Less than a year ago, I was Pastor Pete. Who am I now?

I liked being Pastor Pete.  In our tradition, as with most religious traditions, when a person is ordained into the ministry, it is for life.  I am still Pastor Pete.  There are a wealth of experiences folded into that identity.  I have been there when people have died, I have been there soon after people were born.  I have accompanied people through marriage problems, family crises.  I have ministered to people through a disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing.  I have done funerals for premature little ones the size of my hand.  I have done funerals for teenagers, young adults in their prime leaving children behind.  I have preached and done liturgies before hundreds.  I have gone through good times and painful times with congregations.  There is not enough space here to describe the variety of challenging and meaningful experiences that have shaped my identity as Pastor Pete.

That identity has not been my only identity, however.  Any who reads this post could list all sorts of identities they have had in their lifetime.  I have been a little boy, a son, a little brother, a kid whose identity was shaped by going to school, playing down at the swamp, jumping into piles of raked leaves, catching bugs, heading to the vacant lot for a game of Bounce or Fly, getting penicillin shots and taking those awful red penicillin pills, supposedly avoiding exertion on account of the Rheumatic Fever. That identity has come and gone.  I grew up and got well.

Then there was the identity as a singer.  That began when Mom claimed she heard me singing the melody of “We Three Kings” while I was lying in the crib at eight months of age after my brother had been practicing for singing at the Christmas Program that year.  I took voice lessons, sang in choirs, served as president and student conductor of five choirs from Junior High through graduating from college. I sang in a semi-professional choir earlier in my working years. That identity has come and gone.  I haven’t sung much for years.

I am a father.  We have two children.  There is an odd shift in identity that comes with children.  After children, I may have been Pastor Pete to some, Pete to others, but I became Dad to two, and Lisa and Micah’s Dad to many others.  It happens to most of us.  With children, our identity moves away from who we happen to be as an individual to who we are in relationship to someone else.  From the time the little ones head off for preschool and/or daycare, we become our children’s Dad or Mom.  Whenever we get full of ourselves in any other arena of life, coming home to children, going to school activities, getting them ready for bed or ready for school, feeding them, picking up after them, listening to their arguments with one another, dealing with behavior issues, serving in our role as parent will quickly burst our bubble and bring us back to reality. The role of parent has changed as our children have grown up, but I am still Dad and Mary Ann is still Mom.

There has been a new identity added to our reality in the last decade.  I am Grandpa.  Mary Ann is Grandma.  It is who we are now.  By the way, it is really cool!  That identity will stick with us from now on.

We all have multiple identities during our lifetime. While those identities all help shape us into the somebody we have become, some of them come and go.  Some of them stick.  The kid I was has come and gone but in some sense still lives in me.  My parents are both gone, but having been son to a Mom and a Dad still impacts how I think and feel.  I am still a little brother to four other people even though I am now sixty-six years old.  By the way, when those four are getting out of hand, I just observe that Mom and Dad kept trying until they got it right.  (You can imagine how far that gets me with them.)

Singing is still a part of who I am, even though I seldom do it.  It lives in my insides.  Music stimulates my soul and touches my heart.  I am a parent and take great comfort in the relationships with our two children.  I cherish my identity as Grandpa.

The identity as Pastor has molded and shaped my sense of self profoundly in the forty years of doing ministry.  While I am still by ordination a Pastor, I am not pastor to a congregation of people.  While being a pastor is part of who I am, my identity, it is no longer in a public setting.

There is an identity that became primary for me when Mary Ann and I married.  I am a husband, the husband of Mary Ann.  That identity has defined me for over forty-three years now.  Mary Ann and I have retained our individuality.  We have not disappeared into each other, but our lives are completely intertwined.

There is now a new identity born of necessity and grown into the center of who I am.  I am a Caregiver.  That identity cannot and should not be differentiated from my identity as husband. The Caregiving happens to be what being husband to Mary Ann includes at this time in our lives together.  When we commit to one another in marriage, it is not conditioned on health or wealth.  We marry a person, whatever that brings.  We don’t marry some ideal of what a husband or wife should be.  We marry a real person, who will grow and change with time and experience, as will we.  What comes, comes. I am now a husband and a Caregiver.

Who am I?  Am I what I do?  Am I a kid, a brother, a husband, a father, a Pastor, a Grandfather, a Caregiver, or am I something in addition to those things, something more than those things?  For me this is an exceedingly important matter. What sustains me is that I have an identity beyond what I do.

Let me say it plainly.  Mary Ann and I have no idea how long we will live.  No one does.  What if she dies before I do?  If my identity is solely husband and Caregiver, who will I be then?  Mary Ann has a very strong sense of herself.  She has a strong presence.  If I die before her, she will be Mary Ann.  She has never defined herself solely as a spouse.

My identity is rooted somewhere far beneath my various roles.  I am convinced that all of us need an identity that is not wrapped solely in one of the various roles we have had throughout our lifetime.  I am no longer a kid.  I don’t sing any more.  Our children are grown and on their own,  Our grandchildren do not live with us.  My brothers and sisters live six hundred miles from here.  I am no longer pastor of a congregation. If who I am is solely what I do, I am in a world of hurt.

For now, let me say this: The first answer to the question of who I am is, I am water and dirt.  I, like you, am made up of about 70 percent water and 30 percent dirt (carbon, minerals, etc.).  The final answer (as they say in The Millionaire) to the question who am I, lies in the answer to the question, Why am I a living, breathing, self-aware human somebody, rather than a fifty pound pile of dirt and a hundred and fifteen pound puddle of water?  My answer to that question will come in another post.  Stay tuned.

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