So how do I know if I’m facing an identity crisis? Well, it depends a bit. It depends on who you think you are and how you formed who you are. It really never turns into a crisis until what you have built stops “working” for you. You will “be” exactly who you built until it breaks. The lies of… we are what we have, do and what others say about us described by Henri Nouwen shape our identity but it’s not as simple as to just let go of those things. Letting go of the things you chose to build your life with is like removing walls in your home… if you are not careful, those walls are connected and holding other things up.
The 4th lie we believe about ourselves
I believe there is a missing 4th lie on Nouwen’s list, or maybe it’s in a category all it’s own. A lie so powerful and destructive that it beats them all. We are what we tell ourselves we are. This lie has been created by you and your mind! Sure, the other 3 lies helped you build this false self, but the lies we tell ourselves are the most powerful and painful. Why? Because they live deep within our souls and there is no one to refute them… or is there? We have built our identities around what we have felt and thought about ourselves, and if that doesn’t freak you out, it should!
So, who should I be?
This is actually a trick question. Who you “should” be is the wrong question. A better question is, who am I really, or already? Our true identity has to be rooted and established in something far beyond and far greater than ourselves and the external facades we create to communicate to others who we want them to believe we are. To understand this, we must look outside of ourselves to a more reliable and trustworthy source. We must look to God to inform who we really are and build our lives around that source.
1 John 3:1-3 “See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
This is a massive overhaul of our thoughts and emotions. Deep within our hearts and minds is a tangled mess of Christmas lights that needs to be patiently unwound and repaired before we ever think about putting them up again.
So what if I am going through an identity crisis?
I would suggest start by thanking God for it… it might be the greatest gift life has ever given you! What truly matters is how you respond to it. We have a few options. First, we can throw everything away, buy a car we don’t need, leave God or our spouse, and change our careers. Or, we can either chose to defend or protect the false self we have created (essentially doubling down on the identity we already built), or we can throw out the one we built and let God make us new. Or, if you are a techie person, restore us to our original manufactured settings. The kind of deep soul level transformation that moves from the inside out.
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
We are all “prone to wander,” as the old hymn says, to “leave the God I love.” Or as Paul says in the above scripture, allow our minds to be lead astray from a pure and sincere devotion to Christ. We so easily forget who we are… who we really are deep within. You are a child of God… loved and OK. You don’t have to HAVE anything, or DO anything. “Yeah but what about…?” Nope! “Aren’t we supposed to…” Nope! Remember Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Jesus came to reclaim your lost identity… the identity that has been badly damaged by sin, this world and especially us. Anytime we listen to anyone other than God for identity we are walking on dangerous ground. So the next time you find yourself asking, “Who am I really?” Ask yourself also, “who have I been listening to for the answer? If you are going to double down on anything, double down on who God says you are and how loved by him you are. Then and only then will you know who you are and be able to see your identity crisis as one of the greatest gifts God has ever given you.