Have you thought much about all that makes you the person you are? Have you pondered where your uniqueness comes from? Are we as people simply a collage of name, birthdate, address, and tax-payer ID? How do our experience, personality, accomplishments, and failures mold us? What parts of a person are essential? Is the self something we discover, or create, or manage or celebrate?
One perspective on this topic says the self is a fixed entity; something that has been established and is waiting to be discovered. The artist Michelangelo, who sculpted the statue David, explained that David’s image was inside the block of marble, waiting to be revealed. The artist’s task was simply to chisel away what didn’t belong. This view of personhood says each of us has been uniquely formed and our lives are the studio where we chisel away what doesn’t belong until the true self comes forth.
There certainly seems to be truth to this idea. Parents frequently notice differences between their children from an early age, even from birth. The designers of the CliftonStrenths assessment estimate the chances two people would have the same top five strengths in the same order is 1 in 33 million1. Truly, each person is unique!
Many of us can trace the threads of our passions, vocation, and talents back to our childhood and youth. What we loved back then we still love now: art, music, mechanics or academics. We were ourselves long before we had a say in the matter, and discovering more about our unique design is a marvelous journey. Parker Palmer writes “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”2 In this regard, it’s appropriate to say we have always been ourselves.
However, I’m uncomfortable with the premise that who we are is set in stone, simply waiting to be discovered. For if this is the case, we are reduced to secondary, passive players in our life instead of active participants.
Perhaps the gift of life is a combination of what’s been given to us and what we do with it. If that’s the case then our choices, habits, faith and responses matter. We are not just observers, but participants in forming who we become. Our task is not only to be ourselves but to become ourselves. It might sound easy, but becoming requires great effort.
Both perspectives—being and becoming—acknowledge that we’ve been given a lot. God addresses us as His masterpieces; valuable works of art which display His skill3 . A masterpiece cannot say, “I did it all myself”4 and as living masterpieces created in God’s image, we are right to appreciate his exquisite craftsmanship.
So, if God intends for us to discover who we are and have an active role in who we’re becoming, what does that mean for us?
Firstly, it means our choices matter. Our actions, desires, and input have value. The core of who we are has been created by God on purpose. He’s put talents and strengths and potential in each person. We are not lifeless puppets, but heirs of God and co-creators with Christ. Our life is His gift to us and we have a say in how we spend it. With His help, we can be and we can become something incredible.
Secondly, it means we can live with hope. No matter what our life has been, no matter how we’ve lived or what we’ve experienced, the future can be different. We’re not locked into a particular way of life, doomed to a terrible future. There’s hope and freedom in our ability to change and adapt. To be human is to be mouldable. A decision at sixteen, or twenty-one, or thirty doesn’t define us. Growth, change, and healing come by way of small steps and subtle increments. Can you see areas of change and growth in your life? These changes are worth celebrating!
So, when you feel pressured to make your life matter or to find your true self, try not to freak out. You are already you, and, with God’s help, you are becoming yourself more fully. Even Michelangelo, with his claims of knowing exactly what David would look like, still had to pound away at the marble, one chisel stroke at a time. It took years to complete his work, and no one would deny it’s a glorious masterpiece.
* This post has been adapted from The Gifts I Never Knew I Had, Chapter 2, by Tanya Lyons.
- The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner
- Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer
- Check out www.gallupstrengthscenter.com to learn more. ↩
- “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker J. Palmer, p. 4, (1999). ↩
- Ephesians 2:10 (NASB) refers to humanity as God’s masterpiece. In Greek, the word is poiema. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” ↩
- 1 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB), “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” ↩