Who Are You?
Who are you? Take just a minute before reading any further and try to answer that question. Most basically, you might respond by giving your name, but does this really explain who you are? Maybe you refer to one or more of your familial roles such as, "I'm a wife, a mother, or a daughter." Men, more often than women, will refer to their professional roles, by noting that they are "a teacher, mechanic, or doctor." We tend to link who we are to the purpose we see ourselves serving. Most will answer this question with a mix of these categories in order to give a picture of who they are. Although not many people would likely admit it, some define themselves by their social status, yearly income, or physical appearance. How did you answer?
How we define ourselves is referred to as our identity. It's closely associated with terms like self-worth and self-esteem. Although I'm not going to talk a whole lot about self-esteem here, I did write an entire blog post on the topic and I'd encourage you to check out that related article here. However, suffice it to say that our sense of self-worth/esteem is directly linked to our identity.
Let's take a closer look at that list of things where most often people find their identity. Do you recognize the one thing they all have in common? Every single one of them is unstable. If my identity is found in being a mother, meaning, it's not simply a role that I have, but it is who I am, I center my life around my children and find my sole purpose within that role, what happens once they grow up, leave home, or are taken from me by unexpected or tragic circumstances such as death? The same applies to any familial role in which we may find our identity. Marriages end when one spouse dies or decides to divorce. Even if the relationship we are finding our purpose in doesn't end in a separation of sorts, that person is only a human being, flawed and capable of letting us down and disappointing us within that relationship. If my spouse is where I find my identity and he or she betrays me, suddenly my identity is called into question. My "self-esteem/worth" becomes devastated by their failure.
The moral of the story is we cannot find our identity in our relationships with other people, so we must find it within ourselves, right? This view is often touted by the world and "Oprah-ology," yet it poses the exact same problems. When we look to our own accomplishments, physical attributes (e.g., athleticism, fitness, beauty), income level, or social status, we tread on fragile and dangerous ground. We neglect to see the capricious nature of these things. A car accident can instantly rob someone of any physical attribute they were prizing and even prevent them from returning to a successful career. The number in our checkbook can fluctuate depending on the economy and other circumstances beyond our control. Now, if all of these things are going well, then we are likely to feel confident and wonderful, but the moment these things nosedive, so does our sense of who we are, our identity. Your level of contentment and happiness becomes like a yo-yo.
Most folks, when life's circumstances are going well, don't give much thought to where they are planting identity roots. It's only when the storms of life hit that I usually meet people who will often say, "I don't know who I am anymore!" So many people come into my office for counseling and are worried that they have Bipolar Disorder. More often than not, we discover that the mood swings they are concerned about are directly linked to their life circumstances. Suddenly their sense of identity is called into question and their emotional stability looks more like a roller coaster as they look to the next thing and the next thing to sink their anchor of self worth. When the very things or people they've depended upon to define them end up failing them, their emotions are thrust into turmoil. Helping them to see they have unintentionally created this "link" is where the work of counseling begins. However, it's unrealistic to simply uproot all of someone's "identity anchors." Throughout scripture, the concept of "putting on" and "putting off" is presented.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 22-24)
Let's break the Ephesians verse down a bit. First of all, let's acknowledge the genius that our Creator is! He knows us better than we know ourselves. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
The Lord knows that it is unrealistic for us to simply put off or stop thinking and doing things the way we naturally do. We must have something better to replace our old patterns and ways. Notice, how that verse in Ephesians says that our old self is "corrupted by its deceitful desires." What deceitful desires are being referred to here? I think we could argue that our "old self," the natural man, apart from knowing who he is in Christ, desires other things more than he desires God (e.g., money, love and acceptance from people, status, beauty, etc.). The apostle Paul calls these desires deceitful because the desire within us lies, it says that these things will bring contentment, joy, and peace. Yet, what we find over and over and over again, is that they continually fail to deliver. These things will always only bring temporary satisfaction that quickly fades. Shiny counterfeits robbing our souls of what they truly need.
Think of an abstract work of art. Certainly, people are inclined to interpret its meaning and beauty through their own personal lense. However, only the artist really knows its interpretation or underlying expression. We are able to more fully appreciate the art when we understand the artist's intent behind the piece. Scripture tells us that God is the Creator of all things seen and unseen (Colossians 1:16). If He indeed created you, wouldn't He be the One who knows you best and therefore be the only place to discover your true identity?
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So what exactly is this new identity or "new creation" referred to in 2 Corinthians? Notice that verse in Ephesians says this new self has a very specific purpose, to be "like God in true righteousness and holiness." In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells us that the goal for every person is that they look more like Jesus.
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29a)
Now we know where to look for our true identity, but how exactly do we grab hold of it? It's actually not complicated, we do what the bible tells us to do through repentance and faith. Repentance means that we acknowledge that God is right and confess that we have been wrong. In prayer, we tell God that we are guilty of seeking our own way and guilty of loving other things/people more than Him. Does this mean that you instantly love Him more? No, however, that is a work He promises to do in your heart over time. As you "put on" Christ, by turning to Him and confessing your deceitful desires, He will begin to change your heart and your desires. Ask Him to help you find your identity in Him, that's a prayer request He is always willing to grant. Pick up a bible, find a local church, determine to learn more about the One who created you and His purpose for you. Put your faith in Him, just as you would a parachute. You wouldn't jump from a plane and trust your arms to flap hard enough to save you. No, you would put on a parachute and put all of your trust in its ability and design to open and land you safely. In the same way, do not rely on yourself to find salvation and the fruits of it (i.e., peace, joy, contentment), trust Him to do what He says He will, if only you are willing to seek Him through repentance and faith.
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12)