Between Two Identities: Discovering Who You Are According to God’s Story
“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, all true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.” – John Calvin
As a professional counselor and as a follower of Jesus, my life’s passion and desire is to create a safe place for people to feel heard and seen.
This grew out of my own need and hunger to be known when I was struggling with shame and guilt as a teenager. As a pastor’s kid, I hesitated to talk with anyone about my feelings because I feared that I’d be judged or that my struggles would reflect poorly on my family. As a result, I felt very isolated and alone.
Out of that hurt, I vowed that one day, I would be that “someone” that I needed but couldn’t find. I wanted to listen to people’s struggle and pain without judgment and be a conduit for God’s grace in their lives. And for the last 14 years, I have had the privilege of living out this calling at The Crossing.
I have found that a common reason a person seeks out a pastor, counselor, life coach, or mentor revolves around a longing to understand themselves better. With this comes the hope of finding clarity, relief for distressing emotions, or insight into unwanted thoughts or behaviors.
A skilled helper is not only a comforting presence but can also provide a framework to help someone make sense of their story. In our current culture, finding and knowing one’s personal identity has taken on a magnitude of importance, and people look to many sources to find answers to life’s most perplexing questions.
In this current milieu, Christian therapists have the unique and opportune role of guiding this process of self-exploration through a biblical lens.
Interested in learning more? Author Lynn Roush, LPC talks about identity, emotions, relationships and more on her new podcast: With You in the Weeds.
Starting the Journey of Self-Exploration as a Christian
Where do we start? By naming the dissonance. Recognizing that our subjective human identity doesn’t always align with our objective spiritual identity, laid out for us in Scripture.
The chasm between these two identities has been a topic of debate for centuries, so no one’s pretending to offer an easy answer. Yet if we believe that God is the author of the biblical story, and if we are to find ourselves in it, we must believe that the details of our story reflect something of (1) the nature of God and (2) his intention for the purpose of our lives.
This means that your life is revelatory. The degree to which it is explored and understood in the light of God’s truth is the degree to which the mystery of our personhood and God’s intention for our lives is revealed.
If you begin your search for identity and significance with God, God will give you clarity and insight on the way. The Bible says so:
You are the fountain of life, the light by which we see. (Psalm 36:9)
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me. (Psalm 43:3)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. (John 16:13)
Answering “Who am I?”
Ephesians is a helpful starting point in this search for identity because, right upfront, it reveals that we — our existence and purpose— have been the object of God’s focused attention and intense interest from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
It may be an obvious assertion, but our existence was not our own idea! We were thoughtfully created by our Heavenly Father who desired to lavish a multitude of spiritual blessings upon us, freely given, to the praise of his glorious grace.
The Psalmist declares, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book, every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16). And similarly, we are assured that the setup of our lives is purposeful, intentional, and that God intends to “make known to us the mystery of his will, according to his kind intention” (Ephesians 1:9).
Yet all these spiritual endowments seem distant and inaccessible when we consider our present circumstances. The gap between our spiritual inheritance and the gnawing sufferings of our human experience seems unbridgeable, even delusional. The “old self” and the “new self” feel so far apart, so how can we make sense of living between these two identities?
It may seem a futile endeavor but if we don’t make the effort to understand ourselves in light of earthly and spiritual realities, we are simply gawking at a pile of rubble that bears little resemblance to the imago dei.
Through a series of blogposts over the next few months, I’m going to bring together tools I use as a professional counselor, along with biblical truth, to begin to help you answer the question: “Who am I?”
Finding Your Place in God’s Story
Ultimately, we are a collection of all the experiences, memories, relationships, and beliefs we’ve acquired over a lifetime, and the undeniable reality is that we all have a “self” of personal identity that makes us different from everyone else. But when we push beyond naturalistic explanations of identity development, we discover that we are not self-sufficient. We are unable to ground our identity within ourselves, deciding our own subjective “truth.”
In reality, we are contingent creatures. And we have been created for a relationship with the God who ordains, defines, and grounds our existence.
With that in mind, my goal is to provide a path of self-reflection that moves us on a trajectory toward to the “new self” that God intends for us to walk in. Below are seven stages that humans move through over the course of their lives. Each stage shapes your identity to make you the person you are today.
7 Stages of Identity Formation
As you read through each stage of identity formation, consider where you might be on your journey and simply notice what thoughts and feelings come up as you contemplate the details of how your own story has unfolded.
The arrangement and organization of your life circumstances and family system that serves as the catalyst for the unfolding drama of your life. These are the fixed facts of your life: the time and place you were born, your primary early attachment figures, the cultural influences around you, the genetic traits you inherited, etc.
Childhood innocence is ruptured through harm and brokenness when you discover that the world bears a curse and is damaged by sin and evil. We are internally fragmented. A war in our hearts has begun and shame takes hold.
This is an internal fragmentation of a person’s sense of self due to original sin. The result is defense mechanisms to protect against feelings of shame by splitting off parts of yourself – or other people – that produce bad feelings. Efforts to cope with this distress spawn many hurtful behaviors and habits.
The search for comfort, pleasure, and favor is obtained through the blessing or approval of another person. Growing awareness for our God-given desire for love, connection, and belonging tempt us to fulfill our longings with substitutes for genuine intimacy.
This is a predicament where you feel shackled, bound, or obliged to someone or something that represents two opposing forces, creating a crisis that requires a decision. Shrouded in darkness, being stuck is hitting a wall of confusion or despair where it appears there is no way out or forward.
Surrender is the acknowledgment of sin, weakness, failure, and the inability to measure up to the ideal. It includes recognition that there is an Authority over your life with whom you have been wrestling, and who desires to bless you if you relinquish control. It’s the growing sense of spiritual bankruptcy and need for a Savior.
The eyes of your soul are open and enlightened to the spiritual blessings that exist in the heavenly realm through Christ. Fragmented parts of your soul are no longer banished but brought into the warmth of the Father’s love and forgiveness. Abiding in the Father’s embrace quiets the restless striving of the soul.
What did you notice as you read through these stages?
Were you able to find a stage that describes your present state?
There is no time limit to this process. In fact, exploring who you are, where you are and how you got there is a lifelong endeavor. This is just a starting point on a circle that repeats itself many times over.
My hope is that this integrated framework, using both psychological and biblical concepts, will guide you through some new self-reflections, increased awareness, and further insight into what is happening inside of you.
Stay tuned as we look more closely at each of these stages in future posts in order to invite the illuminating light of the Spirit into our lives and experience a greater taste of who we are becoming in Christ.
Learning more about who we are becoming in Christ allows us to shed the false narratives our culture tells us. See how our quest for beauty might be shaped more by the world than by God.