Identity is a Powerful Force
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately.
My worth, sometimes without thinking about it, can be wrapped up in what I do. Or how I’m perceived. Is this true for you? When that identity goes away, whether by choice or not, you can lose your balance in life.
Some identities I’ve carried through the years which are no longer true…
Student body president
Dad with four little kids
Identity will change several times over your life.
When it changes, you will find out how much it mattered to you. When I decided to leave my job in 2014, it took a bit to regain my equilibrium. For 20 years I had carried an identity. Questions surfaced I never had considered: “Who am I now? What is my role? Where does my worth come from?”
Sometimes you choose to change your identity. You quit a job. You retire. You move. Even though you made the choice to change, it can still be traumatic. You can still go through a grieving process as you leave your identity behind.
Sometimes your identity changes because of the natural movement of life. When we had little kids at home, part of our identity as a couple was as parents. We led parenting studies in our home. My wife mentored other moms. Our kids were known to be pretty good and well adjusted, so we were constantly getting probed for parenting ideas. Now, few of our friends have ever seen us parent. Those with younger kids don’t think of us as the couple who can help you parent better. We have lost that identity.
Sometimes identity changes and it’s not your choice—when you lose a spouse and suddenly shift from wife to widow; when you get fired and suddenly move from CEO to unemployed; when you suffer a career-ending injury and are no longer known as an athlete; when you run for reelection and lose.
I coach pastors every week who are in their 60’s and 70’s. All they’ve ever done is pastored. They are now staring retirement in the face, and they have no other identity. For decades, their identity has been “pastor,” and they have been known through their sermons, counseling and visionary leadership. They’ve been the one on stage, under the spotlight. Many pastors at this stage of life have no hobbies, no other interests. Their identity is all wrapped up in being a pastor. That can make for a very difficult adjustment when it is time to retire, or God forbid, your elders ask you to move out of the way for a younger leader.
My identity is likely going to change again and again through the rest of my life. Yours likely will as well. If I wrap up who I am in my identity, it’s going to be pretty tough when it changes. If my worth is based on how people view me because of what I do—then I might have a pretty hard crash ahead.
What if, instead of wrapping up who I am in my identity, I wrapped up my identity in who I am. What if people knew me as someone who is honest, someone who listens, someone who is kind? What if I was known as someone who will be there when life crashes down around you?
What if I worked every day to be a human being marked by love? What if you did the same?
Your job can change. Your location can change. Your status as husband or wife or mom or dad can change. Your ability to run a race or walk down the stairs can change. But through all of that, what if you and I focused on what we can control—being people who are known by working every day to add value to the people around us. A person who is known by how you treat others, how you offer grace, how you forgive, how you love?
This is what I’m thinking about lately.
Learn more about becoming a person who is marked by love in my book, Marked by Love: A Walk Away from Judgment and Hypocrisy