“May I see your ID?” the cashier asked. YES!!! YES YOU CAN, kind sir. And THANK YOU for asking!!! As someone who passed 40 a few years ago, I was almost giddy with excitement that the clerk wanted to see my identification to prove my age. He needed to see that little plastic card I carry around in my wallet to confirm who I am and how many years I have been on this planet. And while it did give that cutie patootie behind the register some pertinent fact about me, it doesn’t tell the whole story. That isn’t really who I am.
So, who am I? It’s a question of identity. Identity gets thrown around a lot these days, ESPECIALLY in Christian circles, but nobody ever really breaks it down into bite-sized pieces. And since bite size is my favorite size, I’m gonna attempt to do that here. There may be some math involved, but don’t freak out. I promise Jesus will get us through.
Who are you? Let’s start by imaging YOU as a person represented by 4 concentric circles. That just a fancy way of saying circles inside of each other for those of you who, like me, cried your way thru Geometry in 10th grade. (Sorry Mrs. Goodman!) Concentric circles…you with me??? OK, good. We shall call that outermost circle Appearance. That could encompass our skin color, our sense of style, our weight. All of the things people see on the outside live here. This is what people first meet when they encounter us. Even those whom we never interact with receive us on this level. This is the beginning of YOU.
But it doesn’t stop there. Move in a level and let’s call that circle PERSONALITY. Are you funny? Shy? Outgoing? Pessimistic? Quirky? Bold? Quiet? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Are you an early bird or a night owl? These are all fundamental things about you and the way God made you. These are the things that have been true about you since you were a child. Your natural tendencies and preferences live here. But this isn’t who you are.
Let’s go one more circle deeper and let’s call that LIFE EXPERIENCE. This is the town or the country you grew up in. This is your place in the family. This is the schools you went to and the places you’ve traveled. This is the people you’ve dated and the people you didn’t. This is where broken hearts and broken bones live. This is where our choices, good and bad, reside. But our people and our places and our choices aren’t who we are. They make up part of us, but they aren’t US.
And the problem with claiming any of these as our identity is that they can change. They are fluid and move with the reasons and seasons of life. If we have planted our flag in any of these circles, we will find ourselves on shaky ground when things begin to shift. It’s the stuff of middle child syndrome and midlife crises.
Who we are, our identity, lies in our CORE. The innermost circle is the core of who we are. When all else is stripped away, these remain:
This is it. Identity. This is me. This is you. This is every human created by an intentional God. Psalms 139:13 says, “For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” As John Gray puts it, none of us snuck in here. Every one of us was knit together in our mother’s womb. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. You were conceived in heaven before you were ever conceived on earth. As I watch the world around me and see the social and cultural issues we are facing today, I honestly believe 99% of them are rooted in identity. For all our differences, this is the one place we are all the same. And it is the one thing about us that never changes.
Identity is freedom. When we land here, we are free to drop all the outward appearances and inward failures that have held us back. When we realize that under all the stuff, we are really all the same. Our identity defines us whether we ever lay claim to it or not. It’s like buried treasure. Until we can dig down through all the other layers and land here, we are still trapped living life behind the mask.