Last night in our Faith Explored group we were mudging on identity. What does identity mean? How do we form identity, and who on earth are we anyway?
It’s a huge question. It’s a question about the very core of us, about what makes us who we are. It’s a scary question, because we don’t always like to look too deep. It’s a liberating question, because we can discover something about who we are that we might not have grasped before, or might have forgotten in the rush and pain of life.
In my last post, I shared a little about some of my experience with bullying as a child. It’s a sad truth that those words said to me sunk so deep that they began to form an identity in me – an identity I couldn’t look beyond, because I could only see the words. It was a negative place to live in, and I didn’t know how to get out of it, because the words were my reality. I was those words.
It was a negative place to live in, and I didn’t know how to get out of it, because the words were my reality. I was those words.
What about you? Has there ever been a time you have allowed words said to you to form a part – or whole – of who you are? Perhaps someone has said that you’re no good at maths, for example, and so you believed it, and never took maths further than GCSE. Perhaps a parent told you that you were unwanted or useless, or a partner told you you were unattractive and unloved. Which words snaked their way into the recesses of your mind and became you?
Good words can be identity forming, too. Words of praise and love, words of joy and delight. They are words which upbuild and encourage, and when we allow those words to become part of who we are that is a positive thing, as we move closer to who were are created to be. But even good words can’t always cancel out bad words.
Yet someone who loves you more than anything else can – and does.
How else do we form our identities? Do we identify ourselves by our work, by our ‘look’, by our talent, by what we offer? It’s something we probably all do. The first question we’re so often asked is, ‘What do you do?’ It becomes the be-all and end-all, the thing which defines us, the thing which justifies us. Without that job or that talent or that beauty or that thing we do, we become minimised, somehow. Sometimes, we become nothing at all. It’s like our definition has been defined away when we lose something so intrinsic to who we are.
It’s like our definition has been defined away when we lose something so intrinsic to who we are.
Or so we think.
I’ve struggled with this through years of illness. I thought I had to be doing something to be worth something, to be productive to be valued. But God brought me to a different place; a place where I was liberated from the bondage of labels and definitions. A place of freedom and peace, of contentment in who I am in Christ rather than who I am in me. And somehow, in majestic inversion of the values of this world, moving away from the ‘I’ brings me so much more into the ‘I’ I am supposed to be.
Finding my identity in God, as a chosen, delighted in and deeply loved child has been a lifelong journey, a journey of a decision to reject words, from those early words from peers at school through to more recent words about my place in this world. I still have to make choices now to reject these words which still seek to gnaw away at me, and to turn towards God for the peace beyond understanding. But when I do, something shifts and I’m not the same. I dance away from them, liberated once again, knowing that I don’t have to do anything to win God’s love. It’s there. Always, ever, beautifully there, all around, behind and before, under and over, all-encompassing and ready to catch me when I fall.
Who am I? I’m a fortysomething woman who likes writing and hates mayonnaise. I’m a former teacher who hurts breathing and wishes she could sing. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I’m all these things.
But the thing that underpins is much more. It’s the thing that sustains and envelops, strengthens and upholds. Even when my defined purpose has been ripped away, or the things that make me me are no longer so me.
Even when it hurts.
The underpinning identity of me is who I am loved by. The mystery of me is solved by the depth of a love I can’t even begin to grasp hold the edges of. The core of me is made whole in a 2,000 year old triumph over darkness.
What about you? Who are you? What makes up your identity?Who am I, really, anyway? What is my core? My meaning? Thoughts on identity and purpose. Click To Tweet