Although the weather doesn’t think so, the fall semester is nearly upon us. College students are moving back to campuses as we speak. UNC starts classes next week, and between now and then over 4000 freshmen will arrive on campus, calling it home for the first time.
One of the great things about a new academic year is the chance to redefine yourself. Whether they’re a freshman or returning student, the new year offers a fresh beginning. College life is the perfect place to play out reinventions of yourself: there are millions of opportunities to try new things, and the fact that classes (and majors, for some) change every semester means that change is pretty unsurprising in the university setting.
The opportunity to redefine ourselves, student or not, has an allure to almost all of us. Deep down, we’re all trying to answer that most basic of questions. Who am I? Its something that everyone must answer for themselves. The easiest answer is often wrong. It’s so easy to define myself by my job, by what other people think of me, by my abilities, or by some demographic status (white/female/engaged/college educated/American).
Yet none of these actually answer the question of who I am. So no matter how many times introduce myself as a campus minister, or hear others’ praises or criticisms of me, those aren’t defining characteristics. Those answers don’t satisfy. Thus the appeal of reinventing.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, God verbally speaks as he’s baptized, saying “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (For more on this story, check out Luke 3 or Mark 1.) That was how Jesus defined himself. Not by what others said about him, not by how many he healed (or didn’t heal), but by the fact that God loved him.
The thing is, though, that God doesn’t just feel that way about Jesus. He loves us that way too. He says, “You are my child whom I love; I’m so happy with you” about each and every one of us. Y’all, this is crazy, ridiculous good news.
So what does this mean for us? In the words of Henri Nouwen,
We are the Beloved. We were intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, “You are my Beloved.”
So as the fall begins, don’t lose sight of what does – and does not – define you.