Eight months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman whose profession happened to be a brand expert. His goal was to have me share my story on video. After spending time conversing about my ministry background, he asked me a single question that had me stumped.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I paused and stammered as though he had just asked me a trivia question on a subject in which I had no knowledge. My first response began with a litany of what I did. “I pray with people, I help people discover what their gifts are, I teach the Bible” and on and on. It was clear from the blank look on his face that if there had been a buzzer for him to press to indicate that I had not given the response he expected, he would have pressed it. What?! I had just missed the “Who are you Joycelyn?” question in the game of my very own life? Needless to say, this has set me on a journey to discover the answer to that question.
I have always felt like I was living in a world in which I cannot freely say what I want to say, do what I want to do, go where I want to go and even look how I want to look without hearing verbal opposition. These voices have contributed to my inability to know the answer to the “Who are you?” question. I have to admit the primary verbal opposition come from the tapes in my head of the voices of leaders in the church who have vehemently voiced their theological view that because I am a woman, there are only certain positions that I can hold in the church.
Then there are the voices from the counsel of systemic racism that say that because I am black, it is important that I not exhibit certain attitudes and actions that perpetuate the stereotypes of the black woman, particularly the strong and assertive type. Otherwise I will not be privy to various opportunities. I dare not do anything that will make me appear to be the lead actress in Tyler Perry’s “Diary of A Mad Black Woman” movie. I must defy those stereotypes, not just for myself, but for those of my same gender and race. Quite frankly, this has been exhausting.
The “Who are You” question for me had turned into a “Who are we?” question. I had allowed the clanging cymbals of the church and the white noise of racial bias to not only drown out my own voice but also the voice of the Shepherd regarding who I am.
I knew the only way I could let go of the antagonistic voices so that I could hear the Shepherds voice on the matter was to be still. Centering prayer is what Richard Rohr calls the “art of letting go.” It’s taking the time to be quiet enough to become aware of our thoughts without focusing on them. This is my regular practice.
It was through this art of letting go that I was reminded of the words of one of my professors, “Seminary is not just about having all the right answers; it’s also about knowing the right questions to ask.” And so, I realized that the question “Who are you?” was not the right question for me. As a matter of fact, the right question for me was twofold. The first question was, “Who are you?” And the second question was, “Why were you born for such a time as this, Joycelyn?”
After eight months of being still, reading Scripture, praying, partaking in Communion and having holy conversations with various wise women, I was reminded of a quote from Dr. Susan Muto and the late father Adrian Van Kaam. I discovered the answer to his question, “Who are you?”
I am “an outline of limitations and a treasure of possibilities.” I also discovered the answer to the second question. “Why was I born for such a time as this?” I was born to live out of the treasure of possibilities that come through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. I was born for such a time as this to live into what is more than race, gender, socioeconomic status, career, ministry, wounds, weaknesses, worries, insecurities, roles and even my education. I am the beloved daughter of the Divine Creator, the one who has given me the treasure of possibilities through the salvation of Jesus Christ.
I was reborn to be the mirror image of Christ and to accept the invitations of the Holy Spirit to exhibit the Fruit of His Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, longsuffering and self-control so that those within my sphere of influence can have an encounter with Christ through my attitude and actions.
This journey over the past eight months has revealed to me that when I am living out of my treasure of possibilities, I will live beyond the limits of singular questions and opposing voices and live in the grace that is exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond anything that I could ever be asked, think or imagine.
Joycelyn Lewis is a first-time contributor to Soul Care Collective. Thanks, Joycelyn!