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Who am I, anyway?

I was 13 the summer Disney’s The Lion King hit theaters—still young enough that I wasn’t embarrassed to see an animated animal movie, and old enough that the humor didn’t fly over my head.

My little sister and I watched it over and over, and I remember listening to the soundtrack on a CD player (a big deal at the time) in our kitchen. It didn’t take long before I had a good amount of the film memorized, and even now, more than 20 years later, I’ll hear a particular word or phrase and respond with a line of dialogue. (And if not The Lion King, I’ll have something for you from Aladdin, or The Lord of the Rings, or Clueless, or Friends... It’s kind of a nerd super power of mine.)

This month I’ve been pondering my answer to the question, Who are you? And every time, without fail, I can hear Rafiki, the wise baboon, saying to a pouting Simba the lion, “The question is, whoooooo are you?” Simba hangs his head, replying, “I thought I knew. Now I’m not so sure.”

Simba was in a rough patch, trying to find his place in the world. Some days, when I forget whose I am, I can relate.

How about you? How do you define yourself—and where’d the definition come from?

Let’s dig in…


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From Lindsey’s desk

This past November, a few days into our first real snowfall, I suddenly realized we were missing most of our winter gear.

We had our coats, boots, and snow pants—thank goodness—and a few random pairs of mittens I had been too lazy to pack away the year before. But as I dug through every single box in our basement, most of our hats, gloves, and even some scarves were nowhere to be found. I disturbed the dust bunnies under our beds and at the very top of every closet to no avail. As we drove to the store for some replacements, I complained to my husband, “You know, we’re going to find this stuff as soon as winter’s over.”

Hats and gloves aren’t the only things I’ve lost since moving to Michigan. If you and I met over coffee, I might tell you how figuring out my identity has been challenging lately. I associated my identity with things that kept changing, shifting, or disappearing, and I was left wondering, "Who am I, anyway?"

Christians often talk about this idea of “putting our identity in Christ.” It’s kind of a weird thing to say; I’m not sure anyone outside Christian circles talks about “putting” their identity anywhere. I think what we mean by that is we’ve been looking for our value, affirmation, fulfillment, and joy in something—maybe Jesus, but maybe not. Sometimes, I’ve put my identity in my career or my passions and hobbies. More often, I put it in my marriage and motherhood. The problem is that career, family, and passion are very much out of my control: My career changed by choice and by circumstances, postpartum depression made motherhood feel practically impossible, scarce free time pushed other interests and passions to the back burner. In fact, with a cross-country move and three babies, our family has been in an almost constant state of transition over the past several years. Along the way, I felt lost because I didn’t know what to do or exactly how to go about it. In the midst of that, I thought it was my identity that was missing.

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At the beginning of the Gospels, we find Jesus being baptized by John. God used this moment to declare who Jesus was and is, saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

In that moment, God could have said so much. He might have said, “This is my hard-working son. This is my carpenter son, my rabbi son. My miracle-performing, disciple-making, illness-healing, sermon-preaching, son. This is my Savior-of-the-world son.”

He could have said that. but he didn’t. Just… son.

Before Jesus began his ministry, he needed this assurance of his identity as God’s beloved son. The Father was pleased with Jesus long before he healed the sick, preached a sermon, or died on the cross. The same is true of us, God’s beloved and created children: He is well pleased with us before we ever do a thing, including even putting our faith in him or asking for forgiveness. I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to craft my identity out of what I did and how I was doing it, but my identity was solidified the moment God first dreamed me up, long before I had any opportunity to do anything at all.

I often resist change because I don’t want to reinvent myself and find my identity again. Now, I’m learning it’s good and necessary that what we do and how we do it change throughout our lives. How boring would life be, otherwise? But in the midst of all that, who we are really never changes. We grow and learn, but we remain a beloved child of God through it all.

I worried that paring down my identity to “child of God” would feel stifling, but the opposite is actually true. There is peace to be found when my identity rests where it was always meant to. I have tremendous freedom to experiment, change course, and try new things, because all that risk-taking and mind-changing doesn’t alter who I am at my core.

In Shalom Sistas, Osheta Moore writes, “Beloved and Enough are two sides of the same coin of identity. One faces God: ‘I know you call me Beloved.’ The other faces the world: ‘God calls me Beloved, so I am Enough.’” She goes on to say, “Every day we’re challenged to write a better story about our identity, a story that rejects the fear that we’re going to be exposed to others or that God is going to rescind our belovedness.”*

If my career path (or lack thereof) doesn’t seem particularly valuable, Jesus still walks with me.
If I fail in any area of life—big or small—I am still a daughter of the King.
If I am uncertain about my next steps, I am still beloved.
And because of that, I am enough.

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We recently moved to a new home, and I decided to stuff the clothes from our closet into one of our suitcases. I store all our duffle bags and backpacks within those suitcases, and I lifted a black duffle bag out, only to be surprised by how heavy it was. I unzipped it, and sure enough—it was full of wool hats, thick pairs of gloves, and knit scarves. I have no recollection of ever packing them away like that. (I’m sure I had a good reason at the time, but I can't tell you what it was.) I wasn't going to let the same mistake happen again, so as spring came along and the possibility of snow was behind us, I went through every box and closet until I was sure I’d gathered up every last piece of gear. It’s now all collected and stored together in vacuum-sealed bags; I know just where to find it when I see the first signs of winter later this year. This time, I won’t need to spend so much time and energy tracking it down, let alone replacing it.

It’s easy to misplace our identity when we keep trying to move it around and stuff it into ill-fitting boxes. Our Instagram bios read like resumes, and we ask even toddlers what they plan to be when they grow up (as opposed to, say, what they want to do). We ask 20-somethings to pin down their callings and college majors. We look in the mirror and fill in our calendars, using the metrics of the world to determine our value. When my life changes unexpectedly or drastically, I feel lost because I mistakenly believe my identity is changing too. I have been looking for it in all the wrong places.

Maybe, as Christians, we need to stop talking about “putting” our identity anywhere. As much as we like to say it, we can’t put our identity in Jesus. Our identity has been given to us; we are not in charge of forming or creating or even changing it.

When it comes to identity, our only responsibility is to remember: We are children of God.

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Finding freedom

...in the Word

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.”
—Romans 8:15-16, The Message

...on the Web

Jennie Allen reminds us that when we obey God in our unique callings, we won’t live cookie-cutter lives—and that’s okay: Shaking the Weight of “The Rules”

John Rinehart breaks down what the Bible says about who we are in God's eyes: What God Thinks About You

From Rebekah’s blog, an essay about ditching labels for something more freeing: Coming out of my shell

...in words of wisdom

“Living small is not about having less, but being less—less respected in the eyes of the world, less successful, less wealthy, less esteemed, less you. Less me. And more Jesus. Here, in this abundance of less, where more of us is stripped away, we’ll uncover the person we were made to be, the one created in the image of a God who sank holy feet into our human mess.”
—Shannan Martin, Falling Free

...in music

This new single from JJ Heller: Braver Still

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A quote to share

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Here’s to knowing we are who God says we are—and living like we believe it!

Lindsey & Rebekah

PS: If you’d like to process these ideas with us more throughout the week, follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

*This quote is from from Osheta Moore’s upcoming book, Shalom Sistas, available October 3, 2017, from Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.HeraldPress.com

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