“We shall never completely know ourselves if we don’t strive to know God.”
- St. Teresa of Avila
Whether we want to admit it or not, our identity is influenced by a thousand different factors: our surroundings, our family, our friends, school, work, social media, TV, internet, music, billboards, ads…and the list could go on and on. As children, we probably did not pay too much attention to these influences. We were free from the cares of the world and free from people's opinions. But as we grow older, the eyes of our heart begin to fix their gaze on the outside. We begin to imitate what I see and hear. We begin to care what other people think of us. And instead of being myself, my identity can end up becoming a muddled mix of “me’s” that in the end aren’t really even me.
So here's a good question to wrestle with: How would you define yourself? Have you ever asked yourself if you have an authentic identity? Your identity is who you are. If it’s authentic, it means it’s real, not fake. You'll probably never meet anyone who would out right say that he wants to be fake. And yet, the pressure is real: to look, act, and be a certain way. Quite frankly, it can be exhausting.
To narrow things down, we could say that there are ultimately three ways to see yourself, each one comprising quite a different version of “you”: how you view yourself, how others view you, and how God views you. Which one is real? Which one defines you?
We live in a world where our identity can feel very muddled. It can feel like a boxing match with our culture, our family, friends, ourselves, and even God…
On the one hand, it's easy to fabricate a version of yourself based on how you would like to see yourself or how you would like others to see you. We often do this on social media and even in real life, because we want others to only see our good side and appreciate the things we do. On the other hand, we can become consumed with worrying about what others think of us. We might speak, act and do certain things with a certain group of people, and then quickly change our mask to speak, act and do other things with a different group of people in a different environment.
To ask yourself who you really are is an extremely important question. Nobody likes counterfeit, so why get caught up trying to live up to the demands of what others think of you or trying to portray yourself as perfect when you know you’re not? Our heart longs for authenticity and wholeness. To be true to ourselves, we have to find our identity in God because if not, we will always be left feeling fake and incomplete.
God made you out of love and your identity lies in the fact that you are His creation. Only He can tell you who you really are, and in order to discover this, you have to go to Him. He made it so easy for us. He’s given us all we need: the Eucharist, Confession, Adoration… In His presence—caring about what He thinks about you—is when you begin to discover your true identity, your real personality, the real “you.” When human respects dissipate and God takes over, peace invades the soul and you begin to live life in the way that you were meant to live it—not how other people want you to live it! The day you stop caring about what others think of you is the day that you become free. It’s the day you become you: the person God created you to be.
So how can I cultivate authentic identity? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be authentic. Discover your identity and dignity through a relationship with Jesus. You can’t cultivate what you haven’t discovered, so discover Him! A great way to do this is by meditating on the Gospels. Try doing this for fifteen minutes every day and you'll begin to see, think, and feel as He did. You’ll find everything in Him: your identity, your origin, and your goal. He made you. He loves you. Let Him define you.
- Be intentional. Have a reason for what you do and seek to fulfill God’s will every day. Don't just swallow what the world and social media feeds you. Learn to think and reflect about things so that you can act with an upright conscience. To be able to really live this out, you’ll have to learn what it means to say “yes” to what you need to say yes to and “no” to what you need to say no to!
- Be consistent. Don’t just go with the flow—act and behave always in accord with your God-given identity. Don’t change your values to “fit in” or compromise your beliefs to please others. Persevere! To lead an integrated life requires consistent effort every day. It's necessary to choose Jesus over the world every day to arrive at our only true identity.
As Carlos Acutis said, “We are all born as originals, but many die as photocopies.” You were not born to be like everybody else. You were born to be YOU and only God can tell you who you are. So don’t waste your life as another photocopy among many others. Be the authentic you God created you to be and discover true peace, true happiness, true freedom.
- By Sr. Mary Donavan, SHM