Here is a story a told for Identity for the Audio Liturgy Podcast, which can also be found on iTunes.
I once heard someone say, “I have to go find myself.” I thought it was a cop out.
As a child growing up in the 70’s “finding yourself” seemed like a full time endeavor. I thought “finding myself” was a way of pushing off the responsibilities of adulthood to revel in eternal youth. I thought “finding myself” was a hippie reaction against the institutional nature of the capitalistic west. I thought, “finding myself,” was miss guided search for something already inherit in each one of us.
It wasn’t until my 39th birthday that I realized I had yet to find myself.
It was a typical Sunday morning for me. The church I was pastoring at the time, as unique and odd as it seems, demanded nothing of me on Sundays which allowed me the opportunity to have an actual day of rest. So, I went to the coffee shop which served as my second office and was just walking distance from my house. Once there, I pulled out my journal and started to reflect on my birthday.
It was not the typical kind of birthday reflection that some do, lamenting the loss of youth or looking ahead as one who was heading full stream into being 40. My birthday reflections usually didn’t center on me, but on the women who gave birth to me; my teenage biological mother who helped create and bring me into the world and then who walked away.
A legal deal had been finalized a few days before I was born that I would be adopted by a couple who were desirous to have another child. They had adopted once before, a little boy, my brother, and were looking to add to their small family. They thought I was to be a little girl, but what they got was another little boy and that was just fine with them. What adds to my already complicated story is that when I was born my new parents were in another state attending the funeral of the women who would have been my Great Aunt. So, I stayed in the hospital for nearly a week before my parents could come get me.
For a long time I was un-phased by my adoption. I knew I was adopted. I always knew. There was never a time when I didn’t know. I was always aware that no one in my family of origin shared any blood. Only the sons my wife and I have since birthed share my blood. I knew I was a singularity, but I never felt alone. But what my adoption created in me was vacuum. Most people know their parents, or at least one of them. Most people know their own story. Most people know their history. I am not one of those people. Even the parts of my story I have heard are not consistent and fluid.
It’s not hard to imagine what a narrative like this can do to one’s sense of identity. And sitting in that coffee shop on that day it all caught up to me. That day just before my 39th birthday something released the pressure valve on my story and a flood of emotions rushed into the vacuum. I started to cry. I started to feel alone in my own skin, as if I had just awoken from a dream into a nightmare. I knew who I had become. Who I had grown to be, but I did not know who I was. The best way to describe this is realizing you have lived your whole life on the second story of a house that has no first floor.
Understanding one’s identity is not as easy as looking at a diver’s license and reading a name and address or checking a passport that informs of one’s nationality or reading a business card that reveals a title or position. These all help form our identify, but they are not the sum total of it. It is easier to construct an identity then it is to deconstruct. Building an identity happens over time. We slowly grow into it. Whether our family, our jobs or an addiction becomes our identity, it does not happen over night. It slowly creeps in and fills every crack and crevasse, until one day all we see is the shape of our body, and all we hear are the stinging old echoes of parents, and all we feel is only what’s familiar.
But to lose part or all of our identity happens suddenly, tragically, woefully. Getting fired from a job, the death of family member, the loss of a beloved possession all shake like a severed limb. The loss of identity is a death we mourn and survive.
I know understanding one’s identity is not quick or easy journey, because it has not been for me. I am currently still on this journey. Struggling without a title to mark my importance, a job in the arena which I am trained or a history to recount has forced me reshape my identity around those things I will never be without. If I had to bet money on it, I would wager this journey will take the rest of my life life to remove those voices that want to inform me of who I am, rather then taking comfort in who God has created me to be.
For me, my identity has to be grounded in what can’t be stolen by time, age or quick-cutting tongue. I have to find my identity in the eternal love of my God and father. A love that is not fickle, prone to fade or wear out. I have to cling to verses like Ephesians 1:3-6 that reads,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons (children) through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
I may not know my own story. I may not know if I look like my mother or my father. I may not know where I came from. But I can rest assured in the knowledge I am adopted by the Creator of all creation, an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven and the mark of God’s unfailing love.