How Do You Identify?

I recently considered the markers we use to identify ourselves when meeting someone new. The most common descriptors seem to include what our work is, where we are from, what our race/heritage is, what religion we belong to, and what our family situation is. Of late, there has also been an increase in identifying oneself by one’s sexual and gender identity.

But why are these the sorts of markers that we use? Do these really represent the most fundamental qualities of a person? If I told you what I do for work, does that really tell you much about how I think and feel? If I disclosed my sexual preferences, would that really give you an accurate window into my soul?

I don’t think so. In my experience, most of these categories have little, if anything, to do with who a person is at their core. Really, I think we only use these because they tend to represent the smallest minorities that we belong to. The mentality seems to be “if you know what is most unique about me, you will know who I really am,” but I think this is a false assumption. Sometimes, it is the broadest of definitions that actually get the closest to the truth.

For example, the identification that I am “a son of God,” hardly puts me into a minority, but it is much more fundamental to who I really am. Descriptions like “I am a Software Developer,” or “my family is from Norway,” put me into smaller buckets, but those buckets are pretty shallow. Being “a son of God” has me in a bucket that is very wide, but also very deep.

I think it is therefore more useful to take those broader, wide-bucket categories, and then go deep with them. If I really wanted to introduce myself in a way that gave people a window into my soul, I might say something like “I am one of God’s creations, and I, in turn, share my Maker’s passion for creating new things. And not only am I a creation, but also a re-creation. I am one who has been redeemed by Christ, brought back from an addiction and loneliness that I thought I would never see the end of.”

Would this be an awkward way to introduce myself? Well, given that awkwardness is defined simply by whether it is how most other people do things, then yes, I suppose this sort of introduction would be unique and strange. Even so, I truly feel it would give a far better explanation of who I really am, it would point you to the parts of my soul that are most integral to who I am. I really think it would be a better, more interesting society if we all gave these sorts of introductions to who we are. Of course, before we could have a society where we all introduced in this way, we would first have to all know ourselves at this deep level, and that’s easier said than done. Lack of knowledge of self is probably the real reason why we fall back on the simpler, but shallowed definitions instead.

Layers of Man- Summary

For the last week we have been exploring the different layers that make a person up, which ones we mistakenly identify with, and the one true identity that we should define ourselves by. We made this journey by moving from the outside in, first examining the external falsehoods, moving to the interior ones, and finally settling on the truth. This inward journey tends to be the pattern that the reawakened soul follows, digging through the layers to get back to who they once were. But, of course, all of these layers come upon the soul in reverse order. So, let’s take a minute to start at the core and work our way back out, just to make sure the picture is complete.

The Divine)

First and foremost, we have the divine. Our true identity, present in us from before our birth. We do not have to work for it, we do not have to earn it, it is just inherent in our innocent, infant state. Artists have long recognized the natural divinity of children, rendering them as angels and cherubs, holy souls under the direct purview of God, Himself.

The divine core is present in us from the beginning, though it should be noted that it can grow and expand throughout our lives. When we are living from this authentic core, we are able to develop and attach other virtues to our character. If we attempt to attach these virtues at any other level of being, they will never stick. Thus, the great prerequisite to real change in our lives is for that change to be able to communicate with this most intimate layer. If you really want to make lasting changes in your life, then you need to stay in this place.

The Wound)

Tragically, though, at some point the divine self is assaulted and taken from us. Though we are naturally bright, someone tells us that we are stupid. Though we are effortlessly kind, someone tells us that we are hurtful. Though we are inherently innocent, someone tells us that we are guilty. We accept these messages as true, because we are young and vulnerable, and they come from someone that we love and trust.

Part of the reason why childhood wounds hurt us the most is because they cut at the truest part of us. If we accept that at our core we are foolish and selfish and worthless, then there is nowhere else to go for reassurance. We see ourselves as fundamentally broken, and by definition, fundamentally broken means unfixable.

The Shame)

The pain brought on by this wounding cannot be overstated. It is entirely appropriate to say that these are the greatest assaults our souls will ever face in life. Being struck to our core, our survival instincts will almost certainly kick in. These instincts are simple and powerful, designed to find the quickest, most efficient way to remove oneself from the pain.

And all too often, the quickest, most efficient anesthesia is some sort of carnal pleasure. Whether the pleasure of sexual gratification, or of consumption, or of entertainment, or of mind-altering chemicals, or of getting new things, or of establishing control over another. All of these alleviate pain in the moment, but they do so at the terrible cost of tearing our conscience and hurting the hearts of others. We will hate ourselves for doing these things, but that hatred will only inspire the survival instincts to do them yet again to numb that pain also! A vicious cycle of self-hurt and hurt to others thus begins.

The Façade)

The pain of a broken heart and of a guilty conscience, the two most terrible burdens to live with. The instinct-based survival mechanism has tried to save us in its own way and utterly failed, so now our higher reasoning takes a crack at it, but its attempt is hardly any better.

We mistakenly conclude that we must create a new layer outside of the others, one that covers the shame so that no one else can see it and one that overcompensates for the part of our divine soul that was assaulted by the wound. So, if we were told that we were selfish, and if our shameful addictions have reinforced that belief, then we will likely create a façade of exaggerated niceness, straining to put on a show of compassion and consideration, not motivated by genuine love for other people, but by fear of having our ugly side seen.

Because the façade totally ignores the underlying issue, it is trying to erect a beautiful building on top of a fractured foundation, and it is doomed to fail miserably. Sometimes this failure is a sudden and public collapse, sometimes it is hidden from the world as we slowly erode from the inside out. In either case, its scope is all-reaching, shattering every branch and relationship in our lives.


And thank God that it does. Thank God that our efforts to put a band-aid over a gaping laceration don’t work. Thank God that we will never find a workable solution without Him. And I literally mean “thank God,” because He is often the one who topples our house of cards to the floor.

Sometimes, when we are in the midst of trying so hard to cover our mistakes and wounds, we feel like divine intervention is tripping us up. Often that makes us incredibly mad! “God, I’m trying to make myself good enough, I’m trying to make this house beautiful enough, so why do you keep sending earthquakes to knock it down?!”

God breaks apart everything that we build so that we can finally give up. Routed and cut off from support, our marshalling ruined and our hopes in retreat, finally we throw our hands up and say “I surrender! Go ahead. Punish me! Break me! I deserve it!”

And then we see what a liberating captor God is.

One layer after another, God then breaks through the façade, the shame, and the wound. He blasts all of it away and reveals to us our shining, divine spark, long forgotten but never faded.

“I don’t care about the wrongs,” He tells us. “I don’t care about the lies. I don’t care about the shame. And I’m not here to condemn you, break you, or punish you. I’m only here for this!”

He takes that divine spark and puts it back into our hands. He gives ourselves back to ourselves.

“Now let’s try this again,” He says.

And now, with our true self restored back to us, we miraculously find ourselves effortlessly able to be the person that we could never make ourselves be by force. Where once we felt cursed in all that we did, now we are blessed. Certain defeat is replaced with already-won victory. Real change and real happiness come over us, and we are amazed to find that all this was ready and waiting for us at any moment.

Unveiling our shame and our wounds may seem a terrible ordeal. Our anxiety might seem sure that to do so will kill us! But this is the only way to get them out of the way and then unveil the divine, and once we have done this, then all the hard journey will have been worth it. At last, we are our ourself again, and we need never go back to playing pretend.

Layers of Man- The Divine

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12

This above all: to thine own self be true - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

It might seem impossible that a person could not know their own self, one would think that knowledge would be self-evident to them, but nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know a single person who has not totally lost their genuine self at some point or another. We all stray from our authentic core, and finding our way back isn’t as simple as we might think. Indeed, there are many who never find their way back at all! This a tragedy, because we will never grow into our full potential until we are living from that genuinely authentic place.

Over the past several posts we’ve highlighted the common false identities we find ourselves in: the wounded victim, the shameful addict, and the phony pretender. At different times we might consider any of these roles to be our real self, but none of them can be. Each of these layers only came into existence partway through our lives. They are therefore artificial and external, addendums on top of something else.

And what is that something else? What was the true self that everything else was layered on top of us? What identity we have always had inside of ourselves, right from the beginning of life?

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? - John 10:34

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee - Jeremiah 1:5

The words of scripture provide bold declarations that each and every one of us is a special creation of God, a divine child of the most powerful being in the universe, and an heir to heaven through Christ. The words of scripture tell us that none of us are a bit player or window dressing in the story of the world, but a central character unlike any other. Each of us comes with unique talents and callings, meaning we have both a God-given ability and a God-given purpose.

In short, each one of us is sacred, each one of us is divine, and each one of us is an imprint of God. Many of us have been told this at one point or another, but relatively few of us have been able to actually believe it. Or we might say that we believe it, but when asked to describe who our divine self is we are unable to provide any specific or unique details.

Forgetting who the divine self is the first step to all the trouble that we experience in life. Coming to remember who we are is the first step to restoring all that was lost.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For the body is not one member, but many. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. - 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 17, 18

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:3

I can tell you that your true identity is defined by wonderful and divine traits…but I cannot tell you exactly what those traits are. We are not all the same image of divinity, but each a part of the whole. It is not for another mortal to define what your identity is. It is a personal and individual pilgrimage that all of us must take for ourselves, to know who we truly are.

I can, at least, give you a starting point to begin your journey from. Remember that all of our false identities were layers heaped upon our original state. Remember that our divine self is not one that we had to earn or fashion, it was present in us from the very beginning. And so, the best place to start looking for the divine self is in our young childhood. What were you like before your innocence had been broken, when happiness came so naturally, and you didn’t ever wonder if you were enough? How did you play and perform before you cared who was watching you? What were the things you could do that brought you joy effortlessly, that made you feel strong and adept? Some may be able to recall these years better than others. Some may need to enlist the help of parents and loved ones who might remember more clearly.

Of course, remembering these things is one thing, but then there is the matter of actually going back to that place. Some may feel that their childlike self has been irreversibly broken, that the path back home is blocked by an impassable chasm.

Whether you have forgotten your child self, or do not know how to find your back to it, do not worry. It can all be brought back to you right where you are at this moment. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As you cultivate your relationship with Christ and search with earnest, old things will be made new. The self that was forgotten or lost will be brought back effortlessly; a gift restored.


I’ve shared my façade, my shame, and my wounds, it only seems fair that now I get to share the most divine parts of my soul as well. This isn’t boasting, either, because these are the qualities I did absolutely nothing to obtain. They were given to me as a gift from God. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

From my youngest years I have been naturally cheerful and gregarious. I am most typically happy, and I want to see everyone around me be happy as well. I tend to sense how engaged everyone is with an activity, and when someone is frustrated or losing interest, I know what to change to include them.

I am curious and creative, endlessly fascinated by this world and stimulated by it into imagining new things. I love to write and create stories, to convert life lessons into parables and allegories. And even when it does not lead to creativity, I still find great pleasure just in learning and understanding new things.

Finally, I am also conscientious, having an unbreakable sense of what is right. When it comes to deciding what I should do, I need no more justification or rationalization than simply to feel what is right in my heart and obey it. Along with this, I have recently discovered that I always comes back to my conscience. Sometimes, admittedly, I do become complacent and aloof, trying to glide through life without holding myself to a greater purpose. But these spells are always short-lived. I am constantly pulled back towards conscience, even without any external pressure to do so.

And now, at long last, we have reached the true core of who we are. The part of us that has always been ingrained in us since before our birth. The part that is inseparable from who we are, even when it is temporarily forgotten. The part that it is actually correct for us to identify ourselves by.

We are so often taught that we have to make ourselves be enough, that we have to spend our whole lives striving to becoming who we are supposed to be. What a welcome shock to realize that in reality we don’t need to strive at all. The divine was in us all along, before we had done a single thing to build or earn it. So now, instead of grasping at convoluted philosophies, we can let go of everything but the truth. Instead of looking high and low for God, we can discover Him within us. Instead of working so hard to become His we can realize that we always were.

Now, at last, we are home.