Adapted from Chapter 10, “Claiming a New Identity”
There is nothing more transformative in human life than suffering. Whether it be from significant change, loss, grief, disruption, or despair, and Covid19 has been all of those for so many of us. Routines have been interrupted, ways of conducting one’s private and professional affairs have been altered, possibly forever. Many are facing another underlying crisis as they wrestle with identities that had been associated with tasks in the public arena, modes of transportation, office locations, and the varied nuances that we all too often come to believe are the things that make us who we are in the world. The rug has been pulled from under our feet.
But if the truth be told this disruption is the very kind of thing that just might awaken us all to life and life more abundantly. I have known this kind of awakening, the kind that turned me inside out, and totally destroyed all notions of who I had believed myself to be. My Covid19 came a number of years ago in the form of a mental health crisis.
I was diagnosed with a major depressive episode and I felt as though my life had been built on a foundation of toothpicks, as it shattered before my very eyes. Not long into the diagnosis, I had to come face to face with the question, who am I? Who was I without my role as pastor of a vital and rapidly growing congregation? I couldn’t get out of bed so I couldn’t show up for the life that I had built, for my husband nor for my daughters. I had built an identity that was totally rooted in my doing, striving, serving, working harder, and now this darkness had left me without a sense of who I was.
In the aftermath of my major depressive episode, what I call “the crash”, I have found a new source of identity. I am open to receiving God’s love, and feeling loved without having to do a darn thing has made me open to loving me for me. Now loving others comes easier, and there is so much joy in being myself without the weighty and tiresome burden of wearing a mask. I am learning to accept my personality and my God-given abilities and use them with wholehearted joy—not misusing them to gain approval from people.
In the search for my true identity, I’m learning to exercise and celebrate my uniqueness, my own way of being in the world. By nature I’m a risk-taker. As I’ve been growing, changing, expanding, it’s really transforming me in wildly wonderful ways. I’ve been willing to do some things that in the past I wouldn’t have done because they would have threatened the approval of others, but the new me is going for it. I realize now that I had turned my power over to all the people I was seeking approval from. God was teaching me how to be the authority in my own queendom, the queen of my own being. It felt like I was breathing for the first time in a long time. I was learning how to be me.
The “crash” has taught me that a secure identity comes from our relationship with God. The apostle John identified himself in his Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Does that mean he was the only one Jesus loved? Of course not. It means that Christ’s warm, strong, grace-filled acceptance was so overwhelming to John that it determined his very identity. It can determine ours too.
God doesn’t love us because we’ve earned it. Quite the opposite. That’s what grace is about! God opens wide the kingdom for God’s children, who are “dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12) and precious to God. Self-esteem doesn’t come by telling ourselves a million times that we are worthy, although that doesn’t hurt. Rather, it’s developed as we grasp the startling truth that God, in magnificent, benevolent, and wildly outrageous grace, loves us. I am growing more open to and seeing in fresh new ways how “some things [like great art, poetry, and music] are loved because they are worthy”—they possess an appreciable value— “and some things are worthy because they are loved.” You and I fall into the latter category.
Does that mean we sit on our butts and do nothing because we’ve been unconditionally accepted? Not at all. The grace of God energizes us and directs us to do two things: humbly give thanks and boldly take action. The more we integrate God’s grace into our hearts and heads, the freer we become from our childhood happiness programs, and we’ll stop re-creating our victimizing beliefs and instead be known for our hearts of gratitude and our glad acts of service. We’ll be present in the world out of a spaciousness that is far-reaching and life-giving to us and those around us as well. Some will not understand, but that is their work to do.
Our doing, no longer bound to the impositions of others’ opinions or expectations, will spring out of our deep and inexhaustible well of being.
Praise for Learning to Be
“Learning to Be is the book many of us have been waiting for. Juanita’s transparency and authenticity come through on every page. This is a book that not only gives you the tools for learning to be, but also learning to heal and thrive. You will cry, laugh, and appreciate the value of learning to love yourself fully and embrace the love of God deeply. More than once I found myself reading and saying, ‘Yes that’s me too. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone, thank you for using your own story and the lessons learned to offer the rest of us a roadmap.’ In Learning to Be you will be affirmed on the journey to be authentically you, whole and healed.”
—Romal Tune, author of Love Is an Inside Job: Getting Vulnerable with God
“Every perfectionist should read this book, every Southern ‘good girl,’ every person who has ever felt empty. ‘The reality is, many of us stand in a circle with stones in hand all too often,’ says Pastor Rasmus. Then she convinces us, her readers, to set down our stones.”
—Andrea White, novelist and civic leader
“Juanita and I have been friends for many years. I admire her preaching and teaching gifts, and value her generous contribution as a member of our Renovaré ministry team. Juanita describes herself as a type A personality. This is indeed true … although triple A might be a little more accurate description! Her ‘crash,’ as she describes her major depressive episode, was exactly that in every sense―physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I say all this to underscore for you the importance of Learning to Be. This is a book of genuine substance dealing with the most heart-wrenching needs of the human soul. Learning to Be is an essential resource for every person seeking to navigate life in contemporary culture. I recommend it highly.”
—Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and Sanctuary of the Soul
“Carl Rodgers wrote, ‘That which is most personal is most universal.’ Learning to Be by Juanita Rasmus is a book of autobiographical vulnerability about her ‘crash’ with a depressive mood disorder. In her candid reflection she creates a psycho/spiritual worldview that is a resource for us all. This is a must-read for all who seek to find a faith that is both practical and functional, a non-sentimental spirituality.”
—J. Pittman McGehee, Episcopal priest and author of The Paradox of Love
About the Author
Juanita Rasmus is a pastor, Spiritual Director, and contemplative with a passion for seeing people transform into being their best selves in our world. Juanita co-leads the St. John’s Church in Downtown Houston with her husband, Rudy.