Our culture has many competing voices attempting to define your life. Your job, your looks, your race, your relationship status — do these things really make you who you are? As a Christian, should they? If any of the items on this list disappeared or changed, what would you be left with?
1. Relationship Status
Sometimes I feel like I’m singled out (get it?) as most of my friends are married with children. Singleness becomes a badge I wear that other singles look at with relief because they’re not alone, while family members point to and discuss it during holiday meals. But really, I’m just another person. I have an identity that doesn’t revolve around my relationship status. I’m not waiting for someone to fill a husband-shaped hole in my heart before I can be complete.
One of the first questions you ask a stranger to get to know them is, “What do you do?” And for good reason — our chosen professions can tell us a lot about each other. Sometimes it’s easy to compare our jobs with others and feel superior if ours measures higher on whatever success scale we’re using. In reality, the person working behind a fast food counter, the doctor, the painter, the social worker — they’re all people who have value, with or without their jobs.
3. Romantic Interests
When I love and respect someone, I care what they think about me. When I’m dating, I also want to make a good impression. This can lead to acting in ways I think the other person wants me to behave. However, if I’m constantly trying to guess what someone else wants, not only will I be uncomfortable, I won’t attract the kind of guys I want to date in the first place. I’d like to be unashamedly me with the person I spend the rest of my life with.
Our culture values people who are healthy and able. If we are physically or mentally deficient, we’re often seen as people who have fewer contributions to make, and therefore less valuable to society. Identifying others by what they cannot do or identifying ourselves by what we cannot do is incredibly discouraging.
Because of a popular culture that is flooded with flawless actors and models, we put far too much value in physical appearance. I’ve personally been self-conscious — what is this “adult” acne nonsense, anyway? — and get annoyed with myself for feeling that way. I don’t put stock in what other people look like (not that I’m complaining about Chris Hemsworth’s casting as Thor, mind you), and I’m certain my friends wouldn’t care if I came to a party perfectly made-up in a dress or bleary-eyed in my pajamas.
Money is something I wish I didn’t have to think about. I don’t have very much of it; I wish I had more. Yet if I had more, I’m not convinced I’d be any more content with life than I am now. Wealth doesn’t change who we are. In fact, it often brings more problems with it — or that’s what I tell myself, anyway.
When I was in high school, college was treated with the utmost reverence — that’s where all the smart people went. If you went to trade school, or, heaven forbid, no school at all, you weren’t as valuable. Now I’m looking back at friends who became electricians, business owners, computer technicians, servers, or librarians without a professional degree — people who are perfectly content with their lives and filling much needed places in society — and realizing what a misguided attitude that was.
If “Wonder Woman” has taught me anything, it’s that gender usually doesn’t define what you can and can’t do. It’s also not a catalyst for assumption-making; I might not like sports, but my reluctance to spend three hours watching one man throw a football to another and then tackle someone isn’t because I’m a woman, it’s simply because I find it boring. Likewise, don’t assume I can’t beat you at “Mario Kart.” Because I can.
I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a person of color living in a primarily white society. All I can do is treat people of every race equally and refuse to base my own identity on the color of my skin.
Defining yourself by what you’re feeling is a recipe for disaster, because emotions constantly change. It can also induce guilt, because if you’re not feeling happy, you are therefore failing yourself. Sometimes it’s OK to not be OK. You’re not less valuable or less “you” if you are sad or struggling with anger, regret, or depression. You might not feel like your normal self, but it doesn’t mean you’re any less valued.
Though all the items on this list are part of who I am, they aren’t what define me; they aren’t why I’m valuable as a human being. When Jesus was on earth, He didn’t care about any of these things. He loved people who were poor and people who were rich, women and men, educated and uneducated. I’m valuable because God says I am — for “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
I’m valuable because I am loved by a God whose love is never-ending. My identity is not found in any of the things above, because they won’t last; it’s based on Someone bigger than myself, who knows me and created me, who encourages me to serve and respect others however they define themselves, and who accepts my brokenness.