Today I revisit the topic of identity partly because there are so many things to say and so many ways to say it. Another reason stems from my own continuing struggles with contentment and identity. I write to remind myself and others who may question similarly.
Many people have a deep desire to make a name for themselves, to be “the best” in something, or be recognized. This desire drives us to action. Growing up I was not brilliant, but I could work hard. So I did. Graduating high school early, I married in college a man who exceeded all my dreams, and then moved to a far-away land. I had a degree, I had passion, and I also had no job prospects. Making use of the time, I began my masters and then welcomed my first child. Meanwhile siblings, peers, and my husband all graduated, began working, and earned accolades. I remained at home. No title, no awards, nothing to show the world outside my door.
The desire for external recognition and success runs deep in me and deep in our culture, even spilling over onto the precious and vulnerable people in our lives, people we should be protecting and nurturing and loving for who they are, rather than what they do. In a sermon on parenting, a pastor once mentioned that many parents would rather discover that their child had a learning challenge than accept that their child was, simply, average.
What drives these comparisons? One reason is the craving for fulfillment, and the direct relationship between fulfillment and identity. Fulfillment is a real desire and a real need! As a recent sermon titled Thirsty perfectly articulates, we satisfy this fulfillment desire with something or someone that we worship or value most. The strength of our sense of self depends on the power of what we worship. Whether I situate my worth and find contentment in what is temporary and finite, or eternal and endless, affects who I believe myself to be and how I relate myself to my surroundings.
With an identity and worth grounded in the Almighty God, how people perceive me does not matter. I can be okay bagging groceries. I can be okay with thinking my hardest and earning only “B” grades. I can be okay mothering at home, and doing “nothing else” (though we could have a rich debate over whether that description even remotely fits reality!). I might not be the best according to the world’s standards, but that does not matter.
This confidence happens when I know whose I am. Everything external – good and bad – falls away like water off a duck’s back because I know who defines me. Timothy Keller writes,
What, then, would the effect be if we were to dive even more deeply into Jesus’s teaching and life and work? What if we were to be so immersed in his promises and summonses, his counsels and encouragements, that they dominated our inner life, capturing our imagination, and simply bubbled out spontaneously when we faced some challenge?….When you received criticism, you would never be crushed, because Jesus’s love and acceptance of you is so deeply “in there.”1
I can be okay with who I am, where I am, and what I am doing (or not doing) when I live for an audience of One, when I worship God and allow Him to define me and my worth.2
The question to ask and answer today: will I choose to be fulfilled by Him?
1 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. Riverhead Books, 2011. Print.
2 Guinness, Os. The Call. Word Publishing, 1998. Print.