Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is Identity?

I apologize for this being so long, but I do feel like it is an important subject and I pray that you will be blessed by reading this.

What is Identity?

A friend of mine brought up this question last night. This is something I really felt like I knew the answer too. I know my identity, and I often teach about how important it is. I observe other people and their identity (or lack of) very often. I knew this was a huge, major thing that can

make or break a person, it’s what most people spend their teenage years looking for. Some people even spend their whole lives searching for it. But w
hen asked what it was, I was speechless. After being purposed with a couple of scenarios I was even more baffled. At this point I knew I had to figure out my opinion on this pertinent issue.

So today on my walk home from school I had a lot of deep thoughts go through my mind. I didn’t touch my phone or speak the entire way home, because God and I were wrestling through these thoughts trying to get to the bottom of this. About the time I walked in my apartment complex, I had resolved the issue and cleared it in my mind, so without further explanation, here is my opinion.

First, I shall explain what it isn’t.

In our society I have no question as to why we are so confused about who we are and what are identity is. The main source of this problem is the phrase “I am…” I think this simple little phrase probably messes with our mental psyche more than we can imagine.

Identity is not something you do.

In high school I was always known as “The Cheerleader.” People didn’t identify me as this simply because I participated in the sport, the other girls on my squad weren’t as categorized as this. We all participated in other activities, so to be categorized as one thing either meant that you were the best at that thing, or that you only did that thing. For me cheerleading was more than just showing up at a game to look cute. For me cheerleading was my passion. I loved to cheer. I loved encouraging the teams, challenging myself physically, I loved practicing, stretching

jumping, tumbling, yelling, organizing events, and asking people to have fun and get crazy with me. My personality is loud, excited, and animated all the time; so this was the perfect sport for me. Not only did I love the sport, but I was good at it. People constantly came up to me after games and pep rallies to tell me that I was the best cheerleader at our school. However I assume this was because I was so passionate about it. Anyhow the point of all this is that I subconsciously formed an identity around being a cheerleader. When I would meet people and they would ask me to tell them about myself I’d say, “I am a cheerleader.” I am a cheerleader? Wait. “I am.” So you’re saying that cheerleading is who you are? You are cheerleading. That can’t be right. What happens when you’re not a cheerleader anymore?

Aha! That I found out. When I went to junior college I quickly figured out that I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I had. When I would meet people and try to make friends, it was almost devastating that they didn’t know I used to be a cheerleader. It was almost like I was offended they didn’t know my past. Eventually I had to figure out that “cheerleader” was not my identity. As much as I had thought it in high school, there was no tattoo across my head declaring me to be “The Cheerleader.”

Now I attend a huge university. When people meet you they ask 2 things right off the bat: 1. What is your name? and 2. What is your major? Then the other person responds, “Hi, I’m Shelby, and I’m a business major.” I am Shelby and I am a business major. Ugh. Again with the “I am” crap. What does that mean!? You are a business major, or majoring in business is something you do? There is a huge difference between doing and being. Let that sink in for a minute.

Identity is not your name or what people call you.

Back to the first question people ask you, “What’s your name?” Your response: “I am Shelby.” So does this mean your name identifies you? If you are Shelby, then what would happen if you lost your name? Say for some instance you have to change your entire name, from Shelby Derr (these are made up names btw) to Jennifer Clifton. Way different. Think about how you would feel if you had to switch names and no one knew you. Would you be lost? If Shelby Derr was where you found your identity, then yes. Obviously these things don’t identify us either.

Identity is not your talents and/or hobbies.

Okay one last example then I’ll make my point I promise. What about people who say “I’m smart.”? People who have been told their whole life: “You’re smart.” You are smart. Smart is who you are.

I think “smart” is a feature of you, but I don’t think it is your identity. No one can be smart. I know brilliant people who know tons of stuff, yet they don’t know everything. It’s impossible. The world genius of crop growing probably isn’t going to have the slightest clue what is in season on the fashion runways in Paris this fall. What is more, what if they were to lose their ability to memorize facts, they would no longer be smart. Therefore that would make them nothing. So yet again, “smart” is where some people find an identity, but not their true identity.


So what is identity?!

From what I have gathered and experienced, I feel like your identity is knowing your purpose for being on earth, and putting your heart and soul into that purpose. Some people feel like they find this in sports, some in their careers, and others in being a mom or a student. Perhaps your identity is based on your reputation or what others perceive you as. A lot of girls/women find their identity in whoever they are dating at the time. “I’m Michael’s girlfriend.” We (blank.) People put their heart and soul into all sorts of silly things like this. The sad part is when something changes and they are left with nothing. No sense of being or knowing why they live. I think it is because these aren’t identities. These are a form of an identity. This is an identity, not your identity. Your identity is true and unchanging. It is made solely for you to fulfill.

In that last part of the previous paragraph I said unchanging. Go back and think about all the previous examples. What contradicts them? Change. When I went to college things changed. I was no longer a cheerleader. If you go through the secret service and have to change your name, you are no longer going to be Shelby Derr. If you have a concussion and lose your memory retention, things will change and you will no longer be known as “smart.” So where do we find this lasting, unchanging identity?!!?

Only three things last forever and never change: God, God’s word, and the Souls of men.

That’s it, nothing else. (If you can name something else that NEVER changes let me know because I can’t.) But this is fact, that God, God’s word, and the Souls of men are the only lasting things we have.

Earlier I said my definition of identity was knowing your purpose for being on earth, and putting your heart and soul into that purpose. If your purpose in life is to run like the wind and make touchdowns once a week, then have at it. If you feel like your life isn’t worth living unless you’re parenting a kid, go for it. Put your heart and soul into these things and hope for the best, I’ll even wish you good luck. But then come back and tell me how you feel when something changes. When you lose your child, your job, your talents, abilities, intelligence, come back and let me know how strongly you feel about your sense of identity then.

All of these things are fine and wonderful, except for the fact that you are putting your whole self into something that won’t last. It’s temporary, useless.

When I was asked about identity, I immediately responded that I knew one thing, “It is found in Christ and Christ alone.” I knew this to be true, but I didn’t know how to back it up. Now I do! Three things never fail. I found my identity when I started investing my heart and

soul into everlasting promises. Everything I put myself into has eternal benefits, it will never change or fail me. God calls us to love him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, and to secondly love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) How do we grow deeper in love with God, we read the bible. How do we learn to love others better, we read the bible. These things last forever!

I thought about every scenario of change. What if I lost my name, what if I lost my career that I’m passionate about, my chances of a husband, what if ______. The true answer I came to find was that it wouldn’t matter in the end. I know my purpose is to make disciples and to show people the love of God by worshiping him through my every move. Regardless of any circumstances, that’s what I will be doing and that is what I find satisfying. If I lose all of my memories and friends, I will still know why I was made and what my mission in life is.



So what’s your identity? Where do you find your identity as a person?

Is it going to last? Will that ever change?

What would happen if you started investing your heart, soul, and purpose in something that did last forever?


Thank you to my friend who took the time to challenge my opinion.