Hey, all! So, the other day I finished reading the manga series BARAKAMON (translates as ‘energetic/cheerful one’ in the dialect of the Goto islands, where the story is set. The first chapter will show you who it’s aptly named after!) It was a refreshingly cozy, heartwarming story rather different from the rapid paced, high-stakes action of the fantasy and sci-fi I’ve been immersed in of late. And yet, it’s not so very different, because the story is still about a lost soul finding a place to belong; about purpose and hope, friendship and identity. Just set in an island village off the coast of contemporary Japan. It’s awesome.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, it follows a young, professional calligrapher named Seishu Handa, who is sent on a ‘retreat’ to a rural island after a disastrous exhibition, wherein he punched the elderly curator who criticized his work as being unoriginal—as a writer, I can empathize with that pain!
Handa is immature in a lot of ways, having spent his entire childhood learning the art of calligraphy under his father, studying the fundamentals, and making a name for himself within the community on the path his family paved for him. But when the exhibition curator maligns his work, calling him out for being too textbook, he breaks. Cracks form in the identity he’d built up, and he loses sight of who he was.
Do we not share that same pitfall? Handa placed his identity in his streamline, true-to-the-basics, textbook-like writing he tried so hard to master, settled on the coattails of his prominent father. So long as he placed well in contests and was praised for the beauty of his work, he knew who he was and where he stood.
How often do we do that? How often do we define ourselves by our work, our reputation, our relationships? It’s not to say that it’s wrong to do well with these things or that they’re bad, but they aren’t foundation stones to build an identity upon. What we do, how people see us, and who we surround ourselves with are important, but such things are still too fallible to hold up against the storms of life.
Handa found that out when the exhibition curator knocked him off his pedestal. We find that out when our work isn’t consistent or is lacking, when our reputations are smeared, when our relationships warp and crumble.
Why aren't they strong enough? Because they rely entirely on us, and when our identity depends on us, it's bound to fall apart eventually.
Now, in the books, Handa goes to the island and there, through his experiences with the locals, discovers his own unique style of calligraphy, learns lessons on humility and community, and finds a passion and purpose for his future that he chooses for himself. He learns that his identity wasn’t in clinging to the fundamentals of his art style or placing well in contests or following in his father’s footsteps. It was more than these because he was more than these. He was more than his work, his reputation, his relationships—and that revelation rocked his world! It changed him, grew and matured him, and steadied him.
And guess what, friends? You are more than your work, your reputation, and your relationships, too.
Placing our identity in the wrong things can make us feel unsteady—as well it should, because a foundation of worldly things is unstable and prone to collapse. The good news is, we don’t have to build on such faulty ground! There is a better, stronger, steadier foundation we can build our identities on, and that’s Christ Jesus.
Who you are is not determined by what you do, how others see you, or the people in your life. For those who have accepted Jesus, he saved us not only from sin, but from mistaken identity! We no longer belong to the world, and the world can no longer define us.
When we build our lives on Jesus, when we place our identity in him and who he says we are, we can remain grounded and whole when our work, reputations, and relationships buck and shudder and dissolve. Jesus called himself the chief cornerstone—the one piece that holds the entire structure together. Remove that, and the building becomes unstable and unreliable, but with it in place, the building can stand against the storm and remain true.
Jesus says we are chosen, loved, adopted, gifted, cared for, protected, helped, invested in, not alone, precious, more than the sum of our parts, forgiven, rescued, redeemed, clean, whole—
Jesus says we are his, and no one who belongs to him can be taken out of his hand. No power of this world can rip God's child from his arms.
When the world says you’ve got nothing to offer, Jesus says you’re gifted. When the world says no one cares, Jesus says he sees all of you and loves you. When the world says you aren’t worth it, remember that Jesus died for your sake, because he said that you are worth it. When the world says you are forsaken, Jesus says ‘I am with you’.
So let us not define ourselves by what the world says or by our own efforts and accomplishments—for such things are short lived and unreliable. Let’s put our identity in the Maker and Sustainer of Creation. That way, when the waters rise and the winds blow and the hateful words strike and the trials of life beat against us, we will not be moved.