“Who am I?” lies at the center of the human experience. While that question doesn’t plague an infant, and childhood generally brings a kind of selfless abandon, once we humans reach the teen years we begin an introspective quest that is filled with angst. WHO AM I? Teens search for answers to that question in many ways—some healthy and some destructive. Answering that question successfully may be the most significant step in finding a full and abundant life.
Discovering who we are almost always takes place in some kind of community, in some kind of interaction and interchange with other people. The first community, the family, plays an extremely significant role in fostering or impeding the development of a constructive self-image. Foundations are laid in the family (genetically as well as socially) that influence the shaping and structuring of our self-identities. Neighbors, friends, teachers, coaches, and others with whom children interact contribute in varying ways to the ongoing discovery of “Who am I?” In many ways, we discover ourselves through the experiences we have with others more than by conscious reflection. Except for occasional eureka experiences when some conscious insight grabs our attentions, we view ourselves in ways that reflect how we think others see us.
During the teen years, the influences become intensely generational. Friends and the generational culture become the dominant influences that often overshadow all others. Much of what had been shaped by family, church, and school experiences is tested, challenged, and discarded or embraced.
The teenage angst doesn’t go away in adulthood, though it lessens in many ways. Experiences of success in finding a fulfilling job, developing an intimate relationship, succeeding in educational achievements, and advancing in a vocation can enhance a sense of confidence in who we are; but failure in any of these can set our quest back considerably.
I can think of nothing more significant for the church to become involved in than addressing this need for identity. The “Identity” row of the “Making Disciples” chart will lay out a plan for doing just that, and we’ll address that in the days ahead. For today, let’s affirm in our thinking the importance of identity and the crucial roles played in families, churches, and schools and among peers in shaping identity.
NOTE: The “Making Disciples” chart is available to you via email. Send an email message message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.