My daughter, Kate, recently applied to the National Honor Society (NHS). If you aren’t familiar with the NHS, it’s an organization for high school students who have shown extraordinary scholarship, leadership, service, and character.
In order to be considered for acceptance, juniors and seniors had to have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. Once those students were identified, they then had to complete an extensive application where they listed all of their extra-curricular activities, community service hours, job experience, leadership positions, and other non-school-related activities.
Then, they had to write an essay on character, and finally, they had to secure a recommendation from a teacher.
The whole process was anonymous on the part of the student.
They could only identify themselves on the first page of the application–a page that was then separated from the rest of the application when the committee reviewed their applications.
I find this fascinating.
These students’ identities were completely stripped away from their accomplishments, service, character, leadership, and activities–leaving nothing more than a completed chart for the reviewers to use to determine who met the aforementioned criteria.
The irony to me in this is that character is one of the tenets of the NHS.
Writing an essay about what you think character is doesn’t reveal your own character, does it?
Admittance to this society seems to hinge entirely on the true identity of the student; however, the process completely separated the student from their authentic identity.
That’s not all that unusual in our world, though, is it?
How often do we find ourselves doing that very thing–separating people from their true identity by assigning characteristics to people instead of seeing them for who they are:
- That’s so-and-so’s mom.
- That’s the guy who cheated on his wife.
- That’s the kiss-up.
- That’s the annoying kid in my son’s class.
- That’s the really great baseball player.
- That’s the coach with the terrible temper.
- That’s the guy who always drops his complaints in the offering instead of his offering.
- That’s the lady who sings too loud and too off-key during worship.
- That’s the guy who just got out of prison.
- That’s the lady whose kid just got kicked out of school.
It doesn’t stop there, either. I think if we’re being really honest, we can easily find ourselves falling into this same trap when it comes to our own identities:
- I’m their mom.
- I’m the kindergarten teacher.
- I’m the pastor’s wife.
- I’m the worship leader.
- I’m the guy who cheated on his wife.
- I’m the annoying kid’s mom.
- I’m the screw-up.
- I’m the black sheep.
- I’m the responsible one.
Too often, if we aren’t careful, we can easily find ourselves seeing people as something they do instead of who they are.
While this is incredibly dangerous and detrimental to loving others, it can also be incredibly toxic for our own spiritual, mental, and emotional health when we fall into the trap of identifying solely with something we do instead of who we actually are.
This month, I want us to take a hard look at the health of our relationships, and I’ve learned that if we’re going to have healthy relationships, we have to be healthy humans. We can’t do that at all if we don’t have a sense of the complexity of our identities.
The Core of Our Identities
Okay, so listen, this is a tricky one, okay.
I hate Christianize.
I spent too many years in churches that ran on Christianize instead of truth.
I think this is important, though, so I want to talk about this in the most non-cliche way possible without reverting back to my fundamentalist roots.
I have sat in rooms and talked to people who feel they have no worth and that they are literally a waste of space and simply using up air other people could be breathing.
Those are terrible conversations.
They are heartbreaking.
At the root of this pain and heartache for these individuals I’ve talked to is the missing element of understanding that at the core of their identity is love, purpose, and intention.
These three things are at the core of each of our identities–love, purpose, and intention.
- You are no different.
- Your annoying coworker is no different.
- The guy on death row is no different.
- Your pastor is no different.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 (tpt) that:
We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it!Ephesians 2:10 (TPT)
How can you not love that verse?
We have become his poetry–his work of art–that will fulfill a destiny he has given to each of us! Even before we were born, God had already planned out each of our destinies and the good work each one of us would do to fulfill it!
There are no asterisks in this scripture, no exceptions, no disqualifications, no voiding of our contracts.
Every one of us has a specific, unique, individual destiny.
Each one of us is an eccentric piece of poetry.
All of us.
It doesn’t stop there, though. In Psalms 139:13-14 (TPT), David tells us how we were each lovingly created:
You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord!Psalms 139:13-14 (TPT)
God formed our innermost beings, our insides, and our outsides–with all our complexities. The NIV uses the phrase “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” I love that translation as well because knitting is something that requires purpose, focus, and intention.
Think about God applying those very things to each one of us as we were formed.
How much differently might we look at the core of our identity if we think of the focus and intention God used when he knitted us together in our mother’s wombs?
Finally, one thing we can’t forget when talking about the core of our identities is the truth Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (TPT):
Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new person. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new.2 Corinthians 5:17 (TPT)
When we are enfolded into Christ, we become entirely new people. Our blemished identity–all our shame, fear, failure, and weakness- vanishes.
Again, there are no asterisks here.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
We are truly made new.
In order to understand the core of our identities, we have to wrap our heads around these things. We have to understand that we were made with love, purpose, and intention by an artist who sees us each as a masterpiece–without this, it is so, so challenging to live life any way but in an identity crisis.
Understanding the core of our identities is one thing–a very figurative thing.
Understanding our own unique identity, though, is another thing altogether.
As Lysa Terkeurst points out in her book “Good Boundaries and Goodbyes,” health cannot bond with unhealth.
So, if we really want healthy relationships, we have to assess both our own health and the health of the other person.
We only have control over one of those things–our own health.
As I was leading a book study of this book with some amazing women, some of whom were really struggling with the idea of boundaries, I realized the root of their struggle was in their own identity and their own lack of self-worth.
One of the most valuable exercises we did in that study was a variation of something Lysa mentions in the book. We took the time to identify the qualities we want our family, friends, and loved ones to see in us when they spent time with us.
It was hard.
Some of these ladies actually looked at me like deer in headlights because they had never really thought about what they brought to the table.
Friends, you bring so much to the table. Remember that scripture from Psalms 139?
I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously
breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord!
God has made you mysteriously complex!
He has made you marvelously breathtaking!
You were not an accident to God. You were created with purpose, with qualities you bring to the table.
Understanding what it is you want to bring to the table is the key to understanding the rest of your identity.
We’ve already talked about your identity in Christ, but this is about your identity in your world.
Each of our identities is unique.
What each of us brings to the table is valuable.
If we want healthy selves and ultimately healthy relationships, we have to take ownership of the things we bring to the table–our identities.
Let me give you an example–when I think about what I want my loved ones to experience with me, I think about things like empathy, intelligence, humor, wit, logic, etc…
These are just some of the things I bring to the table, and they are the things that make me uniquely me–they are the qualities that compose my own individual identity.
That’s my challenge to you today–what are the qualities you have that make you uniquely you? What do you bring to the table?
Your Identity is NOT What you Do:
As adults, we have this terrible tendency to sacrifice who we are for what we do.
Think about it–when was the last time you referred to yourself by WHO you are instead of WHAT you do?
We see ourselves as:
- Their mom
- Their partner
- The Salesman
- The stay-at-home mom
- The Pastor
- The taxi driver
- The provider
- The cook
- The cleaner
- The housewife
- Their coach
What would happen if we started looking at our identities as WHO we are instead of WHAT we are, if we truly started embracing the qualities God has given us instead of just the things we have resigned ourselves to do in our everyday lives?
Our focus shifts from WHAT we are doing to WHO God created us to be, and that is a game-changer in terms of our mental and emotional health as well as our relationships with others.
It’s only in that awareness and understanding that we can begin to truly see our own worth and advocate for our own needs–two very necessary things for health in our hearts and our relationships.
- How do you most often think of your identity?
- Make a list of the qualities you want your loved ones to see in you when you spend time with them.
- What are the obstacles that keep your loved ones from getting to experience these qualities with you?
Kristen, this is a wonderful post one I am saving to address these questions asked here. Yes I have looked at myself and others as what we do instead if who we are. So helpful – thank you.
Thanks for this very detailed post on Identity. Many times we quickly tend to define ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. I enjoyed reading .