Who we are is primarily determined by who we are connected to relationally. As soon as we’re born we’re given a name and told who we are. We understand our identity primarily through the context of our relationship with our parents. As we grow older our perspective broadens beyond our family and other relationships with friends and authority figures like teachers and coaches.
Every person we develop a relationship with adds a little bit to how we see ourselves and understand who we are. Each relationship is unique and brings a unique part of who we are to the surface. Therefore, when someone dies we often feel that a part of us dies with them.
Unfortunately, many of us are losing much of who we are, our very identity, because of a lack of relational connection.
The opposite is true as well. When we live disconnected and isolated from people we lose our sense of identity, and with it our sense of purpose and meaning. This is why prisoners being placed in isolation is such a cruel form of punishment. Many who spend prolonged time in isolation suffer from mental breakdowns. We were designed by God for deep, meaningful, relational connection.
Unfortunately, many of us are losing much of who we are, our very identity, because of a lack of relational connection. Technology can crowd out the genuine connectedness we experience with people face to face. This does not come without consequences.
In Jean Twenge’s book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, she discusses the affects technology has had on the generation following Millennials, which she dubs “iGen” (otherwise known as Generation Z).
Her research indicates that although iGen is highly connected to social media they experience much less face to face interaction than previous generations. This relational isolation has led to a dramatic spike in anxiety, depression, and suicide. Many iGeners feel trapped. For example, one high school student said they hated social media, but they wouldn’t have a life without it.
Twenge also notes the common trait of emotional and mental fragility among iGen. For example, many seem to be unable to tolerate competing worldviews, which they perceive as threats. This is partly the reason for the advent of safe spaces where students can find refuge from any ideology that may challenge their worldview.
iGen is certainly an example of a troubling trend toward isolationism, enabled by technology, but it applies to the rest of us as well. The more time we spend “connected” to technology, the more disconnected we are from true relationships. It has very similar affects to a prisoner being placed in isolation which can easily lead to depression and despair.
When we define ourselves primarily through other people we inevitably find ourselves lost and adrift without moorings to hold us tightly to an objective truth of our identity.
Brene Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, says, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.” Her argument is that we gain this belief through vulnerability in our relationships with other people. There is truth to this, although there is one thing missing from her equation – an immoveable standard of identity.
As I mentioned previously we all find identity through our relationships with other people. But what happens when those people who have played such a significant role in defining who we are, suddenly let us down, or begin sending us distorted messages about our identity? What happens when we find out that people close to us have been using us for their own selfish motives or manipulating us for personal gain?
When we define ourselves primarily through other people we inevitably find ourselves lost and adrift without moorings to hold us tightly to an objective truth of our identity. Gaining our identity through our relationships is necessary, but we still need an immovable standard that will hold us tight and remind us of our ultimate worth in tough times.
The only place we find this immoveable standard of identity is in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that we are sinful and in active rebellion against God, deserving of eternal punishment. But God proved His unconditional love for us, and affirmed our eternal value, through the sacrifice of His son.
The biblical idea that we are sinful is unacceptable to the majority of our culture because we believe that at the core, we are all good people. We have no tolerance for the idea that we are in need of a savior, although many of us readily accept a God who wants to help us achieve our potential or rebound from our mistakes.
When we deny the truth of our sinful nature we forfeit the beauty of our new, beautiful, immoveable, identity. The Apostle Paul said, “But God demonstrated His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ dies for us…how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (emphasis mine)
While we were still hostile toward God, while we were still trying to enthrone ourselves in God’s place, while were still in the midst of active disobedience, Jesus died for us to pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to the Father. There isn’t another love that is as rock-solid or unshakeable as that!
Once we appropriate God’s love in our lives we can sift through other people’s opinions of who we are in light of God’s ultimate truth – that we are eternally loved and valued regardless of what anyone else thinks.
As we engage with technology and social media, let’s not substitute our genuine relationships with the online counterfeit which ultimately leads to isolation and despair. Genuine relationships are built on truth. Only the gospel provides the assurance of our true identity and the confidence to live in that identity regardless of whether we’re online or in person.
What is YOUR immoveable standard of identity? What, or who, is it that defines you?