Our generation is facing a unique and intense struggle with identity.
There have never been more boxes we can put around ourselves: GPAs, physical appearances, and even Spotify Wrapped statistics. All of these descriptors, however trivial, can carry tremendous weight in the feedback loop that dominates our minds.
The categories we put ourselves in, however frivolous, are often very personal. Years after the fact, I’ve still heard heated arguments from warring members of Team Gale and Team Peeta.
More than ever, the burden of defining who we are and what makes life worth living has been dropped into our laps. The term “living your truth” encapsulates this so succinctly: we’re so confused that the nature of true and false has been left into the hands of the individual.
Since we’ve been tasked with taking so much ownership over our stories, it’s very difficult to allow God to take control. Striving for holiness and acknowledging that we belong to a higher power is very humbling and difficult to do in our day. Putting our full trust in God and making Him the center of our lives is a huge trust exercise for our generation; it requires putting aside our plans, our pride, and all the things by which we measure our self-worth.
I’ve struggled with this mightily in my life. As I pursued holiness more and more, I sensed that I was becoming isolated from many of my friends. Our values and priorities drifted further apart, and we grew to have less in common. I remember trying to talk about my faith to friends with whom it had never been a part of the discussion and instantly sensing the tension. I’d always have the feeling that I was treading on strange, uncharted territory, and my friendships were at risk because I was daring to “go there.” I was effectively typecasting myself as “the churchy one,” and throwing away all the things that made us friends in the first place.
I got put into a box. My friends were quick to discard me the moment I didn’t fit neatly inside their consideration of what was cool and tolerable. Because faith is a central part of human life and will always be on our consciences until the day we pass on from our life on earth, it will never stop being a “touchy subject.” Issues that cut to the core of life’s meaning will always have a gravity to them; as a result, they imply a challenge to our way of life, our habits, and our choices. We are forced, whether we like it or not, to face some central questions in our lives: Does God exist? Does He have a plan for me? Is the way I live my life in accordance with His will?
Many today want to ignore this question. They don’t want to grapple with the idea of a Creator, who has a plan greater than their own. The idea of objective truth comes across as a threat to their own designs. In response, they are quick to label any acknowledgment of a higher power as irrational piety, and any adherence to Christian ethics as prudish and blind obedience.
Since the burden is on us, not God, to hash out what makes life meaningful, acknowledging a way above our own presents an identity crisis. How could we hold two contradictory points of view at the same time? It’s impossible, and my friends’ responses were evidence of this losing battle. Any desire for holiness implied an objective standard of right and wrong, and they saw that as a threat towards their perceived power to self-define right and wrong.
My friends’ reactions, while misguided, were understandable. Identity crises are hard! We are all made completely unique. We don’t want to mindlessly conform to anything! We don’t want to throw away our individuality for anything.
Luckily for us, holiness is not a threat to our individuality! Trying to live a life in accordance with God will not take away your uniqueness; it will remind you of it and allow you to see it with greater depth than before. Trusting your identity in the hands of your Father, who loves you beyond your capacity to understand, will drive you to know who you truly are.
The truth is so freeing. Your individuality has a much deeper meaning than any of your interests, passions, and flaws. Imagine if it didn’t! If you were defined only by your personality traits, you’d be no greater than the sum of your parts. Every changing habit would become a threat to the image of yourself you’ve built up. Your flaws and mistakes would also haunt you; you start to rack up all the things you’ve done wrong in your life, feeling as if you’re no greater than your capacity to hurt people.
No so, whatsoever! You are not the sum of your failures and weaknesses, but of the Father’s love for you. Let that marinate for a little bit. Your whole identity as a human being is primarily defined by God’s unconditional love for you. What could be threatening about that? Infinitely more than God sees your successes and your failures, He sees His beloved child. Everything you do is seen in the context of unconditional love.
His love for you knows no bounds. In spite of all of your sins, He is ever-ready to wash them away in an instant; anything to have you back in His loving arms. He sent down His only son to live a human life and die a human death in the hopes of redeeming us, done purely out of love.
What could be greater than the Father’s love for us? Nothing. Nothing in human terms can possibly add up to the awesome power of God’s love for all of his children.
Holiness is all about recognizing this and trying to act with the proper response. By choosing to submit our way to God’s, we’re recognizing this central truth about human existence: that before we’re anything else, we’re children of God, and all of our unique talents are gifts from Him. Everything that makes us unique stems from God looking at each precious human life and saying “It is good.”
Not only does holiness put things in perspective; it makes us freer. We’re not conforming to some arbitrary list of rules, but adhering to the way God has called us to love as He does. By bringing us closer to Love Himself, holiness will give us the freedom to become our true selves.
We see great examples of this in fiction. Villain redemption arcs–bear with me here–are particularly my favorite way of getting the point across. The arc usually follows the same rough outline: 1. The villain acts like a jerk to everybody. 2. We learn that the villain has a broken past and believes all kinds of lies about his own goodness. 3. When shown mercy and unconditional love for the first time, he begins to open up and let love into his heart. 4. He becomes a changed man and stands up for what’s right.
It’s amazing how these redemption arcs show us our own innate capacity to forgive! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the worst, most vile character in any TV show, book, or movie quickly become the favorite character among me and my friends. Any inkling that this person will “turn to the light side” incurs us to cheer him on across the finish line, rooting for him harder than the protagonist!
One other thing of note–the villain, now redeemed, always seems more himself when embracing the good. The villain will usually seem much more at ease and comfortable with himself, finally cracking a joke for the first time or doing something that would seem very out of character with his past conduct. Only by acknowledging right and wrong and committing to do the good, the villain finally is at peace with his true self!
You will see the same in real life with your friends who strive to live a holy life. The holiest people I know are the happiest and the freest to be themselves. Because they no longer buy lies about what gives them worth or what hoops they have to jump through to be accepted, they live with the true freedom that comes with knowing God’s love for them. They don’t feel burdened by their peers’ expectations for them or by the overwhelming weight of their own brokenness.
Every single person reading this is invited to a holy life by God. Nothing is too much for Him; no mistake, no flaw, no sin–nothing can stop the Father from welcoming you back into His arms. Mock, misunderstand and misattribute you as your peers may, God, who understands you better than all, will never look at you that way. Go on, confidently knowing He has your back! Do not fear what embracing God in your life may look like; by submitting your plans to His perfect plan for you, you will go forth a changed person, keenly aware of where your dignity lies, unmarred by false alternatives. This quest to know yourself is good; embrace it, and embrace where it was always meant to take you! Know that holiness is for you and that the way to discover your true identity can only be found in Christ!
Remember one more thing; I am rooting and praying for you! There’s nothing you can’t achieve!