The red light always flashed reliably in the dark distant sky.
When I was young, every Christmas Eve, my family traveled to a nearby town to visit relatives, and then drove home through miles of cornfield. For most of the drive, in the distance, there was a tower with a red light blinking on top of it. For years, I wondered if it was Rudolph’s nose. As I grew older, the mystery of it wore off, but I still watched that red light blink rhythmically in the black night sky. It’s difficult to remember a single childhood Christmas gift, but I remember that red light. It was steady and still.
It was the icon of a silent night.
Now, many years later, as I talk with people about this holiday we are about to observe, most of them tell me they prefer the silent night over the celebratory day that follows. Our hearts, it seems, gravitate toward stillness. Why? Because our hearts know silence always precedes the one gift all of us are truly searching for:
Our true selves.
For years, I didn’t listen to my heart. For years, as a therapist, I struggled to help people with identity formation. I thought identity was built and created through lots of blood, sweat, and tears. It was frustrating and fruitless. I always felt a little more like a failure as a therapist. And I suspect my clients usually felt a little more like a failure as a human.
I don’t believe in identity formation anymore.
Because figuring out who we are isn’t about making something new; it’s about seeing something old. There’s no such thing as identity formation; there is only identity recognition. There is only a new awareness of something original in us. In the end, we don’t make something of ourselves; we glimpse something of ourselves.
How do we finally recognize who we already are?
We get quiet. We get silent. We stop doing. We start abiding. We let our waters get still, until, in the glassiness of our silent inner night, we can see who we really are. Who we’ve always been. We see, in the darkness of a holy night, the beautiful gift we’ve been waiting for all along.
Who are you?
Better yet, who are you not?
You are not your shame and you are not your glory. You are not your mistakes and your failures, and you are not your perfection and your success. You are not your losses and you are not your wins. You are not your disappointments and your disbelief, and you are not your happiness and your certainty. You are not the wounds you’ve wound up with along the way, and you are not the wounds you’ve avoided all along. You are not your bitter anger or your trembling fear or your bottomless sorrow or your utter joy or your moments of ecstasy.
That stuff is all just your wrapping paper.
You are the gift you find underneath.
You are already the thing you’ve always wanted to be. You are enough. You are worthy of every compliment you can summon the courage to receive. You matter and you belong. You are as simple and as sublimely beautiful as your next breath. You are the redemptive heartbeat of the universe. You are the compassion you can’t contain. You are a creator of beauty. You are a light. And you are the grace that knows everyone else is also a gift, just like you.
Tonight, let silence happen, and allow yourself to glimpse the gift that is you.
Tomorrow, start unwrapping.
And don’t ever stop.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.