There are some aspects of living so established on autopilot that we take them for granted and forget they exist: the air we breath and the act of breathing are prime examples. We don’t think about air quality or breathing… until there’s a problem. This cause-and-effect relationship is easy to understand in the physical world, but less apparent when it comes to our mental state of mind, our sense of self, and how we present ourselves to the world.
Our identity exists in the background of our awareness, constantly informing our state of mind and our actions and feelings. Just like breathing, it’s always present – but for it to be life giving, I don’t recommend we allow it to be put on autopilot. We need to intentionally claim the superpower of our identity to bring it from our subconsciousness to the forefront.
We can claim a gift that gives us the best possible foundation for a healthy awareness of who we are. We can blindly let the world and others haphazardly inform our identity along the way, or we can claim the identity God desires for us. God gave us the gift of our identity in being His child, His heir, a co-heir with Christ (yes…read that last statement again), a son and daughter of the Most High, a member of a family of believers grafted to the living vine of Christ. When we accept the gift of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross – Christ is in us through the Holy Spirit. A good father can’t help but love his children. With Christ in us – God sees us as His beloved son and daughter. (For Biblical insights on this truth see Romans 8: 14 – 21.) This is good news!
To help unpack the weighty topic of identity further – I met with my fellow student ministries colleague: Mr. Rudy Lee. Rudy has dedicated a lot of time and energy to studying and teaching about identity. He recently delivered a fantastic learning series in Merge (Grace Fishers’ high school ministry) on the topic.
When Rudy first became a believer as an adult, he knew that something was transformed in him, but it wasn’t until 7-8 years later that he was finally able to articulate that change best when a friend introduced him to the concept of identity.
That friend worked with a retreat organization called Encounter Ministries. Rudy is now a retreat leader too – leading groups of men and women over a three-day experience of worship and learning about identity and togetherness with a focus on the Holy Spirit. He enjoys empowering others to explore and live out their identity in Christ and offers them tools to help along the way.
Rudy cited a quote by Bill Johnson: “Once you know who you are, you never want to be anyone else.” He emphasized that if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22: 36 – 40), we do need to love ourselves, but to do so, he says “We’ve got to know who we are to love who we are.”
God tells us who we are. We are His children. Everyday we’re living out God’s good purpose and experiencing God’s good gifts along the way. We’re given the privilege of titles, roles, character traits, talents, intellect, time and place, and more that make us uniquely useful and contributing members of God’s family.
Knowing our identity helps us to live in God’s good truth and keep us focused on the right priorities – guarding against two of the enemy’s greatest weapons: lies and distractions. To illustrate the idea of focus – Rudy gave the analogy that: “we wouldn’t ask the dishwasher of the restaurant to cook the meals.” We all have unique roles and purpose in our lives – there is freedom in knowing we can focus on ‘our lane’ and be released from expecting ourselves to ‘do it all’.
If you’ve never explored your identity – Rudy recommends drafting an Identity Statement: a declaration of who we are and the truths we live by. If you’re a believer – your foundation for this statement is Heir. As heirs, we have access to sit at the King’s table, share in the King’s victories, and steward conquered land – in other words, we share in God’s kingdom.
Our declaration of who we are will have constants that never change, but it will also have elements that change seasonally over time. For example, I’ll always hold the title of mom, but my role as mom will change from nurturer to shepherd and so forth as my children grow and need me in different capacities. As occupations and relationships change and form over time – identities also change and grow.
The school of thought, study, and research termed Identity Behavior Theory purports that our concept of identity is the base that informs our actions, which then informs our feelings. (which can then cyclically inform our identity). Conversely, without a clear idea of identity, we tend to naturally operate based on our present and immediate thoughts and feelings. Rudy explains with an example: If we wake up, feel tired, and tell ourselves ‘I’m tired' … there’s a good chance we may oversleep. Later as we reflect on our morning and our repeat behaviors and tendencies, we begin to assign an understanding of ourselves and may find titles (labels) to describe ourselves such as ‘lazy’ or ‘irresponsible’. When we begin to accept ourselves with these negative labels attached – self sabotage inevitably ensues.
Conversely, living from a firmly established identity could have the opposite result. If we’ve already taken ownership that a part of our identity is being ‘a person that embraces the start of each new day,’ we’ve already done the deciding part in advance. We no longer operate out of feelings, but out of a firm understanding based on a mental state of who we are (identity). The results are that we wake up with our alarm consistently (action) and we feel (feeling) assured and confident in our ability to follow through with our intentions. After all – as Rudy says: “we tend to believe our own voice more than anyone else’s”. Let God’s voice inform yours: He tells us that we are worthy of His love for us and that we can become more like Him in the process.
Rudy’s Identity Statement starts with the phrase ‘I am a worshiper first.’ Viewing life through this lens keeps things in perspective for Rudy and helps him have a posture of praise in all things. Some other phrases in Rudy’s statement include ‘I am a truth teller’, ‘all I have is a gift,’ and ‘I am a shepherd of shepherds.’ An identity statement can always be refined and modified, but the core ideas of it should become deeply engrained in our minds. Read it often and place it somewhere visible (Rudy keeps his in a drawer near his toothpaste). Some people prefer to place it in their wallets, at their desk, or in their Bible.
Other ideas to reenforce our identity include finding an over-arching word to encourage and remind us of our identity in Christ. In Merge, we were given the opportunity to make a bracelet with a word of our choice with letter beads. Mine says the word: valuable. This helps me to remember my worth isn’t dependent on my achievements or mistakes, but rather by the price Christ paid for my forgiveness. Other words given as inspiration included: deeply loved, chosen, rescued, wonderfully made, forgiven, known, worthy, good, accepted, unique, son, daughter, beloved, whole, and restored.
In the process of uncovering your identity, Rudy encourages prayerfully seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit and from others. A trusted friend or loved one might see things in us that we’re oblivious to. Ask them: “What do you see in me?” or better yet, if they’re a believer, ask them: “What do you think the Holy Spirit says about me?”
Claiming our identity can uncover some strong emotions and likely some self-doubt. Rudy warns that feelings of self-doubt could be lies from the enemy. His tip is to ‘flip the script:’ speak the opposite of the lie aloud and offer your concern to God. The truth is often disguised and flipped in reverse into a lie. We must dig deep with discernment and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit.
How about you? Have you considered the idea of identity? How will you find it and live it out? I know my first step will be setting aside the time and space to give it the attention it deserves. I hope to carve out some journaling time and consider some people in my life that may help me see things from a different perspective.
If you’d like to learn more, Rudy is happy to chat and invites those interested to consider attending an Encounter retreat. You can contact Rudy Lee by email. Men and women meet at separate times each year. The next upcoming retreat is for men and is happening mid-September. More information can be found at the retreat registry form.
Recommended Reading on Identify Behavior Theory
Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens
About the Author
Carrie Poling is a mom of two, wife to Tyler, small business owner, budget coach, and aspiring writer and author seeking to promote contentment in our everyday living.