What is Identity?
A thirteen year old girl walks into the lunchroom after waiting in the long line for her food. She looks around and thinks to herself, “Which table should l sit at? Will I be accepted by the athletes? Music crowd? Artistic kids? Honor Students? Slackers? What if I do not fit in with anyone?” In middle school, you are defined by labels, and, as a grown up, we have to decide if these labels are true. In most circumstances, we have to change these labels because life is more complex than being an “athlete” or a “slacker.” Identity is an important part of development. It is common for identity formation to begin in early adolescence and continue into a person’s 20’s, as they individuate themselves from their parents. Erik Erikson included the role of identity in his eight stages of development (Dancey & Travers, 2006). The process of finding out and accepting who you are is an extremely important task in the process of life (Dancey & Travers, 2006). There are aspects of our identity that are permanent and others we can change. For example, if we are of an Irish heritage, we cannot change this, but we can choose whether we will include Irish traditions and culture into our life. For those who profess to be a Christian, your relationship with God is extremely important to your identity. Genesis 1:27 states we were made in God’s image. Being made in the image of God, should greatly impact how we see ourselves and how we would describe our identity.
How Do You View Yourself?
An important aspect of developing your identity is how you view yourself. When I mentioned the above verse in Genesis, did you have difficulty believing you were made in God’s image? The hatred and love you have for yourself can impact not only how you view your identity and worth, but it can also hinder how you view God’s love and your value. For example, if the way you talk to yourself sounds something like this: “You can’t do that. You always fail” or “No one could every love you or accept you,” then you may have difficulty having a positive view of your identity. Also, the negative statements you tell yourself can be incorporated into your identity. If you feel you are unlovable, you may see yourself as someone others cannot love and behave in ways that push others away.
On the other hand, if you love and take care of yourself, this can positively influence your identity and view of your worth. When you tell yourself, “I am hardworking, determined, and a kind person,” it becomes a part of who you believe you are. Thinking positively about yourself helps you believe others will also think this way about you as well. This kind of thinking is a starting point to understanding the way God wants you to treat yourself and understand the value you have in Him.
Now, it is important to state we are speaking about the aspects of our identity we can change or control. While we cannot change things like our heritage, parents, or our past, there are many things about our identity we can choose to have control over.
How Does God View You?
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded
in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me,
They cannot be numbered!
(Psalms 139:16-17, NIV, italics added)
Have you ever thought about the above question? How does God view you? Your view on this matter impacts how you allow or do not allow God’s view of your value impact your identity. Do you believe God is angry with you? Do you believe God is looking down on you ready to strike? If so, it is extremely difficult for you to incorporate God’s love and the immense value you have into your identity. Psalms 139 distinctly states that God knew us before we were born and his thoughts about us are “precious” and “cannot be numbered.” Even if you cannot accept these words, they are still true.
What authority do you give your own thoughts? This may seem like a weird question. Many of you reading this may have never thought about the amount of authority you give your own thoughts. If you believe something, does it mean it is truth? Do you give God as much authority as you give your own thoughts? Take a moment and really think about this. It may surprise you that you are giving more authority to your own thoughts than to God and what He has made true. The authority you are giving your own thoughts may be clouding your view of God and His truth. Are you allowing your thoughts to be more powerful than God and His truth? Is there anything you could do, think, or say that undoes what God has made true? Are you allowing this in your life? It may be necessary for you to think about these questions in more detail and journal about them. There is nothing we do, think, or say that can undo God and His truth.
God knows you and cares about you. Have you allowed negative thoughts or past mistakes cloud your view of how God sees you? If you have, it is time to spend time in prayer to ask for help and possibly repent. God will be waiting to speak with you and meet you where you are.
Putting It Together
The way you see, speak, and treat yourself impacts the development of your identity. When you have a negative view of yourself, it can be difficult to identify positive aspects of your identity. In this type of situation, you may need to take a step back and find out the truth of your identity in Christ. Most who call themselves Christians would also state that the Bible is truth. If the Bible is truth, then what the Bible says about our identity in Christ must also be truth. Have you given your thoughts more authority over God and His truth? Please see this link God’s Truth About Identity. It lists just a few verses from the Bible that state the truth about our identity as God sees us. You may try to say that these verses do not include you, but take a moment to look them up, read them in context, and let their significance sink in. You are worth more than you know!
Dancey, J. S., & Travers, J. F. (2006). Theories of Development: Interpreting the Lifespan. In Human development across the lifespan, 6th edition (pp. 33-56). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Smalley, G. & Paul, R. S. (2006) A talk with the doctors: Self-worth. In The DNA of relationships for Couples (pp. 217-225). Carol Stream, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.