“How Do You Know Me?” — Words and Self-Identity

I dedicate this poem to all who have gathered courage to climb a mountain, look out over the world, and speak—and then, startled by strange echoes, wondered who the speaker really was.


“HOW DO YOU KNOW ME?”
John 1:47-49; 2:24-25; 21:17

The more I post my words abroad
For hearers near and far,
In true attempt to share with other souls,
Athirst or not,
The meager growth in understanding I have felt
And feel we want still more;
The more my words, as arrows blown beyond my sight,
Are heard by those who know me not
And cannot weigh with knowing minds
The heart and mind from whence those words took flight.

From distant minds more words return,
Words launched in echo to my own,
Each bearing freight of praise unmerited
Or censure crisply drawn.
My words are weighed on varied scales.
And not my words alone:
Hearts that I cannot measure well, or fairly,
Do not wait to weigh my own,
Assigning mental skill,
Fidelity,
Or motive liberally.

How shall I weigh these words?
They rightly rouse me to appraise my heart, and yet
Unequal weights abominations are,
And mock the truest scales.

For even love paints me with double tongue:
Its words of thanks and warning fall
In overlapping strokes upon my ear
Until a muddled portrait now appears.
Unless I am two men at once, or more,
I cannot be the man of whom all speak.

By Judge, not jury, we’ll at last be tried
(Though judged as mutual jurors, side by side)

And so:
One word alone I long to hear,
The word of Him who spoke this spinning sphere in space—
Whose words I must proclaim, no more, no less—
Who needs no witness, knowing what’s in man
(And knowing all, you know I love you, too),
Who underneath the fig tree saw my soul
Before I knew his name—
May He, the King, proclaim:
“An Israelite indeed, in whom there’s no deceit!”

—Dwight Gingrich, December 2015


For most people, self-identity is largely rooted in community. When our community offers a coherent and consistent reading of our souls, our confidence is bolstered. We know who we are, and we speak who we are. (This is a very biblical reality. For only one example, see Romans 12:3-8.)

But when our community expands, multiplies, or otherwise changes, divergent readings of our soul may be offered, and our self-identity can be shaken. At worst, such inconsistent echoes threaten to unhinge us mentally, destroying all confidence in our own ability to hear, to assess, to know anything at all for sure. Who am I, really? And dare I continue to speak, when speaking only increases the echoes that lay claim to my ears?

We are not competent to weigh our own hearts. But One is. He will weigh both our hearts and our words. In him we rest, and for his sake we speak—and will continue to speak, God willing, in 2016.


Writers, speakers, teachers—anyone: Have you ever experienced what I express in this poem? How do you process the diverse feedback that your words awaken? How do you discern when and how to let this feedback change your future words? How do you write and speak for an Audience of One without disregarding the needs and perspectives of your audience of many? And how do you learn from your audience of many without letting your Audience of One lose command of your words? Send me more echoes in the comments below.


PS: It was a lot of fun for both Mom and I to exchange normal roles and have her give me feedback as I made final decisions about this poem. I thank her for her help, yet any remaining flaws are entirely my own. One line in particular gave me no end of grief. My wife couldn’t make sense of it, Mom wasn’t sure about it, and I tried well over a dozen variants before I finally settled half contentedly on one, only since it was time to publish. So I’ll leave you with the explanation I gave my wife: Sometimes it’s good to have a line or two that leaves the reader completely stymied, with no sure way of knowing exactly what the author intended. This forces the reader to consider multiple possible readings, each with its own moral implications. Thus the reader enjoys multiple opportunities for moral improvement. 🙂 So puzzle and reflect—and let me know if you think you know which line robbed so much of my time.


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19 thoughts on ““How Do You Know Me?” — Words and Self-Identity”

  1. Dwight, I thought this was one of your mom’s poems till I got to the end. Until then I was thinking “here’s another woman writer who really gets it,” and I was excitedly trying to figure out what kind of writing she has done besides poetry that elicits the responses the poem references. I don’t have any trouble understanding why it’s reflective of your experience. You said it really well. Is the “mutual jurors” line the one that gave you grief? It’s the one I read over several times initially, before I thought I understood and moved on. I always tell my composition class students that once your words go out, you lose control of them. For some of us that thought is paralyzing–until we check again with the One who assigns our tasks, to make sure we’ve heard correctly. Courage follows, and action is possible again. It sounds cliche and the expression is ever-so-easily misappropriated, but I’ve had to humble myself enough to say these words: “i know that what I did doesn’t make sense, but I did it because God told me to.” It’s actually been freeing to me to realize that fallout from something I’ve written is not really my responsibility, if I have heard the Lord right in writing it. He is responsible. On my part, a desire to control outcomes can actually be–well, controlling–which is a very different stance from leaving the results with God. Talking to the Lord often and hearing from him often is really the only way to move forward in writing, in my experience.

    1. To Miriam and Rosina and Dwight. Sorry to have disappointed you, Miriam. Most of my writing has been subject to editorial approval so that limits what sees the “light of printing.” Even without venturing far into the controversial I still can relate to the experiences of rejection and confusion and yes, Rosina, the silence which can be deafening and disheartening to a writer in her closet. Spoken interaction can raise the same confusion of identity when one tries to present a balanced view of a topic, to the terror or disapproval of someone focused on one ditch only. How easily one can be labelled.
      Dwight, as soon as you read the first draft of this poem to me, my spirit resonated…Yes this is poetry. Yes this is a writer’s experience…so I am pleased to see other writer’s respond with affirmation. May God direct our writing to His glory in 2016, no matter the silence or the echoes. The responsibility to also live the truth I write has always been a humbling one to me.

    2. Miriam, really good thoughts on listening to God versus trying to control how others receive our words. The two are not mutually exclusive, but they are certainly not the same thing, either, and only one is primary.

      Congratulations on identifying the stubborn line! 🙂 And should I swell with pride that my poetry was mistaken for my mother’s, or should I fear my voice is not manly enough? I’ll go with the former and say my words expressed something common to humanity.

      God bless you as you listen, read, and write.

  2. To both Dwight and Miriam: I have benefitted greatly from your thoughtful, mature writing. And I mean that sincerely.

    Although my writing has been on a much smaller scale, I feel that sense of faltering identity. Yes, negative feedback hurts, but so does silence. Often I feel the treasures of my heart floating out into that big, empty space, and wonder if writing is worth the effort.

    Thank you for the reminder from both of you to listen carefully to the Lord, and to strive to please Him above all else.

  3. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing that. Yes, I do identify with some of the things you say. I find that when the clouds descend and the voices confuse, there is only one voice that can direct my mind through mist and fog—the unmistakable voice of the Shepherd in the sacred lines of Scripture. “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.” (Ps 118:8). “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25). Praise the Lord!

    1. Thanks, Eddie! Yes, to listen humbly to an “abundance of counselors” while trusting fully only in the Lord—that is the ongoing challenge. Blessings to you as you think and write, too.

  4. Writing poetry takes “heart”, sharing your poetry takes courage. I’m glad you did both. I’ve read this through 3-4 times now. It strikes a deep chord. Somehow you’ve captured probably every writer’s feelings of joy/dread when what you have written is read from a prospective that you never intended. Sometimes people’s reactions can be intimidating- but yet, as one of my daughters keeps telling me, speak truth boldly and God will do the rest! He’s the one that will work on people’s hearts as they read the words.

  5. But when our community expands, multiplies, or otherwise changes, divergent readings of our soul may be offered, and our self-identity can be shaken. At worst, such inconsistent echoes threaten to unhinge us mentally, destroying all confidence in our own ability to hear, to assess, to know anything at all for sure. Who am I, really? And dare I continue to speak, when speaking only increases the echoes that lay claim to my ears?

    We are not competent to weigh our own hearts. But One is. He will weigh both our hearts and our words. In him we rest, and for his sake we speak—and will continue to speak, God willing, in 2016.

    Probably one of my big struggles over the years is with the changes that communities go through that shake us and challenge our identity. Who we are and what we believe. On a younger level our adopted children really have the challenge of words wondering if anyone understands the cries of their hearts. Don’t know you well enough to figure out the line that perplexed you.

    1. That’s right—quite apart from whether or how much we speak, the communities around experience changes over time that can test our sense of identity. I suspect that experience is more true the older one gets. I’m old enough to have some sense of what you mean.

      Miriam (see comment above) guessed my problem line. 🙂

  6. I identify with this in the way that people read my words and then walk up to me and say they feel they know me, and I think “You have no idea.” Not because my words are inaccurate, but it’s only one dimension of me, and I don’t like to be flattened like that.
    Then there are times, like now, when I have no words for public consumption, and it makes me wonder who I am. Which means my words are a bigger part of my self-identity than I realize or admit. What a scrambled puzzle!

    1. Good to hear from you, Anita! And yes, what a scrambled puzzle. “How do you know me?” leads to “How do I know me?” and both words and having nothing to say shape our self-identity.

      God bless you as you lie fallow, waiting for another season of bearing literary fruit. At the right time you will flourish all the more richly for the dormancy of winter’s season.

  7. I try to remember that I am not as good as people who like me think I am. I am not as bad as my critics think I am. The truth is somewhere in between. I need the encouragement of people who like me and I need to hear the voices of my critics. I have changed my words at times in response to my critics. They have valid points. I always want to remain a learner. If we put our words out there and play to the approving crowd and all that keeps us going is the praise of others, then when the critic speaks we are crushed. If we speak for praise, then criticism is devastating. If we put our thoughts out there in words and expect a variety of responses then we can be okay with some praise and some criticism.

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