Have you ever had one of those so-deep-sleeps that when you finally wake up you have a really difficult time getting your bearings. . . figuring out who you are and where you are? It’s unnerving. . . especially the way it happened to me back during my sophomore year of high school.
I’m sitting in my 2nd period history class. For some reason, I’m extremely tired. I put my head down on my desk and fall asleep. When I wake up, I’m still at the same desk in the very same room, but every other desk is filled with high school seniors sitting in their 3rd period Government class. Panic sets in. Nap-faced and somewhat disoriented, I hopped up and stumbled out of the class, while all the seniors and the teacher who allowed me to keep sleeping laughed hysterically.
Yeah. . . go ahead and laugh. Have fun at my expense. 😉
This incident came to mind as I spent two weeks earlier this month with a group of youth workers strategizing on how to become more effective at ministry in today’s culture. As we chatted about today’s youth culture, we realized that the landscape has changed so much over the last couple of years. . . almost overnight in fact. . . that we felt like we had gone to sleep in one world, and then woke up “the next morning” in completely different world. Of course not everything is different. But we did agree that the issue of living through the developmental task of identity formation and answering the question “Who am I?” is one of the biggest cultural changes facing kids in this strange new world.
Imagine it this way: the adolescent world most of us lived through did include the task of identity formation. We all wanted to figure it out. We wondered, each of us, “Who am I?” We tried on a variety of options, some of us more options that others, and where we settled has shaped the rest of our lives. If our “Who am I?” question had been a multiple choice question, we might have been able to choose from options a., b., c., or d. Relatively speaking, those four answers might still be options for kids today, but e., f., g., h., i., j., k. etc are now options as well. And, as long as the options exist and are promoted everywhere kids turn, those choices will be made.
Let’s be honest. The search for identity and asking the question “Who am I?” begins in childhood and runs through the vulnerable formative years of adolescence keeps coming, even as we live through our adult years. The 24/7 media/social media cycle pounds away at us, telling us this, that, and everything else about who we still aren’t and who we need to become if we ever hope to become complete.
For those of us who are “in Christ,” this identity question has been settled once and for all at the cross. We have been adopted into God’s family and our identity is as adopted daughters and sons of the sovereign King of the universe! Still, our continued battles with our own flesh along with the principalities of this world leaves us wavering between times of certainty and times of doubt.
This is where I’ve found wise counsel in the words of the great theologian J.I. Packer as written in his classic book, Knowing God. Packer writes. . .
“Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? . . .
- I am a child of God.
- God is my Father.
- Heaven is my home.
- Every day is one day nearer.
- My Savior is my brother.
- Every Christian is my brother too.
Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. . . . This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours and fully mine.”
We’ve woken up in a world where the identity options continue to grow. Get your bearings. Teach your kids to get their bearings. Preach these truths to yourself and teach them to do the same.