As God helps you grow, you will change, but you will always be you. An acorn can grow into an oak tree, but it cannot become a rose bush. It can be a healthy oak or it can be a stunted oak — but it won’t be a shrub. You will always be you — a growing, healthy you or a languishing you — but God did not create you to be anybody else. He pre-wired your temperament. He determined your natural gifts and talents. He made you to feel certain passions and desires. He planned your body and mind. Your uniqueness is God-designed.
Some people think that if they seek to grow spiritually they will have to become someone else. But God won’t discard your raw material. He redirects it. Before Paul met Jesus, he was a brilliant, passionate zealot who persecuted people. Afterward, he was a brilliant, passionate zealot who sacrificed himself for people.
Some friends of ours had a daughter named Shauna who was a classic strong-willed child. When she was four years old, she kept trying to go AWOL on her tricycle. Her mom could not rein her in and finally said, “Look, Shauna, there’s a tree right here, and there’s a driveway right there. You can ride your tricycle on the sidewalk in between the driveway and the tree, but you can’t go past that. If you go past that, you will get a spanking. I have to be inside; I’ve got stuff to do. But I’m going to be watching you. Don’t go past either one of those boundaries, or you’re going to get a spanking.”
Shauna backed up to her mom, pointed to her spanking zone, and said, “Well, you might as well spank me now, because I got places to go.”
Would it surprise you to learn that when Shauna grew up, she had formidable leadership capacities and an indomitable drive? She always will have them.
God doesn’t make anything and then decide to throw it away. He creates, and then, if there is a problem, he rescues. Redemption always involves the redemption of creation. The psalmist says, “Know that the LORD Himself is God. It is He who made us, and not we ourselves.”
Here is the good news: When you flourish, you become more you. You become more that person God had in mind when he thought you up. You don’t just become holier. You become you-ier. You will change; God wants you to become a “new creation.” But “new” doesn’t mean completely different; instead, it’s like an old piece of furniture that gets restored to its intended beauty.
I used to have a chair my grandfather helped build seventy years ago. I loved it, but its arms were broken, the wood was chipped, and the upholstery was worn through. I finally gave up on it and sold it for fifty cents at a garage sale. The person who bought it knew about restoration, and a few months later I received a picture of it — repaired, refinished, revarnished, and reupholstered. I wish this was one of those stories where the restorer surprises the clueless owner by giving him back his now-glorious chair. But all I have is this alluring picture. Still, I keep the picture taped inside my desk drawer to remind me that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here!”
God wants to redeem you, not exchange you. If you’re a bookish, contemplative type, waiting for God to change you into the kind of person who wears lampshades on your head at parties, good luck on that. Maybe you are a raging extrovert, tired of putting your foot in your mouth all the time. Don’t you wish you could become more like those of us who are introverted: wise, calm, and restrained? It’s never going to happen.
Too bad — we all wish it could.
It is humbling that I cannot be anything I want. I don’t get to create myself. I accept myself as God’s gift to me and accept becoming that person as God’s task set before me. Inside your soul there is a battle between a flourishing self — the person you were created to be — and a languishing self.
Ortberg, John. 2009. The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.