Who am I?

"Who am I?" That is the question my generation is asking. We are a people desperate for self-definition yet refusing to be defined. Do not try to label us by our country, our job, our denomination, our parents, or any cleverly devised social construct. Your categories are a cage and we long to be free.

In our search for understanding we tried many schemes. Early on we thought our interests could define us. "I read fantasy." We dressed in robes and wizard hats and played Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit. We were happy here, for a time, but only as a fish who has not yet sensed the limitations of his bowl. And so, like a curse upon our heads, we matured and left the simplicity of our youthful delusion that we are not so complex. "Am I nothing more than a consumer of other men's visions immersed in a false world of someone else's thoughts? There must be more to me." We looked to our fathers for answers, but they were either absent or in the midst of their own crisis of retirement redefinition. When we asked, "Who am I?" we got "I don't know, but what has my life meant?" If they can't look at us and see their answer maybe we should look elsewhere.

We have tried friends, marriages, and in our despair even full time work, but the cure still eludes us. No one knows us, and worse, we do not know ourselves. With our anchors raised and all the beacons torn down we are tossed haplessly by a raging world who sees us only as a number on a sales report. We are without a compass on this journey and clouds of doubt and regret cover all the stars that might guide us. It is dark and wet and cold and the wind is constantly changing. Will we find a peaceful bay or be smashed against the rocks?

This is the story of my generation, yes, but it is not my story. Do not presume I have come to gloat, I know we all struggle, this is just not mine. From the outside it seems the whole issue is one of approval. After a lifetime of criticism for doing the things you love, and praise for things done in ambivalence (doing the things they told you should be done), I don't blame your confusion. The real question is not "Who am I?" but "Which me do I most approve of?" When you look back on a life lived their way you say, "That wasn't me" but the problem is that it was you, a you you hate. Your search is not one of self-definition as much as self-approval. Until now you have defined yourself by their praise. You can admit it was a flawed approach, but the better way is still amiss. Do you trust the folk wisdom, "Follow your heart"? What if your heart sets you on a path towards destruction? And what of pop Christian wisdom, "Find your approval in God"? Is this so easy? If you trust in West-Coast-Jesus he approves of everyone, and if you trust in Mid-West-Jesus he approves of no one. Neither is helpful in your search. A Jesus in our own image is easy to love, but he is utterly useless. I do not presume to know the path you seek, but I am sure it is easier to walk with company than it is to walk alone.

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  • Very insightful. I love it. I didn’t fall into that cultural trap, because of my particular upbringing where I learned how to not give a ****. I was forced to define myself and did so comfortably.

    I see that same problem as normal and completely widespread. We must learn what men (or women) we are first. Then we must decide who it is we wish to be. Then we act to become it. We hold the destiny to our own lives. All the keys are in our hands. But perhaps you have given away those keys…

  • So, what happened, these kind of entries don’t just come out of nowhere? Question of the generation, yes, answerable, probably not, relevant, as much as you make it (like that little bit of postmodern thought I shoved in there to patch that one up)?

    It reminds me of a character named Matty from the novel “Darkness Visible” by Golding. He struggled with a similar question which kept evolving. I think it was something like: “who am I, what am I, what am I for?” I enjoyed Golding’s progression of the question of self and the last portion, “what am I for” always struck me the most as a Christian. It seems to be the most relevant in regards to what our place is in life as it combines with our theology.

    I figure that God is interested in who we are and what we become, but I also suppose that that is only important in relation to how usable it allows us to be. Many “Christ” figures across literature are not people you’d want to be, want to know, or even want to come across is a dark alley, but they had this knack to conjure change in others and spark redemption. They were definitely human and their imprint upon the world behind them holy and divine, but they didn’t have it together, they didn’t know who they were in the way you quote the question of our generation. They were just used.

    Not that Christ is anyone who promotes positive change nor was he simply some fool used by God, but in a way that seems to be what we were called to by the example Christ did leave.

    What am I for? Could this be what we ask ourselves from now on, putting aside our own senses of accomplishment and rights and personal comfort sprung from a legacy of surrounding ourselves with that which might show everyone and ourselves who we are?

  • Since you asked, this post began as an introduction to thoughts on humility before becoming its own entry. I think your comment has sensed the hidden path of my original intention. Honestly, I am not certain how important it is to “discover who I am” in light of the command to love one another. Can I give of myself before I truly know myself? I think I can. How important is self-discovery in our search for the divine? I think many today would see it as essential. As an outsider to this whole dilemma I am not sure.
    I too have found questions of purpose helpful (what am I here for) because they ask how I can best serve my neighbor instead of looking to exalt myself. In this sense self-discovery is very helpful.

  • Tara

    I enjoyed reading this, thanks for your insightfulness, Adam!

  • MOM

    the question to me certainly is “what am I here for”. How would God like to use the me He created to serve His purposes for his eternal plans best. That would be a much better search than dwelling on the “I” or ME search. I find life so much more exciting as I wait on the Holy Spirit to direct me to my next task than I would seeking one thing after another to find out who I am. For if I am not in Jesus Christ I am nothing.