The Only True Identity

reclinerMy 84-year-old father, a former Air Force fighter pilot who traveled around the world, now spends his days mainly confined to his recliner. His liberty to get up and walk to the refrigerator, let alone travel or even run an errand, is gone.

He has lived in the same room for three years now, yet every time he enters it he asks if that is the place he is staying tonight. The voice and memory that used to regale us with stories again and again can only cryptically be understood.

Many things he sees on TV become instant sources of confusion to him, as he’s unable to understand they are not real or happening hundreds of miles away.

About the only choice my father has left to make for himself is whether to eat or not.

The only possession that has any real value to him is his walker, which enables the 20 or 30 steps a day his legs can still muster.

Liberty, memory, understanding, all his possessions, and most of his will have been taken.

I see this day in and day out and am baffled at anyone who would freely choose such a state in life. Most of us, if given the choice, would likely spend everything we had to prevent living in such a state or would even prefer death if God would be so generous.

And yet, somehow, in his Contemplation to Attain Divine Love, in reflecting on the unfathomable love and generosity God has shown him, St. Ignatius is brought to a point of practically begging God to have such a life as my father’s. It is not out of guilt over sin, nor is his petition coming from a place of self sacrifice and desire to experience suffering. Instead it comes as nothing other than a response to being loved; to knowing he is so infinitely loved by God that nothing short of his liberty, memory, understanding, possessions, and even his entire will would meet Ignatius’s own desire to respond in kind. To give all of his identity was the only way Ignatius could express the, “Thank you, Lord. I love you, too,” that was in his heart.

Perhaps Ignatius realized that at some point, for most of us, whether freely given or not, all we think comprises our identity will be taken from us anyway, as it has been from my father. Perhaps Ignatius realized that the only true identity any of us have is as one who is loved by God.

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Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Amen! God is ever at work in our hearts and minds just bringing us back to that reality of our own mortality. I thank Jesus for His death, burial,.and resurrection, our victory over the grave was won by His death on the cross–oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory!

    • I worked for 24 years as a nurse, first in a nursing home and then as a hospice nurse. I changed countless dressings, managed medications and fed so many helpless people. I gave hundreds of baths. Some of the people whose bodies I bathed were dead. A lot of the difficulty people experienced was related to aging.
      Now I’m the old person. The younger “independent” me was completely in God’s hands. God taught me that. That reality never changes no matter where we are in our life trajectory. I’m not afraid.

  2. It is so true that our true identity is in being a person unconditionally loved by God. I pray the Suscipe every morning and with my whole heart I ask God to help me to desire only God’s love and God’s grace and to make that sufficient for me. It is not an easy prayer for me – this total emptying of myself. Thank you for reminding me of the gravity of this prayer. Blessings for your father.

  3. This is a sobering,yet comforting, post. We can easily pray the Suscipe without really thinking about the deep meaning, God alone suffices and in the end it is a love that goes on……
    Thank you, Lisa


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