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4 Identity Traps to Avoid

In 2018, Christian artist Lauren Daigle released her song "You Say." It was an eventual number one song on the Christian charts, winning her several awards, including a Grammy. It also "crossed over" to the pop charts, peaking at number 29 and garnering airplay on pop stations across the country. This song about identity struck a chord, as millions of people found its poignant lyrics so relatable: "I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I'm not enough. Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up. Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low? Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know. You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don't belong, you say I am Yours."

Why do we struggle so much with our own identity? Daily, we are bombarded with messages telling us who we should be or attracting us to the concept of making our identity something it shouldn't be. If we aren't careful, we will fall into those traps and forget that our true identity is not found in ourselves but in God and who He created us to be. We aren't who the world tells us we are; we are who God says we are.

David Benner, a Canadian psychologist and author of the book "The Gift of Being Yourself," defines identity as "who we experience ourselves to be — the I each of us carries within." I am fascinated by this definition. Each of us was individually created as an "I." God gave us this individuality, and, every day we get to embark on a journey of self-discovery as we experience life as this person He created. There are a few things we know about our identity from God's Word. We know that we were made in His image (Genesis 1: 26-27). We know we are one-of-a-kind (Psalm 139: 13-14). We know that we were created with a purpose of doing good (Ephesians 2:10) and that we are loved unconditionally (Romans 8:37-39).

In his book, Benner suggests, "an identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God." What comes to your mind first when you think about your own identity? Do you identify with these characteristics first and let everything else follow behind? It's easy to give the "Sunday School answer" and claim we know and believe these things, but much harder to live them out in practice. We place so much importance on the things of this earth that we can easily lose sight of what truly matters. I believe there are several identity traps – many of them good things – that can occupy our minds and cause us to lose our focus. Finding our identity in these other, temporary things is dangerous, as they lack the security of keeping our lives "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). 

1. Finding Identity in a Job or Career

On average, we spend about one-third of our lives working. We devote so much time on the job; it's not hard to see how it can come to consume us. Chasing our dream jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, craving those promotions, bonuses, and accolades – many of us are drawn to finding our identity and worth in our jobs and careers. But, that dream job can be taken away in the blink of an eye. I have several friends who have lost jobs over the past year due to the pandemic and have struggled to find peace in the right next step. I know people who are constantly stressed about their jobs, wondering if they will be laid off. I know people who miss out on so much of life by allowing work to dominate everything.

I've experienced seasons in my life that were out of balance – when work monopolized my life. Sometimes, it requires prayer and meditation; you can recenter yourself and put things back into proper perspective. Other times, it requires drastic action like finding a new job. God created us to work, but He didn't create work to define us and occupy so much real estate in our hearts, minds, and lives.

2. Finding Identity through Your Children

Every time I see a license plate or a window sticker on a vehicle that says "so-and-so's mom," it concerns me, but I can understand how we get to this point. We are so wrapped up in the day-to-day of parenting that we begin to lose our own identities and only think of ourselves as our children's parents. Our kids' goals become our goals: their accomplishments, our accomplishments, and their struggles, our struggles.

I love my children, and I believe that parenting is one of – if not the – most important job God has given me. But, raising my children is not the only thing God created me to do.

3. Finding Identity through Past Accomplishments or Future Goals

During the Olympic games in Toyko, Simone Biles – often regarded as the greatest gymnast ever – shocked the world when she withdrew from the team competition. It was evident that she didn't have her "A-game" and was facing some mental and emotional challenges. She decided to step back and support her teammates on the sidelines. 

"I felt like it would be better to take a back seat…I didn't want to risk the team a medal because they worked way too hard for my screw-ups," she said. "It's been really stressful this Olympic games… it's been a long week, a long Olympic process, a long year. I think we're a little too stressed out."

Afterward, she was asked about her remaining goals for the Olympics. She responded, "To focus on my well-being. You know there's more to life than just gymnastics." She added that "we're not just athletes, we're people." Goals are important and worth all of the effort we put into accomplishing them. In fact, God has given each of us gifts and abilities for us to put to work to achieve amazing and fulfilling things. But, ultimately, we are not what we do, what we've done or what we aspire to do. As Biles indicated, there is more to life than what we accomplish. We are here for one ultimate purpose – bringing God glory through how we live every day.

4. Finding Identity in Your Political Party

I realize we live in polarizing times. "Politics" has become so ingrained in our lives (and in the Church) that it seems to be tearing us apart. It's causing many of us to become more passionate about what's happening in Washington than what's happening at our worship services. By our actions, we seem to identify more with the R's and D's after a person's name than imago Dei – the fact that each and every one of us is made in the image of God.

Truth be told, we should have more kinship with a brother or sister in Christ from another political party than we do with a nonbeliever who votes like us. Political parties make poor gods. Your affiliation with Christ is far more important than that of your party.

Related Resource: Listen to our FREE podcast, Reframed: The Power of Perspective. In each episode, Carley provides practical techniques for identifying and reframing negative thinking patterns. Listen to an episode below, and check out all of our episodes on LifeAudio.com.

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Kristopher Roller

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart 

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