Releasing my identity.

3 May

This post has been in the works for the past month. I’m sure I’ll discover more in the future that could be added to it.

It all started the day I was pondering why changing jobs made me feel like a completely different person. I was obviously still me – I’ll be me for all of eternity. But I felt different. I identified myself as a different person. Before, I worked in an office doing marketing for a nonprofit ministry. Now I worked at home coordinating volunteers and vendors for a nonprofit racing company.

I realized how much of our identities are dependent on and relative to external factors. When a person does engineering, they say “I am an engineer.” When a woman has a baby, she says “I am a mother.” When two people get married, they say “We are married.” In the Spanish language, there are 2 forms of the verb “to be” – there is the permanent, definitive form “ser” and there is the temporary, transient form “estar.” All of the sentences I wrote above would use the permanent form. “I am [these things]”, which is just another way of saying “These things are me.”

We define ourselves by external things, whether we want to or not. Even making the objection “I don’t define myself by external things” is defining yourself – you are identifying yourself as a person who does not identify themselves.

This is made even more evident when trying to ponder what you think makes up your identity. How do you identify yourself? Some people would say “I’m a friend, a brother, a boyfriend.” Relationships to other people. Other people would say “I’m smart, energetic, playful, and funny.” But without examples of stupidity, laziness, seriousness, and boring in other people or situations, we would have nothing on which to gauge our individual attributes. Still other people would revert to their careers, (“I’m a lawyer”), their hobbies (“I’m a golfer”), their possessions (“I’m a millionaire”), their prestige (“I’m a Harvard grad”), or their success (“I’m the youngest CEO in this company’s history.”) Notice how all of those statements are relative to something external.

Try to think of something you could say about yourself that isn’t related to something outside of yourself. Even statements about emotions you embody, like “I am compassionate,” can only be true as they find expression outside of yourself. You can say you’re compassionate – but it is not proven until you are compassionate toward someone else.

When D and I were in Salt Lake City 2 weekends ago, we got lost driving from our hotel to the race site. I usually know which direction is north, but I had gotten totally turned around. What I thought was north actually was south. D suggested we just follow the directions I had written down instead of trying to figure out which direction was which. I got really offended and even at the time, I knew it was a silly thing to be mad over. Looking back on it later, I realized that being good with directions (not just ones from Google but the compass directions) was part of my identity. I had been subconsciously thinking of myself “I am good with directions and can find my way around easily.” When that identity was questioned or threatened, I got defensive and angry.

Since that trip, numerous other situations have revealed facets of my so-called identity – facets I didn’t even know about, facets that only reveal themselves when challenged, threatened or belittled.

I have become increasingly aware of the reason why the Bible commands us to find our identity in Christ. God knows that we, as humans, naturally find our identities outside of ourselves. We use the world around to us to figure it out. Even as Christians, God doesn’t expect us to figure out who we are by ourselves, by looking inside of us. Instead, He tells us who we are. He shows us whose we are. And He tells us to find our identities in Christ.

What does that mean – to find our identity in Christ? It’s one of those phrases that is thrown around a lot and I wonder how many people pause long to think about the meaning of what they’re saying. I think finding your identity in Christ means to let every other definition of yourself die, so that the only one remaining is that of a sinner saved by grace. If indeed that was the only definition you were clinging to, there would be nothing in this world that could shake you, disturb you, frustrate you, or disappoint you.

My struggle with feeling like I should be doing more than I am doing and my resulting feelings of guilt, I think, come from wanting to identify myself as a person who makes a difference. I am trying to make my identity be something other than Christ and of course, am encountering emotional turmoil. That is the sure result of ever trying to identify ourselves with something other than Christ.

Right now, I am re-reading Desiring God by John Piper and then I am going to re-read We Would See Jesus. Two amazing books full of the exact truths that I need to hear right now. Here is one of the life-changing passages from We Would See Jesus, that especially applies to my feeling of needing to serve:

“At first sight it seems heroic to fling our lives away in the service of God and of our fellows. We feel it is bound to mean more to Him than our experience of Him. Service seems so unselfish, whereas concentrating on our walk with God seems selfish and self-centered. But it is the very reverse. The things that God is most concerned about are our coldness of heart towards Himself and our proud, unbroken natures…

“This does not mean that God does not want us engaged actively in His service. He does; but His purpose is often far different from what we think. Our service, in His mind, is to be far more the potter’s wheel on which He can mold us than the achieving of those spectacular objectives on which we set our hearts.”

Piper echoes this sentiment – that we exist to glorify God and we glorify God by enjoying Him. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” When we are satisfied in Christ being our only identity. When we have to hold onto nothing of this world to validate who we are. We don’t have to have the right job, the right clothes, car, body, hair, face, talent, personality, friends, hobbies, or service.

This is most liberating thought in the world to me. I can enjoy movies, flowers, thunderstorms, ice cream, good books, warm blankets, lazy Sundays, and my wonderful husband because they all reveal God to me. He is present in everything. I am here to know God and to enjoy Him. And only one thing is sufficient for defining myself: I am a sinner, saved by grace alone through Christ alone.

I still want to serve the needy somehow. But the feeling of guilt is gone. I am not just here to make this world a better place – I am here to know God and can do that in many different ways. I am a treasure to God, regardless of what I do for His kingdom. He just wants me to know and love Him about everything else. And when that is my focus, everything else feels manageable. He alone is my reward and my prize.

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