Identity is a huge topic of conversation in our world today. Confusion related to racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and national identity top the headlines. For some observers, these issues aren’t confusing at all and angst arises that confusion is expressed or suggested. However, for all us, we can struggle with the issue of identity. Who are we, really? What makes me who I am? We can identify with all kinds of things, whether acceptable or forbidden in our culture or sub-culture, and still miss our true identity.
I may identify as a husband or lawyer or biker. Someone else may identify related to their sexual orientation or their lack of having a spouse or their gender. Another may identify with their economic status or race or nationality. All of these may form a part of our self-understanding, but they are not the core of who we are. Whenever we build our sense of core identity on what we do, our circumstances, or even our own self-perception, we will invariably mistake or obscure our true identity.
In 1st Century Greece, Paul of Tarsus proclaimed in Athens that even though we might have confusion, our true identity is actually closer than we might think:
Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:27-28)
A few months ago in a conversation with a new friend, this new friend related a story about someone who shared “I am a ______________.” The blank was filled with a description of something related to behavior and perhaps desire. His simple response back was: “No, you’re not … you’re a child of God.” Every human who walks the face of the earth was created by God and this is why Paul could state “we are his offspring.” This is our created design, our core identity … God’s child … His beloved son or daughter.
What if that was the fundamental lens through which we saw everything else? We might know that there is a Father, but it isn’t always our experience. More often, we look at life as though we were orphans, doing our best to forge our own way in this world … without a name, without resources, without a Father. When the perspective of the orphan is ours, we adopt lesser identities as our primary identity and they can’t bear the weight. They may be destructive identities or untrue identities or perhaps accurate identities but not our core identity, and then, confusion and frustration consistently fester.
Seeing ourselves as a child of God gives us the perspective and the power to interact with any other identity which might be a part of our lives.
In Galatians 3, Paul also shares this perspective about core identity when he writes:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:27-29)
Being male and female or slave and free are not unimportant but they are not core. Only when we see our lives through the lens of Christ can we make sense of being male or female. In a world where slavery was an ingrained part of the culture, the only hope for a shift in the enslaving mentality was to appeal to a deeper sense of identity.
In his excellent work on contemplative prayer, Into the Silent Land, Martin Laird shares a beautiful and poignant illustration of how this can work in our lives:
“The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening – delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm – this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion, then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured and our sense of painful alienation heightened.” (p. 29)
As we fail to interact with the weather appropriately, we end up making t-shirts or starting clubs that distract us from deepest reality. One of the amazing things (among many) about Jesus when He walked this earth is that He rarely got off message. His focus was the heart and directing people to live from the heart based on their core identity. People often criticize that Jesus didn’t talk about this issue or that issue, assuming that His silence is implicit approval of said issues. However, His seeming silence is best seen in the context of His affirmation of the theological emphases of Scripture which are simple summed up as “love” (Matthew 22: 37-39). Love of God and others directs us back to core identity which is indeed the context from which all issues must be viewed rather than getting fixated on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of lesser identities. Jesus trusted that getting grounded in the mountain would give the moorings from which to view all else.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross shares that:
Our concern must be to live while we are alive—to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a façade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.
The problem is not that we have external definitions but that we become attached to them. They become that core from which we live. So, how do we break free and settle into the reality of our core identity as children of God? I would suggest three things:
- Acknowledge your propensity for attaching to lesser identities.
- Release the control that you seek to gain over the lesser identities. Frequently, the storms on the mountain create tension in our lives … we become afraid and confused. We want to control through relieving the tension. Hold the tension before God as an act of prayerful trust.
- Develop a daily habit of resting in your core identity as a child of God. Allow that to be the place from which you view all of your life.
Brother Geoffrey Tristam shares: “I believe God wants us to practice truly seeing every day. We can, if we desire it, learn to see the presence of God each day, even in the most ordinary things. As we grow closer to God in prayer we begin to see as God sees.” Consider the following as a way to grow closer to God in prayer …
For a few moments, quietly recite the following truth from Colossians 3:2-3 as a reminder of your core identity: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Next, sit quietly in God’s presence as a child who is fully accepted and loved, not needing to say a word. Envision that you are sitting like a child at the feet of God (or any other image that helps you focus on your core identity).
As your mind wanders to the “things that are on earth” (and it will), simply go back to your mental image of sitting at His feet … resting securely in His presence.
Sit with Him in this way for as short as 5 minutes or as long as 20 minutes. Your mind may get distracted a hundred times. Don’t be discouraged, just let each distraction be an opportunity to return your attention to Him. As you grow in such a practice, it can alter the way you walk through your day.