Being a teenager was complicated—remember? OK, maybe you’d rather not remember, but humor me for a minute and give it a try. The way I remember it, each day was a big, messy science experiment focused on discovering who I was.
Of course, I didn’t quite see it that way at the time. But just like science experiments, everything I did was trial and error, assessment and tweaking. First I dated the intense, super-smart boy who was a star on the golf team; then I dated the fun, laid-back guy who loved Pink Floyd and water skiing. I tried out wildly different hairstyles and fashions, one after another (yes, all cringe-worthy today). I daydreamed about going to a Christian college in California, then imagined myself at the enormous state university just a couple hours from home.
With any luck, sometimes all this experimentation actually helped me learn a thing or two about who I was; more often, it helped me realize who I wasn’t. Because for teens, it’s those moments of being completely uncomfortable in our skin and surroundings that are most crystal clear.
Thankfully, as we grow into adulthood, those uncomfortable moments tend to dissipate. But that doesn’t always mean we’ve answered the “Who am I?” question and become more comfortable in our skin. Often, we’ve simply eased out of Mad Scientist mode into a new role: Convincing Actor. Our abilities to adapt to the situation at hand, fit in with the people we happen to be around and mask what we’re really feeling sharpen.
These are handy skills to have, for sure, but they come with their own set of problems. When we forget to keep our Convincing Actor skills in check, they have a way of fooling not just those around us, but ourselves as well. It’s all too easy to forget who we are—who God created us to be.
Other aspects of adult life get in the way, too, from our non-stop busy schedules to our drive for success and our eagerness to reach a place that feels like we imagined life would feel: settled, successful, something to be proud of. Often, we end up feeling like that imagined life is a moving target—while we’re in the process of chasing after it, who we are gets engulfed by all that we’re doing.
Sound familiar? And does it matter?
I think so. Here’s why: When we lose track of who we are, we lose our center—our ability to live in God’s love and hear His Spirit. And when we lose that ability, it impacts not only our relationship with God, but also our relationships with others and our ability to play a part in making the world a better place.
So, how can we put the breaks on the mad life that’s spinning us further and further away from our center? How can we relocate our true selves, apart from the Scientist and the Actor? Sometimes it takes a big, painful life experience—a divorce, a struggle with depression or a faith crisis—to shatter our perfected acts and force us to put our true selves on the examining table.
But there’s a less dramatic way to begin uncovering who you are: by creating what a writer friend of mine, Julie Hammonds, calls a Love List. In its most simple form, a Love List is a list that you create over time, detailing the things you love most in life. It’s not so much a list of things you love that can be bought, like dark chocolate, the new Alabama Shakes album or a perfect pair of shoes. Instead, a Love List is made up of the activities and moments that make you feel most content in the world—most like you.
To start making your Love List, you might want to carry around a small notebook, use a note-keeping app on your smartphone or post a piece of paper in your kitchen. It’s best to add to the list as moments strike you. Any time you feel completely filled up with the goodness of something that happened—something you saw or heard, or an interaction—add it to the list. Maybe you love solving problems, or cooking for friends, or taking walks in nature. Put those things on your list.
Then push your list deeper by asking “why.” For instance, I might write on my list “I love interacting with people who leave comments on my blog.” That’s a fine thing to put on the list, but then I should push myself to identify what I love about it: I love sharing and hearing stories; I love connecting with new, interesting people; I love knowing that in some small way, I’m helping others sort through their complex lives.
Our Love Lists end up representing a melding of our emotional-spiritual-intellectual selves—the parts of us that so easily get compartmentalized and lost in the world. But when those parts of us are woven together, they feel completely comfortable—so form-fitted and well-worn, like clothes that were custom-made for us.
Because, of course, our identities were custom-made for us. When we finally start to uncover them, we aren’t trying on something new; we’re finally wrapping ourselves in something that was created for us—and has been with us all along. That’s how it feels to be freely, completely yourself—not like you’re walking through life wearing some scratchy, rented tuxedo or spiky heels and too much make-up.
You’re wearing something made for you, that feels right in any part of your life that is right.
Your writing exercise for this week is to start your Love List, asking God to guide you in discovering the you He created and loves.
Kristin Tennant has been making a living as a freelance writer for 10 years. She lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters in Urbana, Illinois, where she leads a weekly Bible & Beer discussion, plays her viola at church, and loves sharing meals and conversation with friends. She blogs at Halfway to Normal, and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.