Who’s the “I” in your identity?
Several years ago, a friend and I met for coffee. The particular events in my friend’s life prompted a discussion between us on the subject of “Do Not Resuscitate”. As topics segued and rabbit-trailed, the dialogue shifted to something that was more centered on the question “At What Point Do I Believe I Have No Value?”
We contemplated the word “value” and realized that it was very closely associated (if not synonymous) with the word “identity”. For example, who I am had a very similar definition to what I value.
It was decided that if we could articulate our value, we would understand better what our identity is. Finally, this became our ultimate quest: to grasp our identity.
After months and many failed attempts at clasping a conclusion of any sort, a foundational sketch for value surfaced. It was more like an assurance that if anything has been created, it has been created for an ultimately good purpose and it is therefore valuable. We are heirs of God’s image, which is ultimate value. Whether I conclude a life is useful or admirable has no bearing on the reality that it is valued by God who has the decisive say in what is valuable.
The fact of a thing’s creation is the fact of its value. This bias had been formed in me at some point and was waiting to be spoken, and waiting to be an influential element in this contemplation of value and identity.
The idea that everything has value certainly didn’t narrow anything down for me, but it was a good start. As for defining that value past a clichéd-seeming sound bite and determining how that played out in the shoes I’d been given, well, I set out toward these new meanings by way of auto-dissection.
At the very surface, I find my value and my identity in a trade or a role. My ability to earn provision or accolades in my role glorifies the basis of this superficial layer: me—ego/flesh me.
Sifting down through the multiple levels of what I value (or how I am valued), I wandered past the layers wrapped in noble things, intrinsic things, the ability to enact any change, my genetics, my disposition, the ways in which I uphold things I deem “valuable”, and the motive for doing so.
These layers are easy to cling to if they show well. The point of crisis comes as these layers are in question.
I acknowledged the large contingency of people who aren’t afforded the opportunity to “layer up” with a comfortable level of provisions, or even tout a place in an esteemed cause. I examined the very vast array of quality of life that God allows to persist on this Earth. Additionally, there are very real illnesses and shortages and tragedies all over the world which can render the most well-intended person “useless”. And to be ineffective is to feel non-existent, and therefore, to feel of little value—at least that’s my own experience talking from the years of the recession.
For any of us who can hear and think, that first, primordial “garden-variety” question eventually enters: “Am I of value?” (Genesis 3:1-5). The enemy can convince us that we are of no value during any point in our identity’s construction or deconstruction. But if anything had a beginning, then it has value, and so my own value does not rest on my own usefulness or even survival.
I dug deeper, because somewhere on the spectrum of value and identity are my first two daughters, who, if they were still alive in the bodies they left in, would likely not have the capacity to earn or achieve or contribute to the good of the world as the superficial eye sees it. And only an ignorant fool would tell me that Ava and Bella had no value.
The more I chiseled away, the more readily I was able to accept that value is awarded even if I can do no more than simply exist. In this lowly position, I became more empathetic and bonded with creation and its fated reality. I felt humbled and ready to accept this truth:
My identity is meaningful even if I am merely a vessel that receives grace and compassion and deliverance.
I sat in the quiet of that reality. If I were purely that—a life centered on receiving Christ—if that was my identity and the core of my being and if I let that be my source of value, who/what would I be?
Who is “I” when whittled down to this core reality?
“I” am no longer a scurrying, anxious and insecure entity. I am bigger and constant, like the Kingdom of God, and I am aligned to inherit the things of it, like hope and purpose and a vision for myself and others.
Who is the “I” who knows it can do no more than receive Christ? It is the “I” in the 23rd Psalm: “I lack nothing… He guides me along the right paths… I will fear no evil… I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
It is the “I” in individual as much as it is the “I” in unity.
It is the “I” that is granted whatever it asks for in the spirit of Christ (John 14:14). And seeing with the eternal eye of the eternal “I” is to see what the Father is doing (John 5:19-20).
I could say that I am only of value if I do receive Christ and the things of Christ; and yet I believe we are valued even when we don’t. Why else would He die for us “even while we were still sinners”?
My identity has a new definition, and value has a more profound meaning. By discovering what or whom I value, I discover my identity, and vice versa. And in fact, I have little value to any place or being so long as I believe it has little value to me.
Who am I? This is an evolving answer, but here is today’s definition:
I am that which I respond to in Christ. I am saved as I respond to His promise of salvation in me. I am forgiven, and I am at peace in Christ as He is those things in me. I am empowered and equipped as He in me.