For about a decade, I worked hard to become a published author. I got it in my head that if I could just publish a book I’d finally be something, be someone. It could become a part of my identity. My first book came out, then my second, then my third. I talked on radio shows and television. I signed books at conventions. I met the right people and did all the things published authors do.
For about 24 hours I felt good about my accomplishments.
But it wasn’t enough. I still hadn’t written the “right” book. Even though I’d had a best seller, I needed more sales. After all was said and done, adding the title “author” to my list of roles hadn’t changed me the way I was convinced it would.
We throw out the phrase “identity crisis” like it’s a passing fad. But it’s real. David and I believe most of us have some type of identity glitch on a daily, if not, hourly, basis. It doesn’t feel like a crisis because it’s all we’ve ever known.
How we perceive our identity affects every choice we make, every thought we think, and every stand we take at work and in our closest relationships.
Who we believe we are colors everything we do.
When it comes to identity, Henri Nouwen said most of us believe one or all of these lies:
1) I am what I have.
2) I am what I do.
3) I am what other people say or think of me.
4) I am nothing more than my worst moment.
5) I am nothing less than my best moment.
I’ve bought into every one of these statements. Some days I still get hooked by them. They’re powerful and convincing. Everyone around me believes them too, so sometimes they get reinforced and affirmed without me realizing it, even at church.
But, they don’t work. Living by them has handed me stress, anxiety, pain, disappointments, regret and a whole lot of unnecessary sadness.
I am what I have. What happens when your possessions lose their luster or get taken away from you? You’re still left with you. Neither your fine nor your terrible clothes, house, car, school or bank account can define the True you. While we’re at, it neither can your sports team, political party, church, race or ethnicity. You might identify with them but they are not your true identity.
I am what I do. What happens when your work, ministry or other position doesn’t “do it for you” anymore or you lose your title or the ability to perform your role? Who are you then? Some people get all the way to retirement or to their death bed before they feel the sting of this lie. You are infinitely more than anything you could ever do or don’t do.
I am what other people say or think of me. What do other people know about you, really? They can try, but a mere mortal can’t tell you who you are or who you’re not. Opinions come and go. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down. The real you is constant, unwavering.
I am nothing more than my worst moment. A failure is an event. It is not your essence. And it is not the totality of your experience. You may have done something wrong. You may have many flaws and weaknesses like me, but it doesn’t mean you are wrong. Your true significance is so invincible that even the worst failure can’t wipe it out.
I am nothing less than my best moment. Sorry, but even your best performances – as wonderful as they may be are still external actions. Even the best things are done “in Jesus name.” Your doing does not equal your being. Anything that is here today gone tomorrow can’t hold a candle to your eternal soul. It may be a byproduct of your essence but you are more than any good you do on your best day.
Anything or anyone outside you cannot define your true self. Only God within you can do that.
Francis of Assisi said,
“ I am who I am in the sight of God, nothing more, nothing less.”
What would it be like to live your life by the truth that the real you is created by and held together in God, unchangeable, and complete as is? (“You are complete in him… Colossians 2:10)
What would it feel like to live as someone who knows they remain whole even when things or people or circumstances go to pieces?
How much more rested and less stressed would you be if you knew once and for all that you really have nothing to prove- even to yourself?
How do you handle your “identity crisis?” We’d love to hear your thoughts/comments on your experience with any of the 5 lies of identity.
Also, we wrote a book, Nothing To Prove that tells how the lies we believed about our identity caused us to lose just about everything and how learning how to experience our True Identity on a daily basis changed our lives. Click here for more info.
We also have electronic & audio versions of the book available