When we're young, we don't really care about the question "who am I?" because we're too busy climbing trees and pulling pig-tails to be concerned about questions of identity. However, there comes a point in everyone's life where we began to discover things that we were good at. If we were lucky, we gained acceptance from our peers for these things. All of a sudden, we became the athlete. The funny one. The painter. Or in my case, the songwriter.
I remember writing my first "good" song as a teenager (and please do note the quotation marks). I knew that if I played that song at youth group that week the girls would surely be impressed. And I was right. The song was a success, drawing me comparisons to whatever singer was their favorite at the time. And so my identity as a songwriter was solidified. That was who I was going to be.
From that point on, songwriting became both my outlet and my escape. When I was inspired, I wrote a song. When I was heartbroken over a girl, I went home and wrote a sad song, seeking solace in the melodramatic words I scribbled in my college-ruled notebooks. What I didn't know then was how wrapped up I had become with songwriting. It wasn't what I did, it was who I was.
I would imagine this is pretty common for most of us. We can probably all think of something that gained us acceptance in our circle of friends or at least something that gave us a sense of worth. Once we found it, we clung to it. We wrapped ourself up in it and hid there.
The problem with this is that when we answer the question “who am I?” with an ability (or a list of them) we have built a very shallow and collapsable self-image. As soon as someone comes along who is more talented, better looking or who simply receives more attention than we do, our world collapses. I think most, if not all, identity-crises are the results of this process because as soon as our circumstances threaten or destroy our self-image, we have no idea who we are. We have invested ourselves into who we want to be instead of investing into our hearts.
I’m pretty bad at basketball. Maybe even terrible, actually. If I have the misfortune of playing a pick-up game with some friends, it’s probably going to be amusing to the other team and frustrating for whatever suckers got stuck with me on their team. If I play with someone who is much more gifted at basketball than I am, I’m not threatened by that. If someone tells me I’m bad at basketball, I’m just going to agree with them. I won’t feel like my world is falling apart because someone is showing me up or being blunt. The reason is that I don’t care about basketball. I don’t identify myself as a “baller” and so whether I’m good at it or not doesn’t affect me. Now, if someone tells me I’m bad at writing songs, that’s going to sting a bit and the reason why is clear. I am a songwriter and I’ve identified myself that way since I was a kid.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? We tend to get overly protective of the things that make us “us” but we should never have to defend them. In reality, that’s insecurity. We will never feel the need to defend anything we have faith in. If we never develop a sense of value and identity apart from our abilities, our roots cannot grow deep and the first storm that comes along can easily topple us.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start investing into your heart and the best place to start is by identifying who God has called you.
In Matthew 3, we read the account of Jesus' baptism. I'm sure we all remember it but the Father said of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son and in Him I am well pleased." The interesting thing about this is that Jesus hadn't done anything yet. Have you ever thought about that? In fact, this happened before He had performed any miracle of any kind. In other words, the Father wasn't pleased because of anything Jesus had done. Rather, Jesus' “doing” was birthed out of knowing He was a son and had already found favor with the Father.
To further drive this point home, let’s look at Genesis. After God created man, He looked and saw that it was "very good." He didn't look and say "Do these three things and I'll love you." He said it was good because He had made it good. He didn't need us to do anything to become pleasing. He was already pleased.
What this means is that God has never attached value to us because of what can do for Him. All of His pleasure in us is grounded completely in the fact that He loves us. If God doesn’t define us by our abilities, then why should we?
Our identity, first and foremost, is who God calls us. Our gifts and talents are all great but they are secondary to His voice. We were never supposed to get our identity from what we can do because everything can change in an instant. Jobs can be lost, opportunities can be given to someone else, inspiration can run dry. Circumstances can change what you do but they can never change who you are.