As my son and I continue our homeschooling ramble through World History, we embark on the era shatteringly known as World War II. We, therefore, must encounter one of my favorite “heroes of faith,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man so intelligently aware of his times and so devoted to his faith, that he deliberately chose to step into the fray, and joined a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The conspiracy failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement, and eventually executed.
During his imprisonment, Bonhoeffer continued to live out his faith and witness before the guards and other prisoners. Even for the most stalwart of believers in Christ, this was no easy task. Bonhoeffer exquisitely captured his own inner struggle through the words of the following poem.
Who Am I?
Who am I? They often tell me
that I step out of my cell
calmly and cheerfully and firmly
like a manor lord from his mansion.
Who am I? The often tell me
that I speak freely and cordially and
clearly with my guards
as if I were the one giving orders.
Who am I? They also tell me
that I am bearing these days of misfortune
with equanimity, smiling and proud,
like someone accustomed to victory.
Am I really that which others say I am?
Or am I only that which I know about myself?
Restless, longing, sick, like a bird in a cage,
gasping for breath as if someone were strangling me,
hungry for colors, flowers, for the song of birds,
thirsting for kind words, for human nearness,
trembling in anger at arbitrariness and petty insults,
driven by anticipation of great things,
helplessly worried about friends infinitely removed,
too weary and empty for praying, thinking, creating,
exhausted and ready to say farewell to everything?
Who am I? This one or the other one?
Am I this person today and a different one tomorrow?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
and a despicably pathetic weakling before myself?
Or is what is left within me like a vanquished army
fleeing in disarray before the victory that has already been won?
Who am I? Such lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, you know me, and I am yours, O God!
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1944)
Although caught in a situation beyond any that those in the general populace face, Bonhoeffer’s words yet resound deeply within the core of so many. I, too, feel his internal struggle as I daily come to grips with who I am. I know that I am a daughter of the King of Kings, the Almighty One. In light of this knowledge though, how can one who longs to do so much be captured by a disease which compels me to such a small life. My home–my bedroom–encapsulate my cell. ME/CFS serves as my guard, restricting my boundaries with undue vigilance, my longings and deepest desires seemingly ignored. Many Christians try to tell me that I am the victor and that I must claim my healing, yet in the light of the whole gospel, these words fall short. And I must discover the me who I really am within my constraints and before my God.
- I am His daughter, and His lovingkindness toward me has yet to fail.
- I am His workmanship, and He molds me through His private and sacred means for His glory.
- I am His bride, and He is simply making me beautiful.
- I am decreasing so that He may increase, though I may never see earthly results.
- I am learning what it means to simply be His, with NO limitations on His hand.
I cannot see all or know all, but I can rest in the One who does, and I can place my hope in His love. I can choose to daily surrender any rights I think I may have. I can choose to let His knife cut just a little bit deeper.
Who am I? Just another child longing to be more like Jesus.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).