When we base our identities on finite human things, like circumstances and locations and relationships and statuses, we will sooner or later find ourselves identity-less.
I spent the beginning of my college years investing into my community there. God blessed me with a group of people who have, for the most part, become life-long friends. For an introvert, I spent a heck of a lot of time diving into those relationships and developing the community that I desperately needed. There came a point, however, when I needed to step back and reevaluate. Falling in love with the guys and girls who would become a significant part of my college experience was awesome, but it got to a point where I put my relationships with fellow believers over my relationship with the God in whom I believed. It was lopsided, and it wasn’t working.
So I moved from finding my identity in my friends to finding my identity in being a college student. I didn’t skip a single class until several semesters in. I ate breakfast in the caf before my 8am class, which takes dedication! In the evenings after work, I made hot chai tea to take to the library in my neat little travel mug while I scoped out the best spot in which to do homework. I dove into school and classes and “the college experience,” whatever that means. Each year, college looked a little different, but I identified as a college student. I found college student discounts and resonated with college student memes and complained about college student food. This was good because college was a significant stage of my life and I needed to embrace it as such.
Similarly, I found my identity in my singleness. I read books about it, wrote post after post about it, found God through it, and discovered myself through it. I learned quite a bit in the time between middle school and going on my first date at the age of 22, and I appreciate that time and those lessons. I embraced my status as a single person. This was good and healthy, too.
The problem shows up when I find my innate and intrinsic identity in things that change rather than in the One who does not change.
When I identified myself by who I hung out with, a disagreement with a friend would shake my self-esteem. When I identified myself in being a college student, a bombed test or an impossible professor made me feel less valuable. When I identified myself as a single person, I found my worth in my independence and my supposed superiority to people who chose to date.
And then I grew apart from some friends and closer to others. I graduated college, I started dating, I became a teacher, I moved cities… Suddenly the things I had based my identity on were no longer influential in my life. I was left with the realization that everything around me had changed. Did that also mean that I had changed?
Not at all.
I’m still Alex. I still an introverted people-person. My thinking and feeling sides still fight. I still have a love/hate relationship with autumn and I am still fascinated with early spring. My favorite color is still blue. I am learning more and more to love exploring and adventuring. I still love teaching and I still love the small group setting. I am still a firm believer in grace and bright umbrellas and blueberry cheesecake muffins.
I am also starting to realize the importance of finding my identity not in what I do or who I know. See, those things change and then I’m left trying to sweep all the pieces together. Instead, let me read the Word and look for what God says about me. Let me see that just as God set apart and prepared the prophet Jeremiah for his future role, he set me apart as well. Let me acknowledge that I am God’s special possession, chosen to love him, enjoy him, and proclaim him wherever I go. Let me live as a new creation in Christ and as a necessary member of Christ’s body.
All the things that the world uses to describe us will change, but what God says about us is constant. His attitude towards us is one of consistent grace and goodwill. His heart is compassionate. When we go to him for validation, worth, and identification, we are free to “fail” at the things of this world, because our worth is not tied up in areas in which we could fail. God sees us in redemptive grace, not as the failures we may all too easily believe we are.
So what has happened since I walked across that stage and got my diploma on May 17th? I went to the beach with my family, moved to Columbia, interviewed for six different teaching positions, did a bunch of yard work, planted a squash plant (harvested one squash), went on my first date (ever!), attended a friend’s wedding, went on several road trips, struggled with some family issues, cooked a whole bunch of awesome food, lead an online Bible study, landed my first real adult job, began dating that awesome guy, had coffee with the lady who had my job last year (who also happened to have graduated from my college!), and on September 8th, the pre-teaching paperwork and student testing will be over and I will begin teaching English as a Second Language classes to elementary students.
While this journey has not been picture-perfect, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My identity is not found in my journey, my struggles, or my circumstances. It is found in Christ and his death for me, which makes me want to love others all the more. Isn’t that what my life should be about?
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory…. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
– Colossians 3:1-4, 10-12, 14