I love a good superhero movie. Many say that the superhero franchise has rampaged through the cinematic industry, leaving crowds thirsty for nothing more than action and good fight choreography in a film, but I beg to differ.
Perhaps my love for the films stems from a childhood riddled with Saturday morning cartoons and graphic novels borrowed from my elementary school library. Or maybe my grown-up self has fallen for the quippy characters and diverse worlds. However, the true reason I find myself engrossed in a good superhero movie can actually be reduced to one factor: the story. More specifically, the single element that ties each superhero story to one another: the balance of identity.
Growing up, I never thought about identity. I understood the concept of the word, but I rarely reflected on the reality of the word. As far as I understood, my identity lay in the things around me. like my family, my studies, and my interests. My greatest exposure to “identity” came from my love of superheroes and how they were always trying to keep their true identity hidden. I never felt obliged to examine my own identity because I figured it was always in plain view.
I lived in the same house from the day I was born until just before my 18th birthday. The house was nestled in a suburban neighbourhood that was largely composed of familiar faces I’d encounter each day, like my schoolmates, neighbours, close friends, friends’ parents, bus drivers, postal workers, and teachers. Over the 18 years that I lived in this area, these people came to know me as a neighbour, a friend, a student, and a daughter. To them, my identity was always linked to something or someone, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I also linked my identity to these things. I found comfort in being known by my friends. It brought me joy to spend time with my family. I was proud of my high academic standing. To me, these things weren’t merely elements of my life; they were pieces of myself. Until they were no longer there. It was then that I recognized how much value I had been placing on those elements.
Just before I turned 18, I moved away from my childhood home to attend university in a bustling metropolis a few hours away. The move was exhilarating in many different ways. I felt that I was entering into an academic program that was interesting and unique and I was excited by the idea of living in a city blooming in arts and culture. I was so enthralled by the thought of exploring the surrounding unknowns that I didn’t realize that through this new experience, I would also become an unknown.
This first hit me when I walked up to my new dorm room. On the door hung a sign reading: “Shaylah Mahoney. Program: Theatre and Development.” Glancing around the hallway, I saw that every door was the same. Our first impressions of each other would be formed by these signs. Our identities were held by blue sticky tack on 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper. I knew that there was so much more to my being than my name and my program, but I couldn’t think of how else to describe myself within this new place of unknowns.
I was no longer a friend; I was surrounded by strangers. I was no longer a daughter; my family was now two hours away. I was no longer a student with high academic standing; my university career had just begun. In that brief moment, I realized that my entire definition of myself had been reliant on circumstances, and my circumstances had just changed in a major way.
There’s always that moment in superhero movies when the protagonist seems like they’ve reached their end. They’re lost, hopeless, confused, and ready to give up. But somehow, they discover something, often within themselves, that perhaps they had overlooked, and use it to overcome their obstacles. In my desperation to figure out my identity, I threw myself around between a multitude of people and activities, just trying to attain the feeling of being known and understood. But each different external experience brought confusion instead of clarity, diminishing rather than building my inner sense of identity, and leaving me with only more questions.
Finally, like a broken protagonist tired from the fight, I turned to the only person that I knew would embrace my struggling, question-filled self. In the midst of my shifting and inconsistent identity crisis, I turned to a timeless God who had known me from the start. My innate desire to be known was answered by a Creator in whom I am fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). The best part about discovering my identity in God was the revelation that there is nothing I must do to uphold this identity. No failure, no mistake, no cross-provincial move– no change in circumstance can shake this truth.
In him I am loved, chosen, set free, and called a masterpiece. I have been given an identity in which I am unmasked and welcomed as myself.
If this story resonates with your experience, I invite you to pray over these following questions:
- Where or in what do I find my value?
- What brings me joy?
- What am I afraid of?
- And still considering those joys and fears, who does God say that I am?
To discover my true identity took time. I wish I could say it happened quickly or easily, but in reality it was a journey of growth, courage, pain, and defeat with the ultimate outcome of victory. It is my prayer that if you are going through a similar experience, that you would recognize your worth in the Living God and accept an identity built on grace and love (Zeph 3:17).
Read more about NEXT, Power to Change’s initiative to help Grade 12s connect to a faith based community in college or university.