In my last pastoral letter, I pointed out the fallacy of benchmarking our self-worth and identity against our achievements. The truth is, one day, we will all grow old, with the imminent possibility of losing our job or our mobility. Therefore, relying on “my achievements” to answer the question “Who am I?” will certainly throw us into a deep abyss.
Another possible response to the question “Who am I?” is “My reputation”. In the eyes of others, who am I? Am I someone who is able or incapable? Am I a person who is friendly or unapproachable? Am I one who is praised as a role model of a good husband (or a good wife), or am I considered as one who does not care for my family? If our focus is on getting in people’s good books, then we are elated when we hear words of affirmation and praise. Conversely, when others criticise or challenge us, or talk behind our backs, it would certainly make us feel distressed. A renowned speaker once said that it takes one criticism in the sea of praises from his audience to leave him feeling devastated. The reality is, given our sinful and imperfect nature (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10-12), we are bound to offend others; and we cannot make everybody love and accept us unconditionally.
The third common response is “My possessions”. What are my tangible or intangible possessions? Many would place importance on wealth and the number of houses, cars, children etc. Others may view social status, family background, academic qualification, outward appearance etc. as crucial. When we build our identity on “possessions”, we might feel a certain sense of satisfaction; but in the end, one or more of our possessions will be lost because of changes in circumstances or death, as described in the Book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
Would you feel contentment and have inner peace when your identity and value are based on others’ acceptance of you or your possessions? Brothers and sisters, who are you really?