For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Identity is important. Psychologists tell us that our identity influences everything from our mental and emotional health to our physical health, our decision making, and our actions in the world. But people identify themselves in interesting ways. When asked to do so, many people reach for their wallet to show their driver's license. We identify by our ability to drive and what we drive. When asked at a party who we are, the first question is almost always, what do you do? Meaning - what is your profession or occupation? For younger people, where do you go to school? If we delve deeper, there are questions of group affiliations... who do you cheer for in sports? What's your political persuasion? Where are you from? Your family?
I often do an exercise with young people, having them write the words "I AM" in the center of a page and listing all their personal identifiers around it, whatever comes to mind first. I ask them to write as big as possible to start, going smaller and smaller as they have to squeeze more in. It's fascinating to see how many start with the obvious and how often they all write the same things... boy/girl, American, Falcons fan, teenager, athlete, thespian, singer, funny, smart, tall, fast, left-handed. Then, like any good youth pastor, I tease them... What about American? Southerner? Presbyterian? Christian? Son/daughter? Brother/sister? Friend? Child of God? Loved? Why didn't these jump out first? Are they less important? Less obvious? What does your list look like? I often have them use the back of the paper to do it again, making the most important ones the biggest. Those papers usually look quite different. Hung on a clothesline, it's a glaring difference between what first came to mind and what they believe really identifies them.
I've been thinking about this question of identity all week. As you probably know, the census is now out and much of it and its most controversial aspects revolve around how people identify themselves, including questions of race and religion. An article today in the New York Times suggests the disappearance of milestone events like Prom and Graduation may not just be disappointing for seniors this year, but damaging to their very identities and their formation. I'd like to think that's less true for our young people. I'd like to believe that young people who are nurtured in the Christian faith all come to stake their identity in being children of God, brother and sister to anyone in need, neighbor to those who suffer, and a part of nuclear and faith families, primarily. Such young people grow to be adults who identify that way first and foremost, rather than by profession, lack of profession, success in a profession, by what they have or own, or by their social status, health, or group.
It's worth asking as parents, grandparents, adults, teachers, mentors, leaders, elders, and those who have promised to raise our young people in the faith... where do we claim our identity? Is it in Christ, right off the bat? Is that how we relate to and introduce ourselves to others? And if not, how will we teach that to young people? I'm challenged this week to think foremost of who I am and not just what I do or have. In quarantine, how well am I doing as husband, father, and neighbor and not just as pastor? How are we all? When you speak with a senior or college student this year, this summer, stop before you ask how the year went or their grades or what they're studying. Ask them how they are doing as a child of God and remind them that you love them and miss them and care for them. Ask them instead what you can do to support them as a beloved part of our faith family. We are in this together, in the Body of Christ.