If someone asked you to list the five words that best describe or identify you, what would they be? If you’re like me, this isn’t as easy a task as it seems initially. I find there are either too many or too few characteristics to sort into a top five. And compounding the problem is the fact that maybe what I think is an identifying trait isn’t something others would recognize in me. I find myself wondering, are these really my top five traits or are they just what I hope others would pick to describe me?
Identity can be a tricky thing. There are identifying factors in our lives that never change, but so very many of them do. We start out as young only to age out of that descriptor rather rapidly (or so I’ve been told by my older friends). Some of us identify ourselves as spouses, but so often that stops applying at some point at well. Regardless of what you’d list as your identifying qualities or traits, chances are, at least some of them will change and no longer apply to you before you leave this planet for your forever home.
I recently had a weird identity “circumstance.” For those who don’t know me personally, from 2003 to 20012, I was a (predominantly) 9th grade English teacher. Once I got pregnant with my daughter in January of 2012, I finished out that school year and resigned in order to be a stay-at-home mom. You quick-figuring mathletes probably immediately calculated my nine years of teaching. Putting those skills to work again, you likely noticed that I’ve not been teaching for eight years now. I came to this realization myself as school began back in August (that was 15 years ago, right??) . Y’all, it was sort of startling. I have always identified myself as a teacher. I worked hard during my years in the classroom, and I still keep in contact with many former students. I still get called “Mrs. Thomas” when I bump into former students around town. I believe teaching is 1000% a calling, so I’ve always considered myself a teacher. Daughter, sister, wife, teacher, friend, etc. You know how that goes. But here I was in August realizing that I’ve almost been NOT teaching as long as I was ever in the classroom to begin with. My daughter loves the phrase,” Wait, what?!” and that’s exactly how I feel about this nonsensical (albeit correct) math.
Those of you who’ve been here before understand what a weird spot it is to have held such a strong identity only for it to no longer apply to you. Maybe you were once So-and-so’s wife or husband, and although you aren’t any more, it still seems weird. Maybe you identified yourself as a stay-at-home mom or dad, only your circumstances changed and now you’re part of the workforce. Or maybe you identified yourself by those dreams and aspirations you held onto so tightly, perhaps even secretively, but because you’re no spring chicken anymore, your dreams aren’t looking quite so attainable.
God didn’t create us, though, friends, so that we could base our identities on the things of this world. Our families, our careers, our bank accounts, our looks, our talents….none of these were given to us so that we could use them to foster our personas, so to speak. From the conception of the world to this very day in your life and my life, our identities were to be based on only one thing: Jesus. And what great news! The Bible tells us that God is never changing. He is the same today as He was yesterday, and He’ll be the same tomorrow as well. Praise Him for that gift! If we root ourselves in Jesus, if we base all that we are and all that we do in Him, we cannot lose. Our identities will never shift, and although our lives are likely to change and move in a hundred different ways throughout our days, we will never feel as if our feet aren’t solidly planted.
But it’s crucial that we grasp this truth: while it’s vitally important that, as believers, others see Jesus as our greatest identifying trait, we absolutely cannot get there without first seeing that in ourselves. One more time for those in the back: If you don’t see yourself as Jesus’s, if you don’t recognize your value to God, you will never live your life in a way that allows Jesus to formulate your identity. Let me (try to) explain a little more clearly.
Not to sound like a total Memaw, but it’s perfectly clear that within society today, people are truly struggling with identity. When yours isn’t solid, when you don’t feel you belong to any group or family or category, the solidity of identity disappears. Whether it’s gender or sexuality or trends and fads, when you don’t know who you are–and maybe even more importantly, if you don’t like who you are–shifting your identity offers an opportunity for escape. It’s a chance to realign with a group or a theology or an ideology that might offer you what you’ve been unable to lock down thus far: acceptance, success, love. The dangers of changing your beliefs and your morals with the wind are evident. But despite its scariness, the sadness is immense. Friends, if you can look around today and feel hatred or anger but not sadness, you’ve forgotten to ask Jesus to break your heart for what breaks His. He doesn’t see that transgendered person with disgust; He seems him/her with love and acceptance. He doesn’t see that Black person through “white Jesus” eyes; He seems him/her as a child of God, made in the image of God. He sees us all as having one identity, because He’s the One who died to give it to each of us: SAVED. LOVED. ACCEPTED. TREASURED.
So, my friends, if you’re looking at yourself or your personal circumstances (or even this dumpster-fire of a society we live in) and you don’t see it now as hopeful because of the blood of Jesus, please look again. Pray that God would open your eyes so that you see yourself, see others, see the world as He sees it. Still feeling unsure? Still feeling like what I’m saying might be true for me or others, but definitely not for your personal situation? Let me tell you what you and your circumstances are NOT, according to the living Word of God . Friend, you are NOT
orphaned (physically or emotionally)
weak (bodied or minded).
You are NOT a failure or a has-been. You are NOT washed up or past your prime.
You are NOT purposeless
unloved OR unlovable.
And friends, you are not directionless.
I won’t argue with you and sugar-coat it; there are definitely times when we’ve all been one or more of these things. But. BUT. When we accepted the love of Jesus, when we began to apply His blood to our spiritual and emotional and mental and physical wounds, God did a very new thing in us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) And, y’all, because our God loves us so, this is just the very, very beginning. Our identities get wiped clean by the sacrifice of the Lamb. We get new ones, and let me tell you, they are GLORIOUS! Forgive me, but these are too good. I just have to share a few.
According to the very words of God, we are…
A people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9)
The body of Christ (Gal. 2:20, 1 Cor. 12:27)
His workmanship, or in other translations, His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)
Children of God (1 John 1:1-3)
Friends of Jesus (John 15:15)
Joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17, Gal. 3:27-29)
Created in the very likeness of God Himself (Eph. 4:22-24)
Wonderful (because wonderful are Your works) (Psalm 139:14)
We belong to God! “I have called you by name; You are MINE.” (Is. 43:1)
Holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4)
Raised up and seated in the heavenly places with Jesus (Eph. 2:6)
The sheep of His pasture (Ps. 100:3)
Members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19)
Engraved on the palm of God’s hands (Is. 49:16)
Lenders and not borrowers, the head and not the tail, above and not beneath (Deut. 28:12-13)
Saved!!!! (Eph. 2:4-5)
When my daughter started “real school” in Kindergarten, she was nervous every single day. She cried more mornings than she didn’t, but she stuck it out, she worked hard, and she persevered. She taught me lots of lessons that year, especially. When it came time to close the door on Kindergarten, her teacher gave out awards to each student, and my sweet girl was given the “Fearless” award for choosing to be courageous and triumph despite her daily fear. I struggle to see the screen as I type this through tears because what I saw slowly happening within her was so completely an act of the Holy Spirit. God was at work, and what He did for her, He promises to do for every one of us who seek Him. In 2 Timothy we are reminded that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Your Bible might say “sound mind” or “self discipline” in place of self-control, but regardless of the wording, one thing is true: when our identity comes from Jesus and our close, personal relationship with Him, we get all the good things. The traits we apply to ourselves will be positive and healthy, and they’ll match with those others attribute to us as well. Better yet, people will identify Jesus when they look at us, when they see our lives and our actions, and when they think about who we are as people. Take a minute to praise the Lord with me for His unchanging and steadfast love for us.
Dear Lord, thank You so very, very much for providing for me, through Jesus, an identity unchanged by trends and social opinions. Thank You, Father, that the circumstances of our lives don’t decide who we are as people, because that’s a role given only to You. I praise Your goodness, God, for all that Your Word says I am. Help me to shut out the lies of Satan when he tries to get me to believe I’m anything less than You say I am. Continue to tell me and show me, Lord, who I am in You. Help me deepen my relationship with You so that when others go to identify me, You are the first person they see. I love You, Lord, so very much. I am so thankful for who I am in You, for all that You’ve set aside for me. Create in me a new identity, Father, one that leaves all the untruths behind. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.