Do you ever think about who you are or how you would define yourself? What is your identity based on?
I know, not always the easiest questions to answer on the fly. I find much of the time, a person bases their identity on what they do or what they are good at. For others it is based on how other people see them or how they portray themselves on social media. For others still, their identity is based on their achievements, passions, or goals. There are many ways to define yourself. The topic of personal identity seems to be popping up in a lot of conversations lately, and it’s been on my heart to share what I have experienced and learned on the subject.
Let’s take a step back and discuss what is meant by the word, “Identity.” Usually people will define who they are by asking themselves questions like these:
1. Who am I?
2.What do I do for a living?
3. What do I live for?
4. What would I sacrifice everything for?
5. What makes me happy?
6. What am I gifted at?
The answers could look like: I’m an accountant, a hair dresser or a parent. I am a good person. I couldn’t live without my husband/wife/daughter/son/gf/bf and so on. I would give everything to be successful or win a million dollars. Vacation makes me happy, family makes me happy… you get the picture. These can all be good things. Are they worthy of defining us?
As human beings, our identity is something we choose ourselves. No one else can make this decision for us unless we let them. According to Dictionary.com, identity is “the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time.” “The sense of self” portion of the definition seems pretty vague. I would take it further and say that a person’s identity is the core of who they are. It is what guides their decisions, how they react to situations, and how they treat family, friends, and strangers. It also determines how they use their gifts and talents, and what they do in life. These things then provide consistencies that we build into our character that eventually mould our personality. Therefore, how we mould our own character is up to us as individuals and it all starts with where we place our identity. You have free will and that choice is yours until the day you die. So how do we make a good choice? What is sustainable enough to place the responsibility of the core of our existence?
If I may share personally, because I have been searching for the answers to these questions and my conclusions have been tested at length the past few years. Some would label me a successful heptathlete. Last year I came back from surgery on a stress fracture in my foot to win the Pan American Cup and claim silver at Canadian Nationals in a huge personal best fashion. I have spent the last 6 years 100% dedicated to being the best athlete I can be. Is that all I am? Oh you could mention a bunch of other things I could be good at. So I’m also a really good artist, musician, writer, dancer, business woman …etc. Even if I was all those things, I wouldn’t want to be defined by them. I know a lot of people see me as “the athlete.” That is because our culture trains us to define others, and ourselves, mainly by what we do for a living or what we are good at. Doesn’t anyone want to know who I really am? Can anyone relate with how I feel?
So what happens when 2 years ago, I get a stress fracture that requires surgery and puts me out for 2 track seasons? What happens when I ruptured my achilles at my last competition of the season in the Netherlands just 3 months ago? What happens when I can no longer work toward goals that I have made huge sacrifices to achieve? What and who am I? Am I even an athlete anymore? Ok so I have a job, I have backup. I am still a personal trainer. I can pour myself into doing that. What if I couldn’t do that anymore? Then what would I cling to? There are things that happen in this life that we can hope will never happen, but they sometimes do. What if I was completely paralyzed and could no longer move? Would my identity change? It would be rather exhausting to have your identity bouncing around all over the place whenever something bad happened. So how do I get through it? What is the one thing that is sustainable through all these situations that I can trust with all that I am?
Maybe your answer is yourself. You are your own motivation. You can empower yourself! It’s all about attitude. It’s all about positivity. You can do anything you put your mind to…. These are all true to a certain extent, but you are human right? That means you are imperfect. You will fail and make mistakes. You cannot sustain a life of lonely self empowerment. Why would you want to?
Let me suggest something different. Something outside yourself. Given that I have tried the different options and found only one that works, I have chosen to revolve my whole life and identity around Jesus Christ and who He has made me to be. Not only did He create me but He “created my inmost being; [He] knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). He knows EVERYTHING about me. Throughout the Bible God talks about how I am a new creation through the sacrifice and acceptance of His Son Jesus. It is because of His saving grace that I am free to be who I am. You may ask, “If I am relying on God, then how am I free?” Timothy Keller has a quote that explains it well, “Freedom is not the absence of constraints but finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” For example, knowing the rules of the heptathlon helps guide me into success as a heptathlete. Learning the best techniques for my different events helps me excel in those events. The rules and constraints of physics or specific techniques don’t limit me; they free me to be the best heptathlete I can be. God’s laws work like this. They guide us into the right way to do things so we can truly flourish as humans.
You might also wonder why if your identity is something you can choose and you have free will to do so, then why do you need Jesus? Why can’t you rely on your own empowered self? No matter what you choose to base your identity on, it is going to affect your values. If you base your identity on how much money you make, your life will revolve around money, and you will make decisions based on it. If you choose Jesus, His love living through you will affect your decisions, and everything else. The reason I choose Jesus over anything else in this world is because despite our best human efforts, we will always fall short of achieving the characteristics and values that we want. This is why we need Jesus’ sacrifice and forgiveness. Oh I definitely believe that a positive attitude, and belief and confidence in yourself are helpful as I said before, but how is something like money going to affect who you become when things go wrong?
Jesus is the only person in this world who is unchanging, consistent, (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:8), perfect, and unconditionally loving (“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8). Who or what is a better candidate to trust with my identity? Jesus’ Holy Spirit living in me and His Word (the Bible) are what guide my decisions, how I react to situations, and how I treat family, friends, and strangers. Christ calls us to love everyone unconditionally whether they are friend or enemy, as He does. They also determine how I use my gifts and talents, and what I do in my life (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” Colossians 3:23, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” Colossians 3:17). This really simplifies my goals because no matter what I do, I try to do it in a manner that glorifies God, meanwhile giving thanks to Him that I am able to work toward them in the first place.
This way of life then provides consistencies that are built into my character to make me more like Christ as I learn and grow as a person throughout my life. I have free will and that choice is always mine. I am the one who invited Jesus into my life and heart but it was Him who loved me first, before I even knew Him. He doesn’t barge into our lives and force His love on us, he is a gentleman who waits for us to let Him in, even though He pursues us the whole time (“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” – Jesus, Revelation 3:20).
There are truths throughout God’s word that He gives me to hold onto. Truths about my identity in Him. These are a constant encouragement to me especially through the difficult times, as well as a reminder that there’s much more to life than what we can see here on earth:
I am created in the image of God – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27
I am a child/daughter of God – “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – John 1:12
I am forgiven – “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” – Romans 6:6 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:12
I am His masterpiece – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” – Ephesians 2:10
I am a dwelling place of God – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body”
– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I am made new – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
I can be at peace in every circumstance – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
I don’t need to worry about anything – “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7
I am confident – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
I am an heir of Christ’s suffering and God’s glory – “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” – Romans 8:17
All these things will NEVER change. As an athlete, it is so easy to get wrapped up in performance. For many athletes, performance is their identity. It has been mine at times too. You can imagine on a good day they will be on top of the world, but on the inevitable day of a poor performance, they beat themselves up, they are emotionally at rock bottom and their world is ending. The roller coaster of emotions is exhausting. Who wants to put themselves through that? I do not perfectly rely on Jesus all the time but it’s what I strive for, and when I do it well I am joyful, confident and at peace (“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). My joy is not based on my circumstances, it is based on who Jesus is and what He did for me.
That last bolded point about being an heir of Christ’s suffering… what’s that all about? You may be thinking, “I don’t want to suffer! That’s what I’m trying to NOT do!” It is a lie when people say that your life will be easy as a Christian, because when you become a Christian and enter a relationship with Jesus, you have entered the battle. Before you were already on the losing side, but when you give your life to Christ, the losing side is going to want you back. God doesn’t make bad things happen to us, but evil is real and it is in the world, and Satan doesn’t want us to enjoy a fulfilling earthly life in partnership with Jesus. He most definitely doesn’t want us to enjoy an eternal one with Him after we die either. Therefore the Bible says to, “Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
You may be wondering why I am now talking about suffering, and what it has to do with our identity. The thing or person that determines our identity will determine how we experience and endure suffering. Suffering is a part of life whether you are a follower of Christ or not because we live in a broken world. So at some point, you will have to decide how to deal with the terrible and difficult things that happen in your life. The question isn’t if those things happen, but when. And when they do, you will want to know how to suffer well. As a Christian, suffering is also a necessity. It may sound crazy but I am THANKFUL for my injuries. I have suffered immensely (with injury and other trials in life) and it has been beyond challenging, but it has been fruitful. Only because my identity is rooted in Jesus Christ have I learned more in the last 4 years than I could have imagined. I’ve learned about how to live a life of joy, confidence, and peacefulness verses a life of depression, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Those four years have also been the most difficult to date. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I have hope because whether I run, or don’t ever run again, or work, or play, or my husband and I pick up and move to timbuktu, I will have faith in where God is leading me.
The other thing about suffering with Christ is that I never have to do it alone. Jesus Himself is always with me, the body of Christ (the church) is always there to support and love me, and I have God’s love letter (the Bible) written to me, whenever I need encouragement and guidance. God made human beings to be in community with one another; To be a support system for each other. Thanks to the fall of humanity (in Genesis) our world is ugly and full of imperfect people, and it doesn’t work the way it should. That is why God sent His Son Jesus into the world, to save us and give all of humanity a second chance. We don’t deserve it, but He did it anyway.
I have been vulnerable and honest in sharing my personal revelations and testimony on identity, suffering, and life with Christ. I genuinely want to share what I have learned with whoever will read it. I would love for everyone to know the peace and joy that I have experienced through life with Jesus. I make a ton of mistakes, but the journey is life long. We will never be perfect on earth, but we hope for what is ahead. What we choose to place our identity in has a huge effect on what our lives on earth will look like, but an even greater effect on what eternity will look like. I pray and hope that you will examine your own life and ask yourself the really hard questions. Who am I? In what am I placing my identity? Why am I on the earth? What happens after I die?
As for me, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). At the end of my life on earth, when I meet Jesus I want to hear the words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Questions and comments are welcome, or contact me personally on Facebook.