8am and I’m currently sitting in the Glendalough International Hostel in the Wicklow “Mountains” in Ireland. Staying here as a cheap night away from travelling round Ireland with work but also because I’ve heard some of the trail runs at the top of the hills round the lakes are stunning. Little did I know that I’d be out running at 5am, and arrive back in at 7am to find my room-mates still sleeping. They probably thought such a tranquil hostel didn’t have these late night party-ers and early morning flight-get-ers that so often ruin the hostel night’s sleep.
But getting up for 5am runs doesn’t really feel like who I am. There are “runners” who do that every day or regularly, like the person I went out running with. But I’m definitely not one of them.
But equally who am I? It’s a misty, murky question.
I’ve many friends and I meet people all the time on their travels who are trying to find this out. Generally you can tell either from what they post on facebook, or from where they invest their time, money and life. Particularly among the travelling community, such questions are huge, because traditional ties to family or nationality/region are so often rejected (though in some cases nationality becomes a big outward identity, even if the person is in crisis and no longer feels like that inwardly when they’re back home). The traveller, to some extent, will have to journey alone in finding their identity, as so often their experiences will be unique.
And perhaps that has to be key: we are unique. Perhaps not as unique as we’d like to think in our shared humanity, but unique none-the-less. We have to be more than the sum of our parts, and we desperately hope that is true. As humans we are sexual beings, but we’re more than our sexuality, important as it is. As humans we’re connected beings, but we’re more than our connections and relationships. And as humans we’re creative beings in our jobs, hobbies and elsewhere, but we’re more than just “a painter” or “a hurling player”.
And the trouble with all of these things, that if we let them define us, we’ll be ruined. We’ll sell ourselves short of who we really are or even worse, end up mentally unstable. And yet it’s what we constantly do in a bid to make ourselves seem something. So what’s the solution?
Well, perhaps just to invest our identity in so many things that even if they go wrong, we’ll have a well balanced life still. Risky, but it normally pays off, unless you get some catastrophe in life. That’s largely the secular response (with variations on a theme).
Or what if we could have an identity that lay outside of ourselves? Many would immediately think that it’s demeaning – a denial of our uniqueness and everything that we are. And what would it even look like? Most worldviews that promise such, end up being nonsense claims, as that religion or worldview just becomes a part of an inner struggle to achieve in life. If you do badly at the worldview or religion, you’re back down doubting your identity as that, or struggling mentally. It’s just one more part of life. But someone once showed me one identity different to that.
It was an identity outside of myself that freed me to truly start to get to know myself over time. An identity that had nothing to do with my performance in life or whether something was removed from me.
And if you’ll hold off your initial scepticism long enough to read on a paragraph or two, I’d claim that identity was Jesus and being found in Him. Not in my performance following him, or my religiosity. But in Him, Himself. And I’ve found that because He claims to have made everything (including me, by whatever long, earthy processes that involved), and He therefore knows me better than I know myself, that I can find myself more and more, as I delve deeper into knowing and experiencing my identity in Him.
- I can face serious hockey injuries, without fearing my identity will be taken from me.
- I can sit beside Republican and Loyalist alike, in my home city, and chat to them both and concede some things to both politically, because my identity is not in my politics (even if I am still passionate about it).
- I can face being given the diagnosis of a long term medical condition a few years ago, that will shape my life, largely because my identity is not in my health or working capabilities.
- I can face and even enjoy singleness (without porn, sex or even masturbation), because much as I am a sexual being, I am not defined by it. I am freed to enjoy sex as my creator intended it.
- I can face the times that I severely doubt the evidence for Jesus, because ultimately, the truth (or lack of) it doesn’t rely on my reasoning alone but on things outside of myself (which I would say give us good grounds for belief).
Because my identity in Him, is a “loved child of God”; a gift from the Father to the Son; one who is sitting reigning with Christ in the heavenly realms; one who is destined for a better world to come.
And it’s freeing!
I’m free to stop travelling the world (metaphorically and physically) to find myself (and now just to do it to enjoy Him and His world). I’m free to try to love others better who are radically different to me, because if my identity is secure in Christ, I need not fear anything else and can focus all my time and energy on looking outwards to others, even if they’re hard to love. And in fact, I’d argue it’s the only legitimate philosophical reason that we “ought” to care about others – because we were made for it – our identity as children of God will lead us to love God, and love others at its heart.
Give me a bunch of people who believe this radical truth deeply from the core of their being, and you’ll have an army of servant-hearted foot-washers, freed to change the world for the better. Sadly, my own heart so quickly forgets it and needs reminded of it again.
So fellow traveller, don’t let “Christian” or “Jesus” just become another word on your list of identities. Lose yourself in Him! And truly find yourself again in light of it.
[For more resources on this topic, read John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, the ancient letter to the Colossian church from the Apostle Paul, or anything on here: www.bethinking.org (search: identity)]