You won’t find your identity in the world.

untitledA few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak to the high school student ministry at Arizona Community Church.  As I typically work with elementary and middle school aged students, I jumped at the chance to share with the “big” kids. 

Although I’m a retired teenager, I remember vividly what it was like to be one.  It seems as though I spent most of my high school years on a daily adventure of navigating the emotional roller coaster.  Whether it was the highs of athletic accomplishments or the lows of relationships gone bad, normalcy didn’t seem to be a common theme. 

So, as I prepared to speak to this group of teens, knowing full well that many of them were currently riding the same emotional roller coaster, I landed on a single word that would serve as a foundation for our discussion – identity.

The dictionary defines identity as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.  Ironically, this definition magnifies the core of a teen’s struggles – they often don’t know who they are.  I know I certainly didn’t, which explains why I was always comparing myself to everyone else.

Below is an open letter I wrote to any pre-teen or teen who is on a quest of figuring out who they are. 

Dear teen,

Who are you?

No, you didn’t read that wrong.  I just asked what appears to be one of the simplest questions ever.  Well, if you answered it by saying your first and last name, then in fact it was quite simple.  Consider for a moment that your name doesn’t even begin to describe who you are.

For many of you reading this, you probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time considering your identity, or who you are.  I have to admit that I didn’t spend much time thinking about it either.  As a result, I always felt like I was drifting, or becoming who other people thought I should be.  Put another way, I spent more time moving in the direction of who I wasn’t.  Can you relate?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

You see, of all the stages you’ll go through in life, your high school years will present the biggest challenge in terms of staying true to yourself and not conforming to the world.  Peer pressure is all around you and I know it’s tempting to just give in to the constant pressures that surround you.

If you truly want to renew your mind, then it’s essential that you arm yourself with the knowledge of these world patterns. 

Below are three things to consider on your journey to discovering your identify.  Each of them represents a roadblock, if you will, that can deter you from honoring your true path.   

You are NOT your past experiences. 

While your past may include several difficult, embarrassing, or downright horrific moments, they will never possess the power to define who you are.   

There’s a story of a man named W Mitchell, who survived two potential life threatening accidents.  After suffering burns over 60% of his body following a motorcycle accident, just two years later, he was involved in an airplane crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down.  Mitchell could’ve easily developed an identity of “I don’t matter anymore.”  Instead, he immediately began to focus on all the things he could still do, such as speak.  Now he travels around the world and speaks to audiences about the power of perseverance.  His identity is one of power and faith, not weakness and fear.

I invite you to look back on one of your most difficult life experiences and ask the following question, “How can I use this as a source of strength?” 

You are NOT who other people say you are.

Let’s face it.  OPO’s (Other People’s Opinions) are part of your everyday existence.  Everywhere you go, someone will always be interested in sharing their opinion with you.  Often, this opinion involves their thoughts about you. 

Here’s what you need to remember.  An opinion is not the same thing as a fact.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse the two, especially when others words are hurtful or critical in nature.  Imagine that your mind is like a beautiful 5-star resort, the most precious real estate that you own.  When someone else shares their unwelcome opinion with you, it’s not necessary for you to give them a key to a room in your resort (mind).  You can reserve those rooms for people who want to lift you up or inspire you. 

Everything you see or hear will ultimately shape the way you think about yourself.

You don’t need to look very far to find examples of the incredible power of the media on our identities.  Think about it this way.  Whenever you watch a television show, listen to music, or look at your social media news feed, each of these forms of media have an invisible ripple effect on your mind.  In other words, they influence the way you think about yourself (positively or negatively). 

Let’s take social media for example.  Imagine sitting down to look at your Instagram and you happen to notice that one of your close friends has posted a picture with several other friends at a local music concert.  You immediately start to wonder why you weren’t invited.  Did I do something wrong?  Did I say something to her that bothered her?  No one will ever hang out with me now.  Before you know it, the snowball of negativity begins.  Can you see how a simple picture can shape the way we think?    

Now that you’ve carefully considered a few of the patterns of this world, I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the question I asked you earlier – Who are you? 

Remember, you won’t find the answer to this question by looking out there in the world.  You must look within and determine who God made you to be.  It’s a journey you won’t ever regret.     

As for me, I am a spark that ignites positive, sustainable change in the lives of others. 


Mike Sissel

P.S.  I care about you!

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