One of the most basic tasks of human beings is finding an answer to the question, “Who am I?” If you read books, watch TV, or engage with film you see the how the struggle to find an answer to this question works out in our lives. . . sometimes for the duration of our lives.
Those of us who work with kids and study adolescent development know that identity formation – finding an answer to the “Who am I?” question – is one of the most basic developmental tasks. It’s fundamental to our humanity and really ramps up during the teenage years.
Answers to the question abound. Culture offers up all kinds of options and answers, many that wax and wane with the times, leading kids to follow the answer du jour. In today’s world, it seems that the great majority of “answers” coming from the culture fall into the category of “self-determination.” In other words, you are at the center of the world. And since your life is all about you, it’s up to you to determine your identity. Of course, even our best shots miss the bullseye. . . which has resulted in a kind of “fluidity” when it comes to our identities. We choose and choose and choose again, morphing and changing in search of the satisfaction we can only find when we find and fulfill our true created purpose in the world.
Os Guinness, in his book Impossible People, states it well, “People are always becoming, but they never become anything for long.”
This morning I ran across these words on identity from the great theologian, J.I. Packer. In response to the identity question asked by the Psalmist in Psalm 8:4 – “What is man?” – Packer gives clarity as to the location of the identity bullseye. . .
“I am a man; what, then, am I? Not, as philosophers and gnostic ancient and modern would tell me, a soul that would do better without a body, but a complex psycho-physical organism, a personal unit describable as an ensouled body no less than an embodied soul. I am at once the highest of animals, sin no other animal shares my kind of mental life, and the lowest of rational creatures, for no angel is bounded by physical limitations as I am. Yet I, as a man, can enjoy the richest life of all God’s creatures. Mental and physical awareness meet and blend in me fearfully, wonderfully, and fascinatingly. My task is not to dizzy myself by introspecting or speculating to find (if I can) what lies at the outer reaches of consciousness, nor to pursue endless, exquisite stimulation in hope of new, exotic ecstasies. It is, rather, to know and keep my place in God’s cosmic hierarchy, and in that place to spend my strength in serving God and man.”