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Even now, I can harken back to those painful, awkward days of middle school. We have two grandsons living it, now; not much has changed. The subtle, and not-so-subtle cruelties which occur among otherwise well-behaved children have remained as each seek to discover his/her identity. Who am I apart from my parents? And why am I here?
David Benner, a psychologist and author of the book “The Gift of Being Yourself,” defines identity as “who we experience ourselves to be — the I each of us carries within.” (https://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product) The truth is, we often feel pressured by our peers to define ourselves by our looks, clothes, jobs or possessions.
But what happens to our identity when we lose those things?
Trying on Identities
Erik Erikson, 20th century developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, was known for his theory on the psychological development of human beings. His stages of psychosocial development are still in place today, placing the search for identity between the ages between 12 and 18. Unfortunately for some parents, modern youth are taking longer to find their identity until mid to late twenties. This leads to delayed development.
And young adults’ failure to launch can put a strain on mom and dad’s budget…
“Misconstrued identity is the atomic bomb of this generation,” my former pastor once said, (Tony Merida). Ironically, when the search for identity becomes premier in our lives, satisfaction with life declines. Or, as pastor and writer Frederick Buechner put it:
The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, (https://amzn.to/3fu5Ckz)
Can you remember doing that as a teen or young adult?…I can.
It is perfectly normal and healthy for adolescents to “try on” identities. After all, they are discovering who they are apart from their parents. However, it becomes detrimental when that adolescent search is carried into adulthood. Moreover, the ongoing search for identity creates – or feeds – insecurity. And as most of us know, insecurity can lead to poor choices in relationships and life.
Where Do We Find It?
We can spend years on social media or checking out our friends (or strangers) to determine our identity. In the end, though, it all only brings dissatisfaction and despair. C. S. Lewis said it far more succinctly:
Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (https://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product)
Our personal identities are generally gleaned from family, early life experiences, how and if we were loved. Being exposed to the love of God in childhood, or not, also helps form identity. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to look to other insecure, frail humans for the answer to our identity question. However, Paul said in 2 Corinthians that isn’t wise.
For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
2 Corinthians 10:12, NKJV
Being confident in who we are feels like a scary thing for young people…and for some all of their lives. There are so many voices willing to scream negativity at you, both inside your head and outside.
If you don’t believe me, spend 30 minutes on social media.
God Knows Who You Are
Therefore, we must be looking in the wrong places in the search for identity. The beautiful truth is – God knows exactly who each of us is.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16, ESV
It brings such assurance to realize that God has known me since before I was even formed in my mother’s womb. He knew who I was then and who I was going to be. His Word says I am, and you are uniquely and wonderfully made.
Do you ever think that about yourself?
God’s Chosen Ones
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9, ESV
God’s chosen people. God’s special possession…I don’t know about you, but there weren’t many times in my early years when I felt that special.
Not only that, as followers of Christ, God lavishes His love on us. Just dwell on that word for a minute – lavish. Have you ever been the receiver of something so extravagant that you were speechless? Or perhaps you felt like you didn’t deserve something so costly or luxurious.
The truth is, we didn’t deserve the price Jesus paid, yet the Father sought us out like the hound of heaven, as C. S. Lewis said. He sacrificed His Son for us. He lavished His love on us.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!…
1 John 3:1, ESV
At the heart of what it means to be a Christian is to receive a new identity. In Jesus, we do not lose our true selves, but we become our true selves, only in Him.
The Father knows who you are. He is intimately acquainted with all of your ways.
Let Him define your identity.
It’s better than anything you’ll ever find in this world.
Lauren Daigle’s song, “You Say”, resonates what I’m trying to say today. Enjoy!