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Identity – Who Am I?

With the advent and explosion of the digital and social media world, it is obvious to anyone that people, especially young people, have jumped heartily into the identity game. Between posting selfies, videos, pictures, and tweets, they are doing anything to get some attention. To be identified as someone who is somebody. It shouldn’t surprise us. We all crave to be recognized. There is nothing innately wrong with that. Where it becomes a problem is when someone sees that recognition as the “be all and end all”. That is not healthy.

A recent article from the ministry “Focus on the Family” tackles this subject and provides some very insightful observations about what identity looks like in this culture:

Discovering who you are is code for, “What do you like?” In other words, finding “your thing” becomes the key to discovering the real you. This mindset leads to a superficial identity, in which your child’s current (and often temporary!) preferences become a key part of their personal identity creation. Because of this, many teens, preteens, and young adults make significant judgments about others based on the way they look, dress, or with who they decide to hang out. In many ways, these surface‐level identifiers take the place of identity itself.

The problem with this superficial identity formation is how it creates a moving target. Kids’ preferences change frequently, and when their identity becomes based on these surface‐level distinctions, their identity can feel transient and flimsy. For a parent, watching their child change from soccer to basketball can be exciting — maybe they’re finally finding their thing! However, for the child undergoing this change, it can feel like they’re in danger of losing their sense of identity. As parents, we can help our children understand that personal identity is not established by what they like at the moment. We teach our kids that what they like is important but is not equal to their identity.

What is key in the pursuit of identity is authenticity. We cannot find that if we measure identity in what we are doing. What we do certainly matters to God. But if what we do is the measuring stick, then we will find ourselves constantly measuring what we are doing against what someone else is doing. Making such comparisons will cause us, more often than not, to feel that we are falling short.

However, there is one thing that each of us has: a story. Our story is unique to each of us. And we all want someone to hear it. How do we get someone to hear our story? We do so by listening to the story of someone else. (Yes…this sounds counterintuitive, but stay with us). It is critical, when connecting with someone, that we look into and find out “their story”. This moves our eyes off of us. We are humbling ourselves. Sound familiar? This brings authenticity into focus. Here is a bit more on this from Focus:

When you meet someone new, you ask them to tell you their story if you want to get to know them. We understand that hearing someone’s story will help us know who that person is on a deeper level. A story reveals the “me” that is much deeper (and more complex) than what they are interested in right now. Teaching our children to articulate their stories will help them understand that who they are is far more significant than what they like.

The Church has always understood that God created people to learn through stories. When Jesus wanted to teach people a quick lesson, he told them a story. His audience was supposed to see themselves in the story and come to understand something more profound about themselves and the world in which they lived. God wanted his people to understand who they were, and so he gave them stories to tell their children and grandchildren. The Bible, at its core, is the story of God’s interaction with His people. The earliest believers often gathered to tell the story of God. And when they did, those stories became a part of their story.

Jesus said things that go against our finite, natural, logic: To be great, you must be the least. To be first, you must be last. This goes against our nature indeed. But truly, this is what we must ingrain in our children if they are to see the world through the lens of authenticity. As parents, we need to teach them that they have a unique story. That’s because God created them uniquely. WE the must teach them to put their story second and seek someone whose story they can listen to. Put this on their goal list for this summer. They won’t have to go far to find someone.

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