When I was 12 turning 13 I had a real identity crisis. Although I know that puberty was an identity crisis all of it’s own that’s not the subject I’ll cover here. When I was growing up in Texas, I was a “smart” kid. I built my identity on it. Being the first one done on quizzes and tests was just part of my MO. Often I would turn around, put my arm on the desk of the kid behind me and ask, “What did you get?” He would tell me his grade, and I would go, “Oh, that’s good. I got a hundred.” I was a “smart” kid.
There were other kids who were “athletes.” There were the “emo” kids. There were the “angry” kids. Everyone had labels. I know we live in a society that is now label-less, and to even conceive of thinking of people as being labeled anything is heretical and un-American. But before political correctness taught us not to label, I identified myself as a “smart” kid.
Now something happened to me that probably doesn’t happen to many 12 year olds. I moved overseas to Japan. And I instantly had an identity crisis at school. I went from being the “smart” kid to the “athlete.” Turns out Texas is world class compared to Tokyo when it comes to athletics. I dominated on the basketball court and ran circles around the opponents. I remember winning a game of “knock-out” on the playground and a Japanese boy asked me, “How are you so good at basketball?” Now no one back in Texas would ever ask that. They would ask me how I got hundreds on everything. My response,”I don’t know. I just am.” And somehow that stuck. I started going to the Tokyo American Club Rec center and shooting freethrows every day. Now here is what was strange. I was a straight A student in Texas, but was a C student in Japan. I mean, I went from the “smart” kid to the “basketball” kid over night. I would sometimes cry over my loss of smart status, but then I would go to the gym and start shooting again, because being “smart” was no longer my identity.
Identity and Action
So here is what I’ve learned. Our identity causes us to act. Our actions reinforce our identity. I didn’t think this up, this is just basics of living that you have heard everywhere. So perhaps that deep desire for high achievement in me creates a tendency to strive for success at work. Generally when this go well at work, heroics are rewarded and conflict is rare. Being called a “workaholic” to a workaholic is it’s own reward and it can be tough coming home to a spouse who might view you as delinquent. Or what about “the worrier.” That’s the person who has deep concern, care, and might I say vigilance for their significant other’s time and attention. “Workaholics” pride themselves on their work ethic, while the “worriers” find deep satisfaction in their devotion and loyalty.
Now watch this. The workaholic goes somewhere else to be valued, while the worrier doubles down on their relationship to give them value.
This isn’t limited to workaholics and worriers. This is anyone who puts their identity in anything not eternal. Work can lay you off. You are only as good as your last performance review. The relationship will end one way or another. But it is our deep desire to control outcomes that causes us to find meaning in that which we can control. It’s all about us.
Peter and Jesus
Peter when he first is checking out Jesus, let Jesus on to his boat to preach to the crowds on the shore while he continued to clean and put away his nets after a long night of fishing. When Jesus was done preaching and Peter was done cleaning, Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Jesus who was trained as a carpenter and was now an itinerant preacher asked Peter a professional fisherman to do something ridiculous, he asked him to put out his nets after the prime fishing time. It’s the time you never go. Even non-fishermen would have known that. Peter responds by reiterating that fact, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”
But this is Jesus. And Peter thinks for a moment. He has seen Jesus in action. He is claiming things about God. He has an identity as a fisherman. If he follows Jesus words, he is trusting him. He will either be seen as a fool in the moment or this Jesus might prove to be more than just another fast talking preacher.
He says, “But at your word I will let down the nets.”
Peter made a choice. He chose to be a follower of Christ over a fisherman. His action reinforced a new identity. And what what happened next was the boat was filled up with so much fish that the boats began to sink. Peter was ruined. His identity as a sinner came face to face with a holy man and he asked Jesus to leave him. He knew that the godly and the ungodly couldn’t mix. But Jesus changed that too. Instead of an identity as a sinner. He gave him the identity of a follower who would join Jesus in being fishers of men. A fisher of men. That is the identity that Jesus wanted his disciples have. It’s sorta like fishing, except instead of catching fish alive and killing them, you catch dead people and give them life.
If there comes a time our lives that we stop giving life to the dead, then we are reinforcing a different identity than the one Jesus gave us. What identity do you hold? And are your actions reinforcing your identity?