taking the words of Jesus seriously

As a college professor, I could always count on someone coming into my office around the beginning of May and telling me he wasn’t coming back net semester. (It was usually a guy.)

I would try to be professional and ask, “Please tell me, why?”

The student would look at me and say, “I need time!” If I asked why he needed time, the answer was invariably, “I need time to find myself!”

There’s a whole generation of students out there trying to find themselves. And they’re all looking in the same place – themselves!

You could predict any one of them saying something like this: “Doc, I’m tired of playing the roles that others have prescribed for me! I’m tired of being the person my family expects me to be, that my friends expect me to be, that this school expects me to be, that the church expects me to be! I’ve got to peel away each of these socially prescribed identities and the socially generated personas. I’ve got to peel them away one by one and come to grips with the core of my being — the essence of my self hood!”

When I hear that kind of stuff, I get a bit queasy in my stomach, and I cannot help but say in return, “What if, after you peel away each of these socially prescribed identities and socially generated selves, you discover you’re an onion! What if you take that long guru journey into yourself, and when you get there — nobody’s home! Stop to consider the fact that if you peel away all the layers of an onion, guess what you have left? Nothing! And it just may be that when you take that trip to the innermost recesses of your soul, that’s exactly what you’ll find.”

I am convinced that the self is not an essence waiting to be discovered through philosophical introspection. Quite the contrary! I believe that the self is an essence waiting to be created! We create who we are through the commitments we make. And without commitments we have no identity. That’s why Jesus said, “Whosoever seeks to find himself, will lose himself. But, whosoever is willing to lose himself, for my sake and the sake of my Kingdom, will find himself.”

Jesus is telling us that it is in commitments to Him and the work that He has for us to do that we discover who we are and what our lives are all about.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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