My husband has been in construction for his entire career. For most of that time, he has designed homes and checked on them as they were being built. Being around him has taught me the importance of the building’s foundation. Once it is set, that’s where the building will stand. If it’s too close to the property line, tough. If it’s out of square, or the wrong size, tough. If it is too weak to support the weight of the building, tough. The foundation can’t be changed without tearing down the entire structure.
Like houses, our lives are built on a foundation also. It’s not as visible. But it is just as integral to our identity. Our foundation is what we see as determining who we are and our place in the world. It provides our security (or lack thereof) that we are “OK”. It is our gut-instinct answer to the question “Who am I?”
Our foundation is often made up of a multitude of subconscious voices, the “foundation blocks”, absorbed by osmosis via our life experiences. The way we were raised, the messages we heard, and the much-louder messages we saw acted out during our childhood are major contributors. So, too, are our experiences as we grew older: friends, culture — books, movies, music — role models, mentors.
It can be interesting to attempt an objective analysis: Exactly why is “that” so important to me? Does it really deserve that level of importance?
What do I mean? What kind of foundations do people have as the basis for their identities? Some foundation “blocks” that occur to me include:
- Money: Wealth is what defines a person. The more, the merrier. Gaining money is the driving feature. Spending money brings happiness; hoarding it brings security.
- Possessions: Being surrounded by my things makes me safe. I’ll always have what I need handy. I won’t forget any of my memories when I have the souvenirs to validate them. If my stuff is fancier or nicer than someone else’s stuff, so much the better.
- Fame: Who I know, and am known by, determines how valuable I am. Having followers, being listened to, being seen, tells me that I am special.
- Power: Being above others — having them defer to me, knowing that I can get by with things that others can’t — tells me that I am “more”.
- Beauty: If I look good, then I am good.
- I am “less”, or at least feel like I am treated that way. There’s no point in trying. Everything is against me and I’ll never make progress.
- Being the underdog — the one with no expectations, the one collecting sympathy — means that I can take what I want without having to work for it. A victim gets compensated; they don’t have to earn because “stuff” is already owed to them.
- Accomplishment: Being the winner, the one who finishes first, tells me that I’m better than the second-place has-been’s.
- Family: Who my ancestors are, or how important my children grow to be, or how much my family loves me…those are the things that tell me my place in the world.
- Education: Having the most prestigious degrees, being the smartest or most knowledgeable one in the room, makes me worth the time and attention of others.
- Character: Being the nice one, the righteous one, the one everybody likes…these things make me distinctive.
- Or, being the one to avoid, the grating personality, the bully, is another way of defining myself and setting myself apart from the simply “average”.
- Gender Identity and Sexuality: Male, female, either, both, neither, straight, gay, bi…When I think of “Who am I?”, these are what define me.
- Productivity: Being the one who works hardest, or who can solve the problem…Being useful makes me valuable.
How strong are those foundations? What can make them crumble? What would happen to my life if they did fail? My personal favorite blocks are being “the smart one” and being “the nice one”. But in any given group, there is a good chance of someone being smarter and/or nicer than I am. What do I do then?
Can My Foundation Stand Alone?
One criteria could be: If I were on a desert island all by myself, with basic survival assured but no one else around, how much would any of the blocks above mean to me?
The answer to that criteria would be: “Pretty much … nothing.” All of those are really more external than internal. None of them make sense without someone else for comparison. Even gender, other than basic biological reality, is used to define a way of interacting with others.
The Only Foundation That Stands
There has to be something better. I want my life to be supported by something that can’t be taken away, that doesn’t depend on others. I don’t want a crumbly foundation!
Enter … God.
Well, not really “enter”. He’s always been there, since He is the One Who laid “the foundations of the world” (Job 38:4-7, Psalm 102:25-27). He is the One Who chose to decree that all human beings are special, made in His own image 1.
Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.Luke 6:47-49
The Old Testament book of Proverbs says: “When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” (Proverbs 10:25) But the Bible also teaches that no one is righteous on their own: “There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 53:2-3) However, anyone who trusts in Jesus can acquire His righteousness in place of their own un-righteousness: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Standing on the Foundation of Jesus
Once my identity is “Christian” — once I choose to accept Jesus as my Saviour — that overrules all other foundation blocks. My life is founded on Him. That foundation will never crumble 2, and will hold even when I stand alone to face God for eternity. It doesn’t matter if I am rich or poor, famous or infamous, attractive or ugly, smart or stupid. All I need to be is “His”.