In addition to believing that I must—to gain a solid sense of identity—have some kind of “thing” that I can point to (think: marriage or career contribution), I have also believed that I should exhibit a fundamental mastery of this elusive “thing.” I got my first Master’s degree at 25, and I’m looking at my 2nd at 50. In some coaches training I’ve had, they’ve spoken about being a “Master Coach.” When I taught public high school, we aspired to be “Master Teachers.” And a friend of mine who plays the violin has more than once spoken of the Maestro, simply an Italian word for “master.” Mastery is desirable and possible right?
The problem is, I’ve secretly thought I’ve needed to master more than this elusive thing. I’ve believed that I must master life itself. I’m laughing as I write this: seriously, am I that performance oriented? Yep. One professor friend of mine has spoken of our culture’s twisted (my word) cultivation of an “audience based subjective sense of self.” Put differently—if a whole bunch of people see me and clap, I am. So it’s simple: master life, people will see and clap, and then I am. Simple except that it has proven impossible.
New challenges pour in daily: loving well my visiting 19 year old nephew whose music choices, technology preoccupation, and affinity for movies where things blow up are not natural connects for me. Trying to get to know an online dating guy who lives 300 miles away and may or may not call again. Waiting on my employer for a potential job redefinition. Having yet another conversation about navigating sexuality in our culture. Walking with a friend who has incurable cancer.
The list on non-mastery is endless.
But what I do have in Jesus Christ is access to the Master. A friend of mine often begins his prayers like this: “Dear Master….” Such an address can sound foreign or even threatening (I think of 12 Years a Slave). But, if possible, setting aside possible connotations from the concept’s abuse, think with me for a moment of the Master into whose joy we get to enter, the one who is forgiving and merciful, the one who will return for us, the only one before whom any of us falls or stands. Can you, like me, get any sense of comfort from knowing that He is the Master? Any peace from encountering this Maestro who in loving omniscience can lead with nephews and online men and work and sexuality and cancer? Does it bring you any courage to recognize that He is the “I am,” and that it is in following, before mastering, that you and I begin to find some sense of solid self?
If this holds any allure, it might be worth asking yourself: What area(s) of life have I assumed I should have mastered by now? Or what mastery might I be seeking that I have secretly believed will somehow make me more real, more solid, more safe, more valuable, more …? And then pause to consider: what it might it look like for me to invite the One with consummate, eternal mastery into my current challenges, asking him to lead, seeking to listen, and then willingly following?
This is not a recipe for perfect peace or instant identity. Peace and identity also elude perfect mastery. But it is a way I’m learning to walk forward, increasingly solid and secure with the Master who before time began has been, is, and will always be the I am.