Whenever someone asks me what my plans are for the near future I immediately tense up and get defensive. I thought that by the time I was a year out of college I would have my entire life figured out and a twenty year plan mapped out. Like a lot of young people today I don’t even have a two year plan and often feel like I have nothing figured out. All this insecurity about my future plans and what I hope to accomplish has begun to make me feel insecure about my own identity. I get this sense that if I’m not doing something great or building a successful career that I have no identity. So when someone asks me a harmless question like, “So, what’s next for you?” all I can hear is, “So, you’re a loser?”
My insecurity about my own identity has made me pause to really consider what identity is and where it comes from. Maybe you find your identity in what you do, who you date, a group of people, or how you look. The truth is that most of us have at least part of our identity attached to something or someone outside of ourselves. Finding part of your identity in different places is not a bad thing, to a certain extent it’s a healthy part of life. But when your identity gets wrapped up completely in one thing or person it can become toxic and paralyze your personal growth.
My wife Sarah will readily admit that when we first started dating she found all of her identity in me. She would talk about me, think about me, and try to be with me almost all the time. Of course we were in love but I think for her it was also an identity issue. Becuase she found so much of her identity in me, she was often anxious when I was away and insecure about herself around other people. When I was in college I was making good grades and found most of my identity in “having it all together.” Once I was out of college I really struggled because I wanted to be perceived as productive and successful. When I realized I wasn’t able to “keep everything together” I began to feel that same anxiety and pressure that Sarah did because the truth was my identity was completely wrapped up in what I did.
Putting all of your identity into something or someone else wears you down and causes you to constantly second guess yourself. It’s draining becuase these are all temporary and will let you down. Your spouse will let you down, beauty fades, and careers go up and down. The only source of identity I know of that provides an enduring confidence is in Christ. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 139:13-16
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Maybe you’re at a place right now where you’re questioning your own identity. Let me ask you: What is your identity wrapped up in? Because I guarantee you that where you find your identity you will also find your heart. It’s good to find purpose and identity outside of yourself but if who you are is completely dependent on anything other than God you are bound to suffer an identity crisis sooner or later. In Colossians 3:3-4 Paul writes this to some of the first Christians: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” If I’m honest, my life is often hidden in things other than Christ. It’s painful to realize that your identity isn’t built on an eternal source but the good news is that today you have the chance to shift your focus and begin rebuilding an identity on the only thing that lasts.
Ryan is the oldest son of Kerry and Chris Shook. His book, Firsthand, is coming out early next year.