A couple of news stories have me thinking about identity. To be honest, I haven’t delved deep into either story but it has been hard to avoid surface-level stories about Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner or Rachel Dolezal (the NAACP local branch executive whose racial background is white but who identifies as black). These are people who have changed their outward identity dramatically. Both would say, I think, that they have tried to make their inward self-identity match with what the world now sees externally. Their quest to do this is not unique – I’m guessing that each one of us has tried to do that at one point or another. 

Think back to middle school and high school. Those 7 years (if you start counting at 6th grade as the Alexandria public schools do) are fraught with identity issues, both self-identity and group identity. I remember going back to 8th grade with contact lenses instead of my coke-bottle thick glasses and the thrill of not being recognized in those first few days of school. As our kids become youth and move into different schools, or even come back from a summer break that had new discoveries and skills added to their sense of self, there is a chance for reinvention – if I was the sporty one there and then maybe I can be the smart yet cool kid here. Haircuts, clothing changes, new interests are all signals of testing and trying out different identities.

There is an identity that sticks with our youth, as well as with you and me, wherever we may go and through phases and fads and deep struggles of who we are. We are beloved children of God. Those who are baptized have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with a cross on their foreheads. When I work with children who are being prepared to be baptized, I tell them that they will also have that invisible mark of the cross on their forehead. It is like an invisible tattoo. It never goes away, even though we can’t see it. Sometimes we try to run away from it and from our identity as Christians, yet God still sees us as beloved. Because of circumstances of job requirements some cannot live their faith in public but must live it in their hearts, yet they are still marked as Christian.

For any of us, whether we are parents or not, our challenge is to live out our faith and Christian identity in the ways that we can, in ways that give life, that spread God’s love, that enrich and nourish our own spiritual journey and that of others. Do you take time to think about why you are a Christian and how you practice or live out your life as a Christian? That identity is worth some exploration! And then share it with the young people in your life. Help them to know how much they are beloved by God and loved by you too.