How Do I Decide My Identity?

Is it really up to me to decide my own identity? I’m 16 years old and getting more confused. Help!

Your confusion is completely understandable. Think of it: A person’s development from adolescence to adulthood takes about eight years. During that time, a young person’s physical, emotional, psychosocial, mental, and spiritual development undergo profound changes. Vocational and other former interests can disappear, and your parents might have difficulty seeing their former child in the (taller) stranger now standing before them.

Since we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” just one word—identity—cannot adequately describe all the changes you are now experiencing. Also, how someone becomes mature is uniquely complex to each person. Simply put, one size does not fit all. Each individual has a unique genetic makeup, social history, and personality, and each teen will navigate this identity crisis in his or her own way.

Other important words that will add to your confusion are genetic and gender. We use the terms genetic expression or gender identity to describe how you would come to know and decide what it means to be identified as male or female, gay or straight. But even professionals such as psychiatrists, social scientists, and scholars in related fields do not all agree whether genetic differences are simply “variations on a theme” or whether these variations are alerting parents and doctors to a developmental abnormality that might need medical intervention (e.g., gender dysphoria as defined by the American Psychiatric Association). Under those circumstances, if you were not confused, you could be considered to be somewhat abnormal!

In the midst of confusion, Jesus calls us to identify with him—to become a “new creation,” to be “born again,” and to join the family of God. This offers some solid ground as you consider all these things, but it requires a decision on your part, too.

About the Author

Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

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The assumption is that this is primarily a psychological rather than a theological issue. It is proper to normalize some of this searching and questioning, but by this age we should also expect that the Church has laid a foundation of theological reference points that can start to guide a young person or, at least, serve as handles that the person's local congregation (parents, pastor, teachers, friends) can use to provide direction. I recently read Kevin Vanhoozer's Hearers and Doers, and he points out how we surrender to the surrounding culture instead of seeing where to find true direction (and our only Comfort):

“...Calvin compares the Bible to "spectacles," corrective lenses that retrain the eyes (of the mind, of faith, of the heart) to see things correctly, which is to say, by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture is a pedagogue that helps us see things – God, the world, and ourselves – as they really are, and as they come together in Jesus Christ. Scripture and doctrine both help disciples to discern how things fit together in Jesus Christ, and thus what is fitting for Christians to say and do. Scripture trains our faculties “to distinguish good from evil" (Heb 5:14), not simply by stating moral principles, but also by giving us the storied framework that give "good" and "evil" their sense. At the end of the day, what is most important in learning Christ is not having bits of information but rather the big picture. Only when they understand the whole drama of redemption are disciples able to make right judgments about things – in particular, judgments about the form their discipleship should take here and now. We demonstrate our understanding by what we do.” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, pp. 215-216)

"This offers some solid ground as you consider all these things, but it requires a decision on your part, too."

Jesus only offers "some" solid ground? Jesus is the solid rock upon which all foundations are built! My hope, my life, my identity are completely built upon the basis of Christ. Jesus doesn't simply call us to identify "with" Him, He calls us to be identified "in" Him.