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Friday, June 24, 2011

Building Identity: Part 1 of 5

Ascribing My Own Identity

If you’ve ever watched TV, or driven by a billboard, or opened a magazine, or even just glanced at a magazine cover in the grocery line, then you know something.  You deserve your way, your whims, on your timetable, for your happiness.  You are worth it.

Or, I’m worth it.  I’m not sure whether that goes for everyone, or just for me.

The thing about identity in our culture is that it’s really hard to think about it clearly when everyone’s telling me how awesome and unique I am, and how I deserve a pedicure and a Big Mac with extra pickles and no onions just because I’m me.

“Hey, Media,” I gasp in moments of clarity, “I’m trying to improve; stop justifying me to myself!” 

Me-Culture affects everything I do.  It sabotages my contentment in my circumstances, reminding me of how much more I could have, and should have.  It tells me unrealistically of all the lives I can simultaneously live: CEO, celebrity chef, astronaut, puppeteer, AND mom.  Then it drop-kicks me into Failureland when I spread myself too thin trying to be and have it all.

I was reminded of this empty promise when I once, ill-advisedly, watched an entire season of America’s Got Talent.  Every contestant interviewed over the course of the contest was asked, “What would it mean to you to win this?”  And invariably they gushed, “Everything! It would mean everything!”  Now, I wouldn’t hate to be successful with my songwriting, but if it were “everything,” that’d be a lot of potential fulfillment to hang on a pipe dream.  If the slim possibility of winning some cash and a show in Vegas (I think that was the prize that season) is everything, this says a lot about your relationships, your family, your work, and your faith.

And yet, we buy into it.  We major in Women’s Awesomeness Studies, minor in Canoeing because we know we deserve to learn only things that really, really inspire us, and oh, we also expect to start out at 40k with 3 weeks paid vacation even though we’ll be texting and emailing for most of the workday.  We charge our furniture and our cars and our BCBG wardrobes because we deserve to live like this now.  If our parents lived on hand-me-downs until they were 40, it’s just because they didn’t know about entitlement back then. 


But maybe it doesn’t always look so transparently selfish.  When I was a kid, my dad worked evenings and caught up on our grade-school drama on the weekends.  So it should have been no surprise one Saturday, as I proudly related a story about my prowess at Prison Ball in gym class, that my dad responded, “Oh yes? Are you good at sports?”  I was flabbergasted that he could not know this about me when in my mind, my entire identity and coolness hinged on my athleticism.  That identity took some more serious knocks later when I busted my knees up permanently.  It’s hard to maintain a self-worth based solely on athletic ability when you are relegated to the elliptical machine.

But self-identifying on worldly terms is more serious than just being obnoxiously entitled and its downsides are graver than a life without pick-up games.  It actively prevents actualization of Godly identity; you can’t serve two masters.  The world tells us we deserve better when our relationships hit a snag.  Godly wisdom guides us through the muddy trenches.  The world leads us on a goose chase, stomping on others on our way to fleeting fancies.  Godly wisdom puts us on the sideline of a bigger story, doing sweaty grunt work to achieve something lasting.  The more we try to make the story about us, the more frustrated our efforts become. 

But we shouldn’t expect to find truth or ultimate happiness in the world’s philosophy.  Then as now, “None of the rulers of th[e] age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8).”  A wise college professor of mine defined freedom as the ability to ascribe one’s own identity.  Between a Big Mac my way and ultimate fulfillment, there lies a choice of whom I will choose to be.

In the next four posts, we’ll talk about our roles in our work (read: mamahood), relationships, marriage, and the church as we develop tools for intentionally building a fulfilling identity.

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