identity and what others say

The following question was posed to a grandmother (who also happens to be a psychiatrist) from her twenty-something year old grandson who has recently come out as homosexual. “How am I supposed to figure out who I am when it seems everyone else has already decided?” The conversation was much longer than this one question and well…in all honesty I overheard it when it was on Days of Our Lives the other day. (Don’t judge me…I really was passing through the room.) This one simple question gets to the core of identity formation in our world today.

My family visited a church today we quite liked. We are looking for a new church home and this was on our short list. At the end of service, we spoke to the pastor briefly. My husband asked one question “Where does this church land on women in ministry?” (In full disclosure, he let the pastor know we did believe in women in ministry, all positions of leadership.) The pastor very politely began with valuing women but believing the Bible to allow only men to be pastors, stating that the Biblical term pastor is really known as an overseer and God designed it that male headship was God’s plan for things to run as they should. He did say a woman could teach but never in a lead pastor role. We didn’t go into nuances of pastoral roles as the next service was about to begin.

Long ago I had to deal with this very topic. After much soul searching, Bible study,  talking with every seminary professor, Christian writers, trusted pastors and friends, I had to submit. I had to submit to the reality that God called me to ministry and that I believed in my soul that women could do anything that a man could and that this was supported through scripture, tradition and reason though at the time I had not yet experienced it. I had to choose to be obedient and pleasing to God  or to men and women who didn’t believe my genetic make up allowed certain roles in life. It was a journey that became a part of my identity formation.

The three of us who write this blog and many of our colleagues have spent our entire adult lives circling the question of identity formation and how to best come alongside young people in this journey. For many young people others have already decided who they are based on one aspect or another be it gender, race, sexual orientation, region of their community, country or world. In stead of getting to grow into their identities, they spend a lifetime trying to break free from the identities others have placed on them.

Earlier this year Pamela, Calenthia and I led a training in MN on identity and how to better relate with others. We addressed everything theologically as we talked openly about gender, race and sexuality and the intersection of these three in our identity. In the introductions one person said he was from Edina,MN…and well you know what that means. Calenthia and I are not from MN and stared blankly at him. We didn’t know what that means. The rest of the room giggled and offered knowing glances. We were trying to clear space for this young man to work on who he is but also to not assume about others based on one factor. God certainly doesn’t, why should we?

In more ways than I can count I have heard the question “How am I supposed to figure out who I am when it seems everyone else has already decided?” There are days when even as an adult I still feel this. Today, hearing from a well meaning pastor that women cannot be called to pastoral ministry…he has decided how to interpret a part of my identity. He is wrong.

If someone hasn’t said it to you today… your identity is impacted by the world around you but it is not completely defined. Don’t let someone interpret away who you know God created you to be.

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About Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober (PhD, Fuller Seminary) is a youth ministry veteran with ministry and teaching experience. She focuses on practical theology, urban ministry, theology & disability, and marginalized communities. She is a volunteer youth worker in her church and community, lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and serves on the Young Life Capernaum national board. In her free time she can be found playing with her three young children, husband, and oversized dog.