What sets you apart? What makes you an individual? What is the basis for your existence? These are all ways we tend to define “identity,” that thing that we hold so dear. It’s the most personal thing about us. We like to call it the sum of everything we are and the difference between us and those by whom we are surrounded. At some point, and really through our whole lives, we’re constantly working out who we are, and it’s a necessary thing because we’d go bonkers if we couldn’t distinguish ourselves and our lives and boundaries from that of others…
…but is it possible that we’ve become too concerned about our personal identities?
It’s me. It’s who I am. It’s how I feel. It’s what I do. Who are you to question it? (**REMEMBER this question.)
Part 1: The Question
We’ve all asked that question before, right? Or maybe it was asked of us. Let’s be fair though–and I want to be fair for you as well, so you can ask this of those who challenge you. “Who am I? I am me.” If you have the grounds as a human being to do what you want, then so do I when I identify us both as human. Consider the playing field level. So identity isn’t confined to one and only one individual at a time. Identity is also collective. We can identify with each other. We can also identify too much with each other. That’s something we call co-dependence, when we identify so much with someone else that it inhibits our ability to function on our own for sensible periods of time. We can use the same criteria to identify us that we use to identify me.
It’s generally not a question of what identity is, but what are its components? What is it made of? What is its substance? Let me be blunt about the subtext of the question: is your identity made up of things that change or things that are constant?
Part 2: Your Identity Rides on Change
If you relate to that initial question, “Who are you to question me?” you probably feel like everyone else has at some point or another: feeling threatened. Someone observes you and probably has some kind of disagreement with you, or maybe a concern for you. If this is how you feel, you may identify yourself with things that change. Not long ago, I published a poll to see what people thought about what makes up their identity. Here are the results:
I purposefully selected those things and left out other things, because the list could go on forever. None of these things are invalidly used to identify a person, but can they really suffice for the core of our identity? I’ve tried a few of these myself, and though I haven’t been alive enough to personally experience them all, I have definitely witnessed them. Bear in mind that I don’t make this list to make anyone feel bad. In dealing with my own identity crises, I’ve had to be extremely honest with myself, and that’s why this list exists.
- *Impulses and thoughts. (You may only have them for the moment as perspectives change with experience.)
- *Substance abuse/addiction. (They always leave you wanting more, but more is never really enough, is it? and what is the cost to having a fuller, more satisfying life by satisfying our addictions and lusts?)
- Actions. (You may regret them.)
- Tastes and preferences. (They may erode with constant use.)
- Physical traits. (Age and accidents happen, as does change in health.)
- Personality. (Life events can radically change a person’s demeanor and behavior patterns.)
- Careers. (They can fall through with or without our consent, with or without the rest of the economy, with or without our health.)
- Accomplishments and abilities. (Do they really stack up when death comes knocking?)
- *Friends and family. (People change, whether they choose it or not. We are blessed to have them at all, let alone have them around until the day we die.)
- Beliefs. (Someone may challenge them, circumstances can make you question them, and you may lose them.)
- *Sin and sorrow. (Everyone makes mistakes and eventually sees a malicious side of themselves, and while they do lead to death, often in a slow way, and in both a spiritual and a physical sense, we’re not dead yet. That goes for both the sinner and the victim. While we are still alive, there is always hope for recovery and redemption. We also all experience heartache, but I promise that it is not the end-all.)
- (*These were not poll answers.)
It’s a lot to take in, I know. Maybe you’re also reading this and feeling offended. I’m not one to apologize for the gospel, but if any of that is hurtful to read, I am truly sorry. That having been said, I hope you will take time to think about that and ask yourself if something you read has some basis in reality. I am not the great corrector nor the judge of anybody: God is. Speaking of Whom…
Part 3: Your Identity Rides on Constancy
If the initial question, “Who are you to question me?” didn’t upset you, you may identify yourself with something constant. At this point, though, you may have gotten through that list for Part 2 and had a change of comfort. So here’s my only question for you: does your identity ride on something constant?
I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned in my brief two decades: identifying oneself is exhausting. Circumstances, weather, health, and people are so dynamic, so quickly changed or distanced. The most constancy a person can experience is their own life, and even that is tentative at best, but there is still hope.
Jesus’ love, death, and resurrection are fixed facts, giving hope to those who have a hard time believing it exists. When everything and everyone around points the finger to tell us we’re hopeless, there is Jesus, interceding for us and lifting us up by the message of His cross and the power of the Spirit. When who we are crumbles and everything we’ve known is lost, He IS. He is the one that gives us our identity, and by resting in Him and in His constancy, we find peace for our souls and rest from our fears.
“My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city. Those who were my enemies without cause hunted me like a bird. They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me; the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish. I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’ You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.'”—Jeremiah the prophet to Israel (Lamentations 3:49-57)