Son of God.
Who are you? Why are you here? You are the beloved of our Father in Christ. That’s why. And that makes all the difference in the world.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!