By Kit Coons
The moment we start exploring our world, we also begin discovering ourselves. That journey takes us to many sources to define our identity. Much of the Old Testament is about God teaching the Hebrew people to base their identity on him. He knew that their perceived identity would either draw them to himself in joyful service or push them away to live on their own. What we think about ourselves has a huge impact on how we live our lives.
Children compare themselves in an attempt to establish their identity. As the middle of three sisters, I was in a poor position to think positively of myself. In addition, my eyes would sometimes cross. Today that condition is called amblyopia or “lazy eye.” At a young age I wore thick glasses and an eye patch. To keep my hair out of my eyes, my parents gave me a very short haircut. And so I stumbled at the starting line in the race for identity.
By the time I was a teenager, the women’s movement was changing American culture. Most women questioned their identity. I reached adulthood without a clear understanding of what a woman should be.
However the Bible does not change with culture. After becoming a Christian in my 20s, I was first exposed to the idea of basing my identity on Christ. Christians know this principle, but knowing something doesn’t mean we allow it to guide how we live. When we base our identity on anything but God, we risk losing who we are and all that God desires to accomplish in us.
Three Misleading Mirrors
People look into mirrors to see their reflection. Yet there are three misleading mirrors that have an impact on how we view ourselves:
Mirror 1: Performance
Most often we measure our performance by our roles: career, spouse, parent. After college I went to Africa as a missionary. My husband, Drew, and I met there and were married when we returned to the U.S. Now with the man of my dreams, I proceeded to have the family of my dreams. That process quickly turned into a nightmare. Drew and I endured seven years of infertility treatments. Month after month brought hope and then despair. We also waited on the adoption list to no avail. I had so wanted to be a mom and hoped to be good at it. If I didn’t become a mom, what else would I be? Everyone I knew was a mom.
When we don’t achieve a desired role in life, we feel like a failure. And we usually question our identity. God had a different plan for my life than fulfilling the role of motherhood.
Mirror 2: Things That Change
Our appearance, our health, a special skill—these things often define us, yet they change. Although we try not to base our identity on our looks, American culture is saturated with appearance. Teenagers are starving themselves and even 5-year-olds are concerned with body image. Both women and men spend millions of dollars to lift, cut, and tuck parts of their bodies.
I felt balanced in this area until diagnosed with breast cancer. “You are going to have to do what? My body will be cut permanently? I’m going to have a huge scar where my breast used to be?” I should have been asking more important questions, but the only one I could think of was, “What will I look like when this is over?”
Seeing me now, you couldn’t tell I’m a breast cancer survivor. There are ways to hide the devastation of the disease on the outside. But the real battle resided in my heart. Again, I questioned my identify. My husband’s reassurance that this change would in no way affect his love for me helped me survive this challenge. Still my identity was threatened.
Mirror 3: Things We Can Lose
We might also find our identity in things that can be lost—possessions and relationships. A friend watched as her home was consumed by fire. There wasn’t time to get the family photos, rescue the children’s treasures, or carry out the years of memories. Without warning, certainly without her permission, everything was gone. The home and memories she had created vanished before her eyes.
After 18 years of living in one place, my husband and I left everything and everyone to move to New Zealand as missionaries. In the midst of packing, I realized that our home and relationships had become my identity. Unlike my friend, I did have time to get the family photos and store some of our memories. But leaving behind my life of 18 years was still challenging. That loss forced me to look at my identity in a new way.
Struggling through these aspects of my identity, I began to understand that the mirror of God’s Word was the only antidote. What God says about us is not based on our performance, does not change, and cannot be lost.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminded believers that God comforts us. He explained how we are like jars of clay shining forth God’s surpassing power. Paul also defended his ministry, including two verses that have become the foundation of my search for identity:
First, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Paul did not compare himself to others. He went on to say that when we do, we are not wise. When I compare myself to other people, I invariably pick the best qualities of each person. Comparisons will always leave me feeling as if I don’t measure up. Second, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (v. 5). To me that means being aware of my thoughts. Once I have taken them captive by acknowledging them, I need to change them.
Searching for specific verses to commit to memory helped change my thoughts. I call my list God’s Mirror, reminding me that my identity is NOT based on:
• I am God’s child (John 1:12).
• I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
• I am Christ’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Things That Change:
• I can’t be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:35).
• I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1).
• I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
Things That Can Be Lost:
• I am part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
• I have the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
• I am a new creation in Christ (v. 17).
I’ve added several other verses and had my list laminated to use as a bookmark in my Bible. God’s Word is the mirror I look into to see the reflection of my identity. His Word reminds me that the truest, most important aspect of my identity is that I belong to him. As we develop the habit of looking into God’s mirror instead of the misleading mirrors of our performance, things that change, or things we can lose, we will find our identity built solidly on God. Only then can God accomplish all he desires in our lives.
Kit Coons is foremost a child of God who enjoys teaching marriage principles with her husband, gardening, and blogging (kitcoons.blogspot.com).