Who Am I?

Bonhoeffer’s anguish and self-doubt ring so true they capture me.

Who Am I? (a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) 

 Who am I? They often tell me 

 I stepped from my cell’s confinement 

 Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, 

 Like a Squire from his country house. 

Who am I? They often tell me 

 I used to speak to my warders 

 Freely and friendly and clearly, 

 As though it were mine to command. 

Who am I? They also tell me 

 I bore the days of misfortune 

 Equably, smilingly, proudly, 

 like one accustomed to win. 

Am I then really that which other men tell of? 

 Or am I only what I myself know of myself? 

 Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, 

 Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, 

 Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, 

 Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, 

 Tossing in expectations of great events, 

 Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, 

 Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, 

 Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all. 

Who am I? This or the other? 

 Am I one person today and tomorrow another? 

 Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, 

 And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling? 

 Or is something within me still like a beaten army 

 Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? 

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. 

 Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! 

This is the most beautiful poem about self-doubt that I have ever read. Written in his jail cell, it was one of the last Bonhoeffer wrote before his execution by the Nazis for his ties to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer’s anguish and self-doubt ring so true they capture me. I cry out together with him. How many times have I found myself holding down contempt, prejudice, judgement, anger with one hand and blessing with the other? How many times am I harboring fear, hopelessness, even despair in my heart, but praising God with my mouth?  People say, “Oh what a wonderful person!” But I know the truth. 

Isn’t this what Paul meant when he cried out “what a wretched man I am!”? 

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 

Yes! Thanks be to God, He has delivered me from my self through Jesus Christ my Lord! I know (at least in my head I know, but it is working its way down into my heart!) that I am not part of the “beaten army fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved”- the victory achieved by our Lord on the Cross. I know, along with Bonhoeffer, to whom I belong. 

Yes, I know the truth about what is in my heart, but so does God. He knows I am a terminal mess in my flesh, but that my path is doggedly along the Narrow Way. I may be crawling through the mud most of the time, but He knows I am moving towards Him. My heart is wanting Him. He knows that whoever I am, I am His. 

Photo, Inside Looking Out, by José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez https://flic.kr/p/pz1jrM  

When You Are In Darkness

I will give you the treasures (storehouse, treasury, magazine of weapons in the armory of God)

of darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, obscurity, night)

and hidden wealth (buried treasure) of secret places,

So that you may know (perceive, recognize, comprehend, understand)

that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel,

who calls (summons, invites, calls for, calls and commissions, calls and endows, appoints) you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

Aurora borealis may be stunningly spread across the sky, but we may not be able to see because there is too much light. The darker the night, the better viewing … Your black clouds give the sun its chance. It is surprise, it is escape from darkness to light that makes life so rich. Your prison is also your paint box from which all the beauty you know is pouring. — Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic 

The dark is not your fault, the dark is not about blame. The dark is about bravely being a canvas for light — about courageously letting your dark be a canvas for sparks of God glory, a backdrop for ambers of mercy in the midst of your fire. — Ann Voskamp[i]  

When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light. — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you-the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death and, what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life. And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven. — A.W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian, pp. 124 

What to do with our losses? . . . We must mourn our losses. We cannot talk or act them away, but we can shed tears over them and allow ourselves to grieve deeply. To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness. Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing. . . . But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice. It is the voice of the One who says: “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.” That’s the unexpected news: there is a blessing hidden in our grief. Not those who comfort are blessed, but those who mourn! Somehow, in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden. Somehow, in the midst of our mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. Somehow, the cries that well up from our losses belong to our songs of gratitude. – Henri Nouwen

When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in.  Psalm 112:4a (NLT) 

Image copyright Derek Bair


[i] Ann Voskamp, The Christian Church, Suicide & Mental Health: When It’s Down to the Wire & Things Are on Fire, blog September 10, 2019 

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