One of my all time favorite movie quotes is from the film Chariots of Fire. Olympic runner Harold Abrahams is in his locker room preparing for his track and field event. While getting ready with his trainer, he says about the race, “When the gun goes off I have 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.” So many people, like Harold Abrahams, look to their performance and what they do to give them a sense of who they are.
Last weekend I was away on a retreat with some leaders from our church. The retreat was part spiritual reflection and part business. As part of our reflection time, we were given three questions to reflect on and pray through with the expectation of coming back together to share our thoughts. The first of the three questions was, “Who are you?” But we couldn’t answer the question based on what we do.
As I sat down to think and pray, I pulled out a piece of paper to help put my thoughts together. Even though I wasn’t supposed to answer the question based on what I did, I started there since that’s where my mind typically goes when asked that question. This is what I wrote
As I figuratively stepped back to observe what I had written, I noticed that none of the things on my list were permanent/fixed. My job could easily change tomorrow. All of my hobbies are based on skills and abilities that I could have taken away at any moment. My past accomplishments are long forgotten and have been surpassed by others better than myself. All of these things are temporary.
Then I realized the way to answer the question, “Who am I?” isn’t with what I do, but rather with where I belong. Specifically in regards to certain relationships that I have. Because there are certain relationships that I have that will never change. For example, I will always be the son of Mark and Jama Marvel. I will always be the dad of Kate and Emma. These relationships, these family ties, give me a sense of belonging and they never change. They communicate who I am.
Even though family ties never change, they are broken. Some people grow up in situations that are dysfunctional and abusive. Other people grow up in a situation where they are abandoned and orphaned. But regardless of the situation, this sense of belonging is hardwired in us. Everyone longs for a place to belong. Therefore, when individuals grow up without a sense of belonging, they naturally gravitate towards a socially constructed families/communities in order to find acceptance and belonging. So if identity is best understood along the lines of belonging, perhaps the questions isn’t “Who am I?” but rather, “Whose am I?” (i.e. Where do I belong?).
And if identity is wrapped up in belonging, I answer the question of “Whose am I?” by saying, I belong to Jesus! I am His and that never changes. My relationship with Christ is more solid and secure than any other relationship I have.
I bring the post to a close with the words from Peter about who we are.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
And in the first chapter of his letter Peter tells us just how secure and certain this identity is. He says,
In his great mercy he (God) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power. (1 Peter 1:3-5)