By Marisa Stokley, Director of Marketing, WhiteFire Publishing Group
From a young age, often we are part of conversations about identities. We are given them from the moment we come to be—a new baby joining a family as a daughter or son, sister or brother, niece or nephew or grandchild. Our worth is innate because babies are loved by nature of who they are: small beings who depend upon their loved ones to survive. For Christians, that worth also is driven by God. Scripture says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations,” (Jeremiah 1:5). From our earliest days, we hold the identity of being a child of God—valued, created, and called by the Lord to be loved by him and to demonstrate that love to others. Children knowing who they are from so young an age is beneficial. Expectations are set based upon the behaviors that belong to every identity. How an individual continues to adhere to those expectations and determine their own self-worth depends upon a multitude of reasons, including rebelliousness, trust, individualism, a sense of adventure, and social norms.
As we grow up, we take on the identity of student and friend, navigating a world changing from solely familial to that of school and work. Who we are shifts to an association with what we enjoy or where our skills lie. Identities such as the star of the basketball team, the lead in the school play, a waiter or waitress at the local restaurant, or so-and-so’s boyfriend or girlfriend become more significant than who we are within our family and, sometimes, within our faith. Our worth becomes associated with what we can do rather than with who we are. These identities are expressed for everyone to see and are accountable for what worth comes from them: popularity, a scholarship, a relationship, or a job. These earthly things give children and teenagers something tangible to strive for when the world pushes them to test their boundaries and be their best. Comfort can be found in an identity that is easy to label when otherwise someone does not know who they are. This is also the time when faith begins to waver and identifying as a Christian becomes less important. It is much easier to strive for and identify with something that has an immediate effect; faith does not, necessarily, do the same.
This theme continues throughout life. College students associate themselves with their majors. Americans identify themselves by their job roles ahead of any other label or role they may hold. Doctor. Publisher. Editor. Scientist. Mother. Father. Christian. Jewish. Friend. Life becomes sweet with the good—marriage, children, a house, and new jobs—but the challenges of living in a fallen world also ebb and flow, continuing to push people to rely on the labels of what they do rather than who they do it for. The battle for identity persists as days are filled with obligations and work, leaving people minimal time to spend in God’s presence and study his word. Once again, the ease of believing in self-worth comes from how much gets done in a day rather than someone recognizing themselves as a child of the king because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.
Whether for good or for bad, we assign our self-worth based upon what people know of us. Those associations can become so entwined into who we are that we don’t know how to function without the labels.
- If we lose a job or willingly leave one to do something else, shame creeps in. Who am I if I no longer am an X?
- If a marriage ends, each person questions who they are now that their relationship is no longer central to their life. Who am I now that I no longer a husband or wife?
- When a child leaves for college, parents often experience empty-nest syndrome. My daughter/son is at school X hours away and doesn’t need me anymore. What do I do if I don’t have to take care of my kids all day anymore?
- When a high school student graduates, the world becomes so much bigger and the possibilities become endless. There are too many choices to make, and I don’t know what to do. What if I make the wrong one?
- When the time to retire comes, people sometimes lose their sense of purpose. For forty-some years I went to work. Now I sit at home and have nothing to do. What am I supposed to do all day?
Discovering Vocation Rather Than Choosing an Identity
Circumstances can change at any moment. What was certain can disappear against our will, forever altering the path we intended to take. The worth that was so essential to someone’s identity ceases to exist, leaving them shaken in the face of an unknown future. We would be better off, then, placing our self-worth in the hands of the one who created us rather than in an identity molded upon our own skills and abilities.
Life necessitates that people take on various roles. Without these identities, society would be unable to function. There is a difference, though, between fulfilling a calling settled deep within your heart and assuming an identity just to meet an expectation or to help fill a void of purpose. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future.” God-given vocations may be settled deep within us, but they still are ones we have the free will either to choose to fulfill or ignore. Just because they are God-given doesn’t mean they are easy to handle or ones that will define our self-worth as successful by earthly standards. Nevertheless, when we follow God’s path for us to assume our true vocations rather than only identities that society says are valued, self-worth becomes much more meaningful.
Whatever path we choose and however we choose to achieve it, our worth never diminishes in God’s eyes. He loves us so much that he knows everything about us, even down to the hair on our heads. He set a plan into place for every one of us before we even were created. No matter what decisions we make or who we think we need to be, God knows who we are meant to be and that we are all worthy because we are his children—no conditions required.