Understanding Identity. Day four...
When Sherrel and I were first married, I threw on an old wrinkled t‐shirt and headed out to take one of our cars to the car wash. Before I could reach the door Sherrel approached me with her eye on my wrinkled t‐shirt, “Honey, we do NOT leave this house un‐pressed!”
My protest wasn't much at all, because it's nice to live in a clean house, always having clean and pressed clothes on my side of the closet. This is a part of Sherrel's identity for our family. In her mind, the Melin family doesn't go anywhere looking sloppy.
She spoke for the family. She didn't say that she did not want “me” leaving the house looking sloppy. She didn't say that “she” would never leave the house looking sloppy. She said that “we” do not leave this house un‐pressed. She spoke for the two of us—establishing just one aspect of our identity as a family.
Here are a few of the ways I've heard my adult children identify as being a Melin:
- We all eat fast.
- We all eat off each other's plates when we're together at a restaurant.
- We're all very opinionated.
- We are always right.
While it's fun, as a father, to hear my children identify with the family, I don't want a family identity to limit them personally in any way.
Families have identities they put on themselves and families have identities other people put on them. And it's not so easy for people to establish an identity that's much different from the one they were born into. For example:
- If no one in your family has ever gone to college, it's difficult to become the first family member to do so. If everyone in your family has always gone to college, it's difficult to become the first family member to take a different direction.
- If no one in your family has ever been self‐employed, it's difficult to become the first family member to start your own business. If everyone in your family has always been self‐employed, it's difficult to become the first family member to go to work for someone else.
But it's not just families who establish a collective identity. Consider these few examples among many others:
- Political parties have their identity.
- Social organizations have their identity.
- Religious denominations have their identity.
We unwittingly allow the world around us to establish much of our identity.
It's as if we have to ask someone besides ourselves: “Who am I?” We allow others to define us without even realizing it. Let me say that again:
We allow others to define us without even realizing it.
And if and when we do realize it, there's always the temptation to rebel against those who are defining us. But rebellion can cause us to end up just trading one false identity for another.
One of the biggest rebellions I've experienced in my lifetime was the hippie movement of the sixties and seventies. Tens of thousands of young people rebelled against the identity their families and the culture had put on them. But it's ironic that instead of being intentional about defining themselves, they just allowed the hippie generation itself to define them. They just traded control of their identity from one group to another.
I can't imagine anyone being more independent and unconventional than I have been over the years, so I'm willing to risk saying:
“We have no business allowing other people to define us. But we also have no business trying to define ourselves. Oh… we can try! God, however, is the only one who gets to define us. Only God has the right to tell us who we are. Only God has the wisdom to establish our identity.”
I fully realize saying this is like setting off a stick of dynamite in a room full of human opinions. But please, please consider the possibility.
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:1–6 NIV)
David was not exactly a conventional guy. As a boy, he killed a lion and a bear with his bare hands. While he was still a young teenager, he killed Goliath, an enemy of Israel, who was 9' 9” tall. And as is evident from this Psalm, David didn't want anybody else defining him but the Lord.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7–12 NIV)
What a beautiful representation of the presence of God in our lives.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139:13–18 NIV)
Why would we have any desire to allow anyone else to define us, or to make any attempt to define ourselves?
Have a good day,