Am I loved? Am I respected? Am I important?
These are questions that saunter quietly through our mind each morning as we look in the mirror. Questions that focus in on our identity: who we say we are, who we think we are and who the world perceives us to be.
We take on all sorts of identities, most of which aren’t bad in and of themselves, but can get problematic if we try to make them the core of how we perceive ourselves. You are identified by:
This is one of the biggest ways we identify ourselves to other people. When we meet someone, the first question we ask is “what do you do?” Be it teacher, lawyer or ditch digger, where we spend at least 40 hours of our week is a big factor in our identity.
Your Family Relationship
Are you a mom or dad? Son or daughter? Brother or sister? Many times our identity is tied directly to our family. For example, no matter what she does, Lisa Marie will always be Elvis’ daughter.
Do you have a group of friends you’ve been with for years? Or maybe you wish you had just one friend to be close to and confide in. We’re known by those we hang out with and spend our free time with.
These are the things we try our hardest to hide from those around us and the outside world. Ironically, these are often the things that consume us the most. Alcohol, gambling, porn, junk food, etc.
Few things divide us in the workplace, in social circles and, sadly, in church like political affiliation. Good thing Jesus and the disciples didn’t have a (R) or (D) beside their names in the New Testament anywhere.
Your View On Social Issues
Like politics, these can also sharply divide us. Contrasting views on issues like abortion, poverty, affirmative action and gay rights can drive deep wedges between people, yet we use them as sole identifiers too many times, not seeing people for anything other than their stance on an issue.
This is one identifier we cannot change. Yet sometimes still keeps our love and concern for our fellow man only (pun intended) skin deep. If you are Black, White, Latino, Asian or a different race, you are that way from birth until death.
Your Marital Status
Are you married or single? Divorced? Widowed? We are identified by our decision to spend our lives with someone or not. And our identity as married people is linked to our spouse.
Young or old, this identifier is another one we cannot change. Strangely enough, too many teenage girls dress like they’re 25, and many 50-year-old women use various methods to look 32. Your age is an identifier as to your world experience, fair or not.
Protestant? Catholic? Buddhist? Muslim? Jewish? Our religion identifies us in terms of who we will serve and worship. Certainly, the labels of various religions stoke the fires of prejudice and hatred too many times.
Your Hobbies and Interests
You identify yourself with these because you enjoy doing them. Did you spend the weekend on your photography? Or did you run some insane marathon where someone was throwing paint or mud or some combo of the two on you at the finish line?
Another unchangeable trait, our ability to do certain things is important and valuable to the world around us. The disabled around us, however, are too often treated as second-class citizens, identified solely for what they cannot do.
Your Geographical Location
Are you a Yankee or Southerner? Perhaps from a different country, speaking a different language? We get identified by the area we live or were raised in.
Your Intellect and Education
Do you have more degrees than a thermometer? Or did you struggle in school, dropping out early on? This means of identification often shows society how useful we are.
Male or female, often we are labeled by various stereotypes as to what our gender is supposed to say and do.
Your sexual preference, sexual “accomplishments” or sexual baggage can play a large role in how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself.
Your Physical Appearance
Do you look like a real life Ken or Barbie doll? Do others envy you? Or are you plain, kind of chubby with a bit of acne on your face, feeling rejected by others?
Are you more fit than the crazy guy from Insanity? Or do you fit in with many Americans, obese and tipping the scales of diabetes? Or perhaps there’s a health issue you can’t control, that, unfortunately, others can’t seem to look past?
This identifier seems to force us to wear masks. We may be happy in our interactions with people, but deep down we’re wrapped up in deep anger, depression and regret.
Like the five-star stud recruit out of high school committing to play ball at a big university, we all have a certain amount of potential. You have the tools and the smarts. Can you put it all together? Potential is scary, because if untapped it can lead to severe regret.
Your Economic Status
Does any identifier prove our success today more than money? Do you have a six-figure income with a house three times the size you need? Or are you struggling to even have a place to live at all?
These are 21 major categories we use to define ourselves and that others use to tell us our worth. But, last but not least, the only identifier that really matters: Your identity in Christ.
We read in Ephesians chapter 1 that Christ “chose us in Him before the creation of the world” (1:4) and that we were “included in Christ when you heard the message of truth … when you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal” (1:13). Once we have believed in Christ, our old labels from the world fall meaningless.
Our identity starts initially not in Christ, but being “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We were all “by nature deserving of wrath” (2:3). Yet through God’s grace, we have been made alive with Christ. “Now in Christ Jesus you have been brought near … ” (2:13). “In Christ” grants us freedom, freedom from chains of being identified for anything less than being a child of God. “In Christ” gives us the opportunity to understand the identity of those around us, to see beyond the skin colors and the dollar signs, to see people for who they truly are. “In Christ” means all can come, leaving behind their sins, and join together to be identified once and for all as children of God.
This article has been updated from an earlier version.
lives with his wife and two daughters in Bowling Green, South Carolina, where he writes about faith, pop culture and sports.