An identity you can't lose

You can be glad you're you.

One morning this past winter I was shadowing a twelve-year-old snowboarder boarder down the mountain. He was a blur of color and confidence as he sped down the slope. It was hard to decide which was more fun to watch: his ability and sheer athleticism, or his complete immersion in and obvious satisfaction with the snowboarder identity—from the baseball cap worn backward to the baggy pants to the overall aura of a preteen who knows he looks cooler than all the nearby teenagers eyeing him with envy.

But what if one is no longer twelve? And what if it's not one's place on a snowboard but on a corporate board, maybe with a corner office and access to the company jet, that largely shapes one's identity? And then, poof, the job is gone. Or perhaps one has hung his or her identity not on a job but on a role like husband or wife or parent—and then unforeseen events suddenly disrupt the familiar routine. What then?

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Could the model in one of the Bible's best-known stories be helpful here? Consider Moses, especially his early princely years. Remember, he was raised as Pharaoh's son, in a setting where power and privilege and unimaginable wealth were givens. Yet he edged near self-destruction. Through his own rash actions, he was plunged to the level of a common man, eking out a life as a shepherd.

Unexpectedly, this was when his ability to listen and to lead came to the fore. He had what must have been a defining experience: he met face to face with God. When he first saw a bush that appeared to be burning but was not "consumed," he probably had no idea that his whole life was about to change. He had gone from being a prince whose authority rested on temporal power to being a sheepherder. Now he was to learn what it meant to be a leader of the Hebrew nation and to bring his people out of slavery.

Perhaps no single episode in history illustrates more clearly the changeless and certain source of our true identity. The word "I" recurs throughout Moses' statements as he encounters the Almighty (see Ex. 3:1-15, 4:1-17). Some readers sense a self-importance, almost an arrogance, when he says, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt." Then again, a little later another statement appears to hint at Moses' feelings of inadequacy. "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" he asks. It's almost as if his sense of himself—not yet fixed on how God consistently defined him—swings from one extreme to the other.

When we root our sense of who we are in how God identifies us, however, a steadiness takes hold. Unhealthy extremes of character, or of mood, are subdued. We glimpse ourselves and our contribution in a more uniform light. Feelings of both worthlessness and egotism recede. In Moses' case, all those "I" statements are, in a sense, reined in by God's words, His self-definition, given in His own voice. "I AM THAT I AM: ... Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." God is giving Moses a commission, some work to do, a focus for his abilities. Is it possible that God is also identifying Himself as "I" and "I AM?" Could the Divine be announcing Himself as the one and only source of all identity?

Your true identity is inextinguishable.

When we find our identity as the likeness of the one I AM, our real spiritual ability, which is always triumphant, supplants its counterfeit—those uncertain and unreliable talents that have their roots in mortal personality rather than in our individual spiritual heritage from the divine Father-Mother.

God's statement to Moses is a healing announcement for us all! Since it is God, the great I AM, who defines Himself, it is God who defines you and me. Your being and mine are defined by God as an outcome of His. To put it differently, you are identified by God as His own likeness, His own showing forth of His ability and righteousness. What does this mean?

Possibly this: Even if a mother's circumstances are thrown into chaos, her identity, along with its beautiful expression through her unique abilities, can survive intact. Or even if a CEO of a high-flying dotcom firm suddenly loses his or her job, that person can take heart. The true worth of that individual's identity was never wrapped in the now-lost stock option package. It was always in the one I AM who knows that individual as His/Her own likeness. When our consciousness of who we are coincides with God's consciousness of us, concerns about identity are resolved. Crises are averted, or at least coped with more intelligently. The abilities God gives us flower, along with the opportunities to put them to use. Circumstances, husband/wife-type roles, money, corner offices, even snowboards, take their place in our lives, but not as definers of our real worth or of who we are.

Mary Baker Eddy wrote a letter that is relevant to us all, even though its original recipients were members of a particular church. It identifies us clearly as the empowered representatives of the great I AM. She wrote: "As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 165).

Think of yourself as able to impart good, all good. This is how your heavenly Father-Mother thinks of you. Your true identity, constituted of how God knows you, sees you, loves you, is inextinguishable. And because nothing douses His knowing, nothing snuffs out your being. Despairing statements such as "I am broken" or "I am lonely" are obsolete. So are egotistical ones like "I am a very important executive." They do not fit God, divine good, the one supreme consciousness. They don't deserve a voice. They don't really have an identity to hang themselves on, so why lend them yours?

Our identity is never really shaped by material things or circumstances. Actually, the reverse is true.

These facts about spiritual identity also bear on healing through prayer. Sometimes, if individuals have struggled long with physical illness, they may seem to identify with it so strongly that the thought of losing the illness is a bit scary—almost like losing one's identity. Although this phenomenon makes no sense—who really wants to hang on to pain or suffering?—it often occurs. Unless faced down through prayer, it can loom as a barrier on the path to healing. Remember, though, that walls can crumble and fall down.

God gives us the intelligence to understand this: at the very moment when a patient's identity seems entangled with longtime symptoms of illness, that identity is actually showing forth the one I AM. No individual ever ceases to be who he or she truly is, the diseaseless expression of pure Spirit.

In keeping with this, there are some things the healer won't want to do. Like think of someone as "the woman in the wheelchair," "the man with the limp," or "the girl with the impairment." These tags are far off the mark. No one wants to be thought of in that way.

When we refuse to use such superficial labels, we not only are mentally kinder, we are also taking a powerful step toward healing. Actually identifying ourselves or someone else as "able to impart truth, health, and happiness..." brings the healing message of Christ in every case.

It's hard to imagine Jesus thinking of someone as "that man with the withered hand." Such an identification of a man in this condition is foreign to Christlike consciousness. Instead, Jesus said, "Stretch forth thine hand." The man did so, and his hand "was restored whole, like as the other" (Matt. 12:13). Christ Jesus must have seen the man's unimpaired, spiritual identity all along.

We can begin to do this, too. For ourselves, and for others. Our identity is never really shaped by material things or circumstances—jobs, or marital status. Nor is it shaped by health issues. Actually, the reverse is true. These things are shaped by the all-knowing I AM, who is knowing your true, flawless selfhood, in all the magnificence and uniqueness that make you you. As we realize that our identity is defined solely by the one I AM, good happens. Our God-given ability, the very stuff of our "I," burns brightly. And because our identity as defined by God is wholly spiritual, it is never consumed, never burns up or out.

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Are we there yet?
August 14, 2000
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