When someone asks you who you are, how do you respond? The question, Who am I? is brief, but profound. The question and its answer get to the core of our being.
Our response to the question, Who am I? reveals how we identify ourselves, or what we perceive to be our identity. The issue of identity is something that most people struggle with. Teens especially struggle to find identity. They will often explore new types of music, new friends, new clothes and new activities until they find something that they can identify with. Teens however are not the only people who search for identity.
Young adults often find their identity in their college, grades or career ambitions.
Many adults find identity in their job. The question, Who are you? is often followed by What do you do? One of the many difficulties of unemployment is a perceived loss of identity. Others may find their identity in a sports team. In Philadelphia this can be especially damaging to our sense of identity.
It is good have an identity. It helps define us and helps others to know us. It enables us to prioritize our resources, say “no” to distractions and stay focused. We can find great satisfaction in our identity.
Where most people often experience pain in relation to their identity is when they feel that they have lost their identity.
How can someone lose their identity?
When we identify ourselves, or gain our identity, from something that is unstable or outside of our control, we risk an identity crisis. For instance, if your identity is wrapped up in your job, your sense of identity can be greatly damaged if you lose your job. If job = identity, and you lose your job, then you lose your identity. The same can be said of someone whose identity is wrapped up in a possession like a car, house or season-tickets.
Aside from jobs and possessions, it is possible to find identity in relationships. The angst of the teenage years is compounded when boyfriends and girlfriends find their identity in who they are dating, only to be dumped for another person. In many cases this angst does not conclude with our teenage years. It can be carried into adulthood.
This explains some of the pain of losing a spouse to death or divorce. If you found your identity in your spouse, and they are no longer part of your present reality, you may feel that you have lost your identity.
In order to have a healthy sense of identity it must be founded on something that is stable and not at risk of changing. Relationships, affiliations and possessions are likely to change over time, risking an identity crisis. The search for identity is something that each individual will have to explore and evaluate for themselves.
Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming. You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.