"If you're using half your concentration to look normal, then you're only half paying attention to whatever else you're doing…You want society to accept you, but you can't even accept yourself." - X-Men: First Class
Who are you?
My first instinct, if I’m trying to answer that question, is to start by describing myself. I might describe the roles that I have - a father, a husband, a youth minister. Or I might describe some of the things I like to do. This question, while on the surface is quite simple, is loaded with depth. How you answer it describes the way that you see yourself. As a Christian, how do you see yourself? Where do you find your identity? If we’re honest, that’s not always a simple question.
Being someone you’re not
Throughout your life, there will likely be seasons where you are confused about your identity and maybe even pretend to be something you’re not. It might be that you’re simply not happy with the person that you are or feel like the person you are is not good enough. So what do we do when we feel that way? Naturally, we pretend. We put on masks and try to behave the way we are supposed to behave. We try to say all the right things at all the right times in hopes that we’ll feel the right way.
There’s a great example of this in the Old Testament. Isaac has two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau is the firstborn and as the firstborn he gets a blessing from his father. Jacob is unhappy. He is unhappy that he doesn’t get what God has given his brother so he decides to pretend to be someone else. He decides to pretend to be his brother.
“So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not." And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. He said, "Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” – Genesis 27:18-24 (ESV)
It’s a bit sad to read about Jacob lying to his own father about who he is. But don’t we often do the same? For moments with think “if only I had this,” “if only I were like this,” or “if only things were different” and we will deceive those around us in hopes of making things different. When we base our identity in the things we do or what we have, we are bound to have an identity crisis like Jacob and end up lying in order to improve our false identity. And this is so often what happens – we base our identity on our degrees, on our careers, and on our significant others – and it doesn’t fufill us. Our identity should be founded on who we are in Christ; when we base our identity on who we are in Christ we can be confident who we are now and not dwell on who we wish we were.
When we base our identity in the things we do or what we have, we are bound to have an identity crisis like Jacob and end up lying in order to improve our false identity.
So…Who are you?
Later in Jacob's life, he finds himself in a situation that would forever alter his life. Jacob actually wrestles with God. An interesting thing happens in this encounter with God - and it's not simply the fact that he actually struggled with God - but its the question that God asks Jacob.
“But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. – Genesis 32:26-29 (ESV)
The first blessing that Jacob went after, he did so by lying about his identity. But this time he encounters the son of God in a wrestling match and he answers the question “What is your name?” And he answers it correctly this time… and then God changes his name. We may often get our identity confused and not know who we are, but something significant happens when we encounter God. Because of Christ we are identified with him and our lives are forever identified with His and not with what we do, what we own, or who we know.