"Who am I?"
I think everyone has to struggle with this question at some point in his or her life. For some, it might be a short season in middle school. Others find it in college and still, others wrestle with it well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Collectively, we are individually struggling with who we are.
Why do we ask this question? Why aren't we satisfied just waking up every day? Why do we need there to be a purpose in our lives? We don't observe animals seeking meaning, like fish, or worms. They are satisfied just waking up each day. They live mindlessly and don't seem to struggle with a deeper meaning to their lives.
Maybe they've just got it figured out.
Maybe they don't need to ask anymore.
Maybe we're the only creatures who haven't answered that question.
My theory...We're cursed with perspective. We can't help but ask the question. We always do.
Before I knew the actual question I struggled with my identity throughout middle and high school. Am I the funny kid, the nice kid, the party kid? Who do people see me as?
I say "struggled" but that doesn't mean I don't question my identity today, even well into my twenties, closer to thirty than nineteen. I'm a husband, father, an Elder at my church, I own a small magazine, I recently quit my secure 401K job, I have tattoos, I like motorcycles and scotch. Who do people see me as?
For some reason, eventually, everyone looks for the deeper meaning of themselves. Identity is so crucial because when you don't know who you are, nothing can satisfy that burning question. Money, fame, security, travel, relationships. All of those things have proven to be a lousy substitute for knowing who you are. The evidence is that people who have all those things and more can still feel restless, in search of something more meaningful. Asking the question, "But who am I?"
And to make the question even more difficult to answer, it's fundamentally flawed. "Who am I?" relies on you to answer the question and well, what if you're wrong? You can't be trusted to answer the question because you're the one asking the question. This is more than self-identification, this is philosophical identification.
So we turn the question into "Who do people see me as?" Unfortunately, this just sets us up for a shallow identity. An identity based on rose-colored perceptions of other misguided people, like us. It makes us depend on being someone because it's the way people see us. We become a cliche because we don't want to lose our identity. It starts to dictate the things we can and can't do or like because we've been placed into a box with other people who like the same things. But we're more than just the things that we do or enjoy.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus is having an interaction with some of the Pharisee's disciples who are trying to trap him in Jesus' words. They want to know if it's right to pay the Imperial Tax to Caesar. The Imperial Tax was a special tax only for subjects like the Jews and was not used against Roman citizens. So it was seen as an unfair tax to the Jewish people. Jesus asks to see a coin used to pay taxes and they show it to him. Looking at the coin Jesus says these words next:
Jesus asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
One of my favorite teachers, Ravi Zacharias, likes to use this story as an important lesson in identity. Ravi points out that the Pharisee's disciples missed a golden opportunity to ask Jesus a very important question. "What is God's?" If we're supposed to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and this means paying taxes with his coins, then what does it mean to give back to God what is God's?
Ravi speculates that if Jesus had been asked this question he would have leaned into the disciples very closely, looking them in the eyes and said just five words, "Whose image is on you?"
I love that story because in such a short example it perfectly illustrates where my identity needs to be. At the beginning of Genesis, God says, "let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness." It's the only time God says those exact words.
Nothing stands up against those words.
Being a tattoo guy or a motorcycle guy, even being a husband isn't as true an identity as those words. And more importantly, it's not specific to just Jews and Christians. It says let us make mankind in our image. If you're reading this and you don't believe that God is real, that doesn't make you any less fearfully and wonderfully made.
Do I still struggle with how people see me? Yes, absolutely. I don't want to be the loser husband that quit his job and eventually lost his house (prayers, for real please).
But I also take comfort in remembering that how people see me or the mistakes that I will make, don't define me as a person.
I'm more than that, and you're more than that. I hope you believe that.