I’m in college, so obviously I’m still figuring out my identity. I’ve been working on it since I first started being aware of identity - middle school. I’m not sure there is a more self aware age. Now that I have had a few years to practice since middle school, I think I’m finally beginning to grasp what it looks like to have one. When I was younger, my parents always told me, “Your identity is who you are in Christ. Never let something temporary take the place of that.” At the time I thought that meant it was okay to let other characteristics define me as long as I placed God as number one. I let things like how well I did in school, or if I had a lot of friends, carry a lot of weight in how I saw myself. In middle school, part of my identity was playing soccer. (Although, if I’m being honest, anyone who watched me play soccer probably questioned that.)
Sometimes the things I consider my identity fail me. The devastation I feel at the loss alerts me that I’m placing those things above God. I’ve made this part of me too central to who I am. I try to let go and remind myself again who I am and why I’m important. Pieces of who I thought I was have fallen away as I discover that those things aren’t who I am. I’ve changed a lot and failed being the person I thought I was so many times. Most of what I used to consider as my identity has changed.
My friend, Amy Bumpus, once told me that who we are isn’t based on our behavior, and what we do isn’t a reflection on who we are. I thought she was wrong. I thought there were good things about me that would always be true and that I could safely count those as my identity. Then I did something stupid and I upset my mom. Surprise, right? She huffed and grumbled, and even though I’ve definitely been in much more trouble before, I crumbled. For some reason, my reaction was much more intense than her scolding warranted. I felt the panicky tension that let me know my reaction was to more than just this specific circumstance, and was indicative of something bigger going on under the surface. I broke my thoughts up into little pieces so I could follow where they were coming from. I realized I was thinking, “I can’t do things like this to make people upset because I’m a person that people like”. I never thought I would hold being a likeable person close enough to my identity that it would take the place of God. It's certainly not as glamorous as some of the other things I’ve tried to hold on to, like my middle school soccer career, for example.
I’ve realized that it’s not just a process of occasionally reorganizing my hierarchy of identities. I can’t even let other things in the same room as my identity in Christ. I have to leave them completely outside. They don’t get to be second place, or third place - they don’t even factor in. If something as minor as being likable can supersede God as my identity, then anything can. Who I am is a person created and loved by God. I thought “Is that really all I get? All I have at the end of the day is that I’m created and loved by God?” That should be enough for me. If I put my worth in something that requires upkeep from my end, I will always fail. The only thing that I can hang my worth on is that I am created and loved by God. Literally everything else will fall through.
Once I began to understand that I create these false identities, I prepared for the process of stripping myself of them. I’m stupid and I’m human. I continue to run back to them. It’s why I keep taking those dumb buzzfeed quizzes that tell me which pop star is destined to be my best friend (Taylor Swift, duh). But maybe now that I’m attempting to strip away even the good parts of who I think I am, and the things that I thought I could exist on, I can now let go easier and embrace being created and loved by God.
Even after I tell you my story, you might still have to learn the hard way how fruitless it is to place your identity in something that isn’t God. I’d be willing to guess that even if you’ve made it this far without your identity failing you, it will eventually. I feel for you in those moments of deep disappointment. When you get there, whether it's for the first time or the millionth time, remind yourself who you are and who created you. I think the same God who created us wants us to live in the freedom that comes with understanding who we really are.
If you connected with this story and want to speak with someone about it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.