March 24, 2014
The fact that there’s no crisis may be the bigger crisis.
Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst with a unique pedigree. Born in Frankfort in 1902, his single mother was Jewish, married a physician and kept his birth circumstances from him until he was an adolescent. With blonde hair and blue eyes, kids at his temple school teased him for being Nordic; the grammar school crowd shunned him for his Jewish heritage. His training was in psychoanalysis, a field founded by Sigmund Freud that probed the influence of the unconscious mind on human behavior.
Erikson first proposed the concept of the Identity Crisis: a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself. Unsure of your role in life? Don’t feel like you know the “real you?” Lack a sense of underlying purpose upon which you set your direction in life? Identity Crisis may well be the diagnosis…
Erikson observed that IC is predictably typical for young people transitioning from youth to adulthood. Direction that was generic, imposed from power figures in family or community is disappearing, to be replaced by self-directed pursuits that begin to accumulate the markers from which one’s identity emerges. Start with identity, and there is no crisis. Search for identity… and ensure it.
The cultures of North America have their differences, but they have this in common: one’s primary identity found – increasingly – in career. The movement away from family systems – protracted singleness, transient marriage relationships, children born in, out of and beyond wedlock – has occurred alongside the embrace of women finding long-term, self-defining career pursuits filling the time and energy capacities once filled by family demands. “Who are you?” is a question most easily answered, for most people, by their most recent – or, most impressive, former – business card. Their title grants them status; their blueprint for life came with their current employment agreement.
And, along comes Jesus. He did it, 2000 years ago… and He’s still doing it, today. Someone living in the culture makes the acquaintance of the Creator, Himself… and that new relationship turns over the identity applecart, sending assumptions flying.
A fisherman signs on to become a Fisher of Men. A tax collector becomes a contributor to history’s Best Seller. A physician becomes a historian. A tentmaker becomes the champion of a movement launched from a closed people group that becomes internationally expansive, through his personal efforts. Examples of a continuing phenomenon: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
America, c. 2014: the vast majority of Christians see themselves from a worldly point of view. Find a woman who does not work outside her home, with her family as her primary focus… and she’s likely to be uncomfortable describing her meaningful life to a college friend who has remained single, but rocketed up the corporate hierarchy in her years since school. Find the man whose career achievements were forgotten when his company suffered a dramatic, negative reset in the Great Recession. Find the summa cum laude grad, Class of 2010… underemployed, but imprisoned by student debt. Identity has become murky, or maudlin; it’s the subject to avoid, rather than to applaud.
If you’re in the family of God through the relationship you have with Jesus Christ, here’s the new creation reality: your identity is now defined by your Calling. It’s an eternal brand, given to you by the God who made you for something uniquely yours. If you know your Calling, you’ll never have Identity Crisis; if it remains a mystery, it may explain your pain. If you don’t know your Calling, and you have no Identity Crisis… the fact that there’s no crisis may be the bigger crisis.