Who am I? It’s a question asked since the dawn of time. It’s a question every generation, every community, and every one of us wrestles with, both consciously and sub-consciously.
Am I who my family says I am? Or my friends? Is it my community? Or maybe my boss or my colleagues?
It’s hard to pretend that each of these people don’t have some impact on who I think I am and how I feel about myself, my worth, my contribution.
They are all tangible people at least. But what about other societal influences?
The type of job I have. The TV shows and films I watch. The ‘influencers’ who show up in my social media feeds. Celebrities and personalities held up as being or having something I should aspire to (whether that be possessions, looks, body shape, whatever). Advertisements affect me too, whether I acknowledge it or not.
Under this barrage of voices – and, often, contradictory voices – is it any wonder I, like countless others, end up feeling confused? And struggling with my sense of identify and worth?
Again, who am I? Whose voice matters most? Which voices, if any, should I allow to validate me?
It’s not just me though. As a parent with daughters aged 14 and 11, I’m acutely aware that I want them to have a healthy view of themselves too. But how do I help them when, from dawn until dusk, they, like me, have so many other voices telling them who they are, who they should be, what they’re worth? How can I help them stay true to themselves, to not settle for a life focussed on fitting in (in order to feel validated by whichever voice is being heeded to the most in that moment), and to seek their identity from within rather than without?
Franciscan author and teacher, Richard Rohr, points to the teaching of Jesus, saying:
Jesus’ listeners were given a new place to find their identify: in God. Who we are in God is who we are. That’s the end of ups and downs. My value no longer depends upon whether my family or village likes me, whether I’m good-looking, wealthy, or obedient to the laws.
He goes on to point to the teaching of Saint Francis of Assisi who taught similarly:
Who I am is who I am in God, nothing more, nothing less. Although that might sound scary at first, it is actually good news. Who we are in God is a beloved daughter or a beloved son; we are no longer dependent on our culture’s estimation, or even our own. Through prayer, our awareness of God within us, we continually discover our true identity: “The life you have is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3b).
I’m struck by one key line from that segment: “Our awareness of God within us.”
It resonates with what I wrote above about seeking our identity from within rather than without.
I recognise that the religious language will be a barrier for some. I think, though, like all the best, most authentic parts of religion, it points to a larger, universal truth that goes far beyond the teaching of any single religion.
Even if the language of ‘God’ is troubling, this isn’t about God, per se. It’s about our True Self. It’s about that inner core of our being – pure goodness – that we are each born into the world with. And it’s about not losing sight of that True Self. It’s about reawakening to that person who we truly are. It’s about having our eyes opened to see all the lies and half truths and false bids for attention for what they are: distractions and deceptions. They lure us away. They try to wrestle control over our lives. But we cannot afford to give anyone else the authority to validate us.
But I’m not sure many of us know how to connect with our True Self, or ‘God within us’. Nor feel empowered to silence the voices from without and listen to the voice within. Will we even recognise our own inner voice?
Of course, not all outer voices are bad. But if a voice is suggesting that we look to them for validation, we can be sure it’s a voice not to listen to. The voices of the wise will do little more than help us with learning to listen to and for our voice.
And that is what I want to try and offer to my girls (as well as continue to pursue myself). Perhaps the greatest gift I can ever aspire to give them is the tools to help identify their own voices; to recognise their True Selves; to see and know and love God within them.
That is the pathway to a healthy sense of worth. And to ensuring we search for our identify in the right place. It’s not easy. And we will be tempted to look elsewhere. But if we keep reminding ourselves to realign with that inner voice, our True Self – the ‘God within us’ – we’ll find the freedom and joy that only a centred identity can bring.