When I was a wee-intern three years ago, my university supervisor and I had a long conversation about self-differentiation. Basically, I used the word and then he asked me 325097 questions about why I would use that expression and talk about striving for it at my age and blah dibbity blah.
As a young ambitious youth worker, self-differentiation was easy. I didn't care what each and every person thought of me. I cared what 6 people thought of me, maybe 7. I could separate my self-definition from their imposed definition. I could separate my emotions about the success of Thursday evening bible study (mmm, do we call that success or utter failure?) from my self-definition. I could do it without blinking an eyelash. I was impervious to most things.
What they forget to tell you when they hand you the diploma and send you on your way is that as these adverse reactions or questioning emails or poorly received ideas build up, you lose your immunity. Like an aging woman barraged with seasonal viruses, with each situation the difficulty compounds. Over time, you forget to remind yourself that Lorene's opinion of the Sunday School program doesn't define your ability to effectively share Christ with kids. You forget that you can share Christ with 3 pennies, no pennies or $35,000. You forget.
Despite my every attempt to keep my self-definition separate from negativity, it's wandered in, stealthfully, like the H1N1 into the corners of our world. Imperviosity has departed from me and I'm left to learn the real process of self-differentiation.
Self-differentiation requires the ability to meaningfully connect with each person, their concerns, their hopes, their problems with you, and walk away from them knowing that you aren't ultimately defined by any of those things. It's harder than I expected. I want to wave some sort of magic Jesus wand on my heart and make it content.
Faithfulness to God's redemption in me is much more challenging than simple acknowledgment or redemption's existence. Faithfulness to Christ's redemption in me requires that I set aside my feelings about myself, good or bad, and move forward in the mission of the Church. What I strive for is no longer self-differentiation, but self-loss.