How a Train Bathroom Taught Me about My Identity

In one horrible moment, as the Chinese train rattled and rocked from side to side, with one false move, my friend dropped her passport right down into the train’s squatty potty.

Anyone who has lived overseas knows there is very little we hold tighter than our passports.  We guard it with our very life.  And, furthermore, anyone who has lived overseas can also imagine the hygienic nature of that train squatty potty.  Passport and potty should never go together.

And there her precious book was – down there.  In the squatty potty.  On a train. Yeah.  Not cool.

Why do we value that little book so much?  Really, it’s just a few sheets of paper with some numbers, a photo, and a few stamps inside.  Why does it matter if it falls into the toilet?

We value it for many reasons.  We value it because it says who we are and where we belong.  It identifies our tribe – it tells us who counts us as one of their own. It gives us security, it announces our place, and it provides a source of identity.

Of course, all of us, if asked our identity, would probably not first point to that small book.  Our identity is much more than a U. S. citizen, a Canadian, a German.

But, what would we say?  Who am I?

I am a mom of four boys.  A teacher.  A wife.  A daughter.  A lover of coffee.  A reader of books.  An overseas worker.  A seminary student. A friend.

But, lately I’ve become convinced that so much of our language in the Body of Christ as we identify ourselves,  as we talk to one other, as we blog or play or write — it sometimes get a little off course.  We slowly drift off-center and our eyes turn inward rather than upward.  Who I am becomes what I am doing, what I am accomplishing, what I want to happen in life, what I think is important.

I am convicted that who I am is not really about ME.  It is about the One who holds me, the One to whom I belong, body and soul, in life and in death.

It’s about Someone who reached down into a place far more disgusting and revolting than a squatty potty to pull me out, wash me up, and give me a new name, a new identity.  This same One willingly set aside his “passport,” moved into the neighborhood, and took on a new identity so that He could give me my real one.

So, I want to be like Paul, who started his letters so often with this identity tag:  “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus…”  My life is not my own, but was bought with a price.

Can we stop sizing ourselves up by our lists of accomplishments, by how well our kids behave, how successful our work is, how together we have our act, what degree we get, how many relationships we have, the number of Facebook friends on our list, or how many followers we have to our blogs?   Can we stop listening to the incessant noise that screams to us that our identity is tied to what we do, and that rivets all eyes on us?

Let the Hero of the story fill the stage.  Let HIM be the story we tell.  Let Him tell us who we are.  Rest in the truth that our identity is not tied to a passport – but even more so, is not tied to anything we can do.

My friend did indeed roll up her sleeves, reach down into the gunk, and rescue her passport from the bowels of the train squatty potty.  She knew its value, and couldn’t leave it where it was, no matter what the cost.

We know the One who rolled up His sleeves, reached down into the gunk of our sin, and rescued us from the grip of Satan, death, and even from ourselves.  He wouldn’t leave us where we were, no matter what the cost.  

And the new identity He gives me can never be lost.

Do you wrestle with your true identity?

Photo Credit LucasTheExperience via Compfight


  1. Amy Young February 18, 2014

    Ah, the image of Jesus rolling up his sleeves and reaching into a nasty train squat pot is enough to make me want to never sin again :). It also fills me with gratitude that he’s willing to do it again and again for the likes of me!

  2. Mikkin Helvig February 18, 2014

    I was thinking it was one of the squatties with the hole onto the train tracks….I guess that would have been worse, but in a different way. 🙂

  3. Jennifer February 19, 2014

    We do so often ask ourselves the “who am I” question as if gaining a clear understanding of the answer will give us identify and purpose. Yet if we approach it that way we are actually perhaps going in the wrong direction. I just happened to pick up a small book this afternoon to read for a moment and I was reminded of how it had challenged me a few months ago, a challenge that remains as relevant to me today.  It is called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller. I heard someone speaking on the radio about some of the thoughts in the book, and then got a paper copy of it to read (because it was not on kindle) because it spoke directly to me at the time.  I will share a small part of it with you here.

    “Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself… True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings….. A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself”

    “Because He loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness”.

    The reality that our true identity comes from God not from anything else is definitely a challenge to take hold of, and live in the reality of. I know it is for me.

    1. Kristi February 19, 2014

      Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing the quote from Keller’s book.  I’ve read it as well.  It’s a great reminder for me today as I look towards what the Father has fro me next fall.  Oh, to “do things for the joy of doing them” and to “help people just to help people.”

  4. Elisa February 19, 2014

    All I can say, dear friend, is well done!  Amy stole my thoughts! 🙂  And I always hope that I can sit around your theology table!  I can’t stop thinking about how well timed this topic is especially after OUR groups get away to the “Mountain” CM to reconsider our Identity and the Gospel anew!

    Velvet Ashes gals, We’re all on this journey together.  Just listened to a great message called “The Vision of Romans”  It does a great job of putting this all into perspective.  If you are able google it.  It’s from College Park Felly in Indy. 🙂  Love you all!

  5. Kristi February 19, 2014

    I can get so stuck in who I am being what I do.  Who I am is all about whose I am.  He fashioned me in the womb.  He has my days in His hand.  He guards my heart.  He has a plan for me.  I am His friend, daughter, bride, even if I never do another thing in this life. Preaching to myself here. Thanks for stirring up these truths, Renee.

  6. Kristi February 19, 2014

    As I was biking to school I thought of another identity thief:  comparison.  We look at another person’s gifts, accomplishments, experiences, and “stones of “remembrance” and covet them.  Ours, the ones who make us who are, are seen as less important or significant.  I find it so easy to see the unique beauty in a student, friend, or family member but difficult to see it in myself.  I’ve told many students that they reflect God’s glory in a way that no one else can, ever did, or ever will.  We are uniquely, lovingly, and purposefully created to bring glory to our loving Creator!

    1. Jennifer February 19, 2014

      Kristi, I agree with you about it not being easy to see it in ourselves. I think that is one of the benefits we can actually gain from others though. Perhaps we need to accept that we may not see it clearly in ourselves, but just as we can see things more clearly in others, maybe they can also do the same things for us. So, if we are open to share what we can recognize in each other, and are prepared to consider what others share with us, as possibly being true, then perhaps we can see what we really may not at least initially be able to see in ourselves. I know that some of the things that I do now accept as being true for me, that good as they might have been I didn’t accept initially, came in the first place from what others said to me, recognized in me, rather than me myself.

  7. Elisa February 21, 2014

    So, I just had to read this again.  Because it’s something He’s been trying to help my soap soak up for years! I am a daughter of the Most High King!  I am a sinner saved by grace!  I am a sheep that can never be lost.  I am a creation that was set apart to be an image bearer of God!  Because of Jesus I am a SAINT!

    Saint.  That’s the word that stuck out in my mind during our annual conference.  And this phrase, “we cannot accuse the SAINTs”.  I can’t accuse anyone else that bears the title of saint.  But, I also can’t accuse myself. 🙂  Let’s leave the accusing to the Accuser! 🙂  I know, easier said than done. 😉

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  9. Malia April 3, 2014

    “Let the Hero of the story fill the stage.” <– My favorite line!
    Thank you for a convicting post, and an illustration I will never forget. ^^

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