BY MICHELLE GOH (GPC's Missionary to Thailand, OMF Singapore)
I think it’s common for us to have an identity crisis every now and then. It normally strikes when some kind of crisis or big transition takes place in our lives. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I contemplated what it would mean for me to return home for a season to care for my parents, which is what I have seen other missionaries do. The thought that I’d be back home, no longer a missionary and without a proper ‘job’ frightened me. It reminded me of accounts of those who became jobless or had just retired, sharing about how they felt like they lost their sense of who they are and their self-worth.
We often define ourselves and find our identities in the things we do (things we have accomplished in the past, what we are doing now and what we hope to accomplish in the future), the relationships we have and things about ourselves that make us unique and feel good about ourselves.
In his book, ‘The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness,’ Timothy Keller talks about how the human ego is empty and he quotes Søren Kierkegaard who says that it is the normal state of the human heart to try to build its identity around something besides God. Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.
When I read that, I felt like God was telling me that every time I have an identity crisis, it’s a sign that my ego is scrambling to find something to fill itself other than God. I’d let what I do (as a missionary) fill my need for my sense of self-worth and purpose. Yes, it’s spiritual pride no matter what you fill that with – as long as it isn’t God. I thought about how it would be if everything I do and have in this world that’s giving a sense of worth, a sense of specialness and a sense of purpose besides God is taken away from me. What if I lost all (or most of) my abilities and talents, my physical/mental/emotional health, my family and friends, my church, my worldly possessions and my job? If you think about it, a war, a natural disaster or a freak accident could make that happen anytime. What would be left of my sense of self and self-worth?
In that same book, Keller encourages us to practice self-forgetfulness, to not think about ourselves so much but to think about Christ and our identity in Christ instead. And in his book, ‘Who Am I? Identity in Christ,’ Jerry Bridges lists 8 truths about who we are in Christ that are eternal and unchanging:
1. I am a creature, created in the image of God, fully dependent on him and fully accountable to him.
2. By the work of God, I am no longer in Adam: I am in Christ, through a union that is both living and representative.
3. I am justified, I am righteous before God, because God has charged my sin to Christ and credited to me his perfect righteousness.
4. I am an adopted son of God. God loves us, not because we are loveable, but because we are in Christ, and the love which the Father has for his Son flows over to us because we are in him.
5. I am a new creation, with a new heart, a new spirit, and a new identity before God.
6. I am a saint. I do not belong to myself, but to God. I have been purchased and declared holy by God, and set apart for God.
7. I am a servant of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, I serve Him by serving others in the particular role or roles to which, in His providential wisdom, He has called me.
8. I am NOT YET PERFECT. Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace. Every day of our lives should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone, for every day of our lives we are not yet perfect. Someday we will be.
BRIDGES CONCLUDES WITH THIS: Our answer to the question, “Who am I?”, is to be found in neither our achievements, nor our failures, nor the evaluations of others, but in Christ alone. It is he who, as our representative before God, lived the perfect life we could never live, died the death we deserved to die, and now sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us - and I suspect, cheering us on. One of the old Puritans once said, “For every look you take at your sanctification, take two looks at your justification.” I want to borrow that sentence structure and say, “For every look you take at yourself in your daily experience, take two looks at who you are in Christ.” May God help all of us to do that. FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:
• How do you find your sense of worth and purpose? What is your sense of self based on?
• When was the last time you had an identity crisis? Why?
• Have you fully embraced the 8 truths listed above about who you are in Christ? Which one(s) do you need to work on?