We live in a society where identity is often synonymous with what we do. Who we are doesn’t always seem as important to other people as what we do. When we’re younger, it’s difficult for us to know who we are, for we are discovering ourselves as we grow up and we can be easily influenced by other people. For me, it has taken a long time to learn that our identity in God matters far more than anything else in life other than God Himself and that our identity in Him is the thing that defines us.
I made a notice to go on the wall where I worked for years which read ‘We are children of God. Who we are is more important than what we do.’
If, like me, you were somehow imbued with the Protestant work ethic when young (even though I didn’t know what the term meant and I wasn’t a Christian then!), it can be hard to relax and just be. I always measured who I was in terms of what I did. I felt I had to strive to earn people’s affection and love and no matter what I did, somehow it just wasn’t good enough. I transferred those feelings easily onto God, so that it was hard for me to accept God’s unconditional love. My identity was almost always identified with activity, with doing, with striving. I have a perfectionist streak in me which meant I soon came to realise I was never satisfied with what I was doing (I could always do better) and, if I were honest, I wasn’t satisfied with who I was either. That makes for pretty miserable living.
There’s nothing wrong with activity in itself and nothing wrong with striving to improve. The difficulty comes if our identity becomes so wrapped up in it that we cannot accept ourselves as we are and cannot believe that God accepts us and loves us with no strings attached and with an unconditional love that is not dependent on us. Learning to be secure in who we are in God – children of the King, sons and daughters of the living God, a bride that is cherished and loved by her bridegroom husband (Isaiah 62:3-5 TNIV is one of my favourite passages and if I had to say what my favourite symbolic name in the Bible was, it would indeed be Hephzibah!) Only when we truly know that our identity is secure in God and that this is more important than any other thing we do in life, that this is the thing which will identify us throughout eternity, can we be really free.
“I’ve been looking from the outside, outside
I’ve been walking on a straight line, straight line
Scared to let the world see my failures, who I am, or who I’ve been.
I’ve been waiting for somebody else to
Take the chance that I am so afraid to.
I don’t know how to find myself.
Am I the only one, the only one?
Oh, I wanna feel You move me like a river running through me
I am so tired of trying to prove it;
I’m never gonna do it alone
God, I need You to be my identity
It’s always easier to hide behind that
Camouflage that keeps our hearts so guarded
But there’s no shame when we surrender everything to You
Everything to You
I want to see the world change, see the system cave in
You pull our hearts from the ashes
The cry of the captive is rising.” (‘Identity’, Kutless)