It’s the moment after your last final of your last year. You’re done! The stress and exhaustion are relieved. You can relax, but you feel uneasy.
It’s the moment at convocation when you step onto the stage. They shake your hand and ask you what’s next. You stumble over your words, but bask in the sunlight and the happiness of completing university. You take pictures. You reflect with friends and embrace the congratulations from family.
Then, the celebration wears out. The fanfare is replaced with questions.
What will you do?
How will you spend your time?
Who are you now?
The last question delivers the final blow. You’ve gained so much by graduating, but it feels like something’s missing.
That was me. (Sometimes, that’s still me.) In the months after graduation, I was petrified to meet new people or to see family members I hadn’t seen in a while. I didn’t know how to present myself. Who was I?
I had fallen back on the identity of “student” for the majority of my life. It didn’t matter if the rest of my life was going well: at the very least, I was Eliza, the Hard-working and Responsible Student. That was my “firm” and “secure” anchor. But I couldn’t use that anymore.
And after a few months, Eliza the Graduate was getting old. So, who was I?
For many months (read: years) it felt like Eliza the Lost. Eliza the Confused. Eliza the Burned-Out. Eliza the pitiful Volunteer. Eliza the Unemployed. Eliza the Failure. Eliza the You-Don’t-Want-to-Know.
I hid myself away, convinced that I couldn’t do anything if it didn’t give me a way to define myself. Or that I couldn’t be proud of myself if I didn’t have my future clearly mapped out. As if my future defined my present identity.
No. I had to find my identity elsewhere.
I hit rock bottom, but I had to dig even deeper to get to the very heart of it all. As I searched beneath the external expectations, superficial ideals, and limiting reputations to which I had clung, I found a solid foundation. A foundation that remained when everything else was taken away.
It took losing who I thought I was to finally find myself in Christ and his promises.
It has been four years since I graduated. During an interview, I identified myself by saying, “I’m a writer, a plant-lover, and a piano teacher.” But even that could change. I might decide to stop writing (God forbid!). I might get fed up with all the green in my room. I might quit my job.
The more I try to define myself by what I do, feel, or want to be, the more I realize that that’s just silly. How foolish is it to place your identity in something so transient! Even the years I spent as a student are becoming a faint memory.
Who am I, then? I’m just me.
Eliza the beloved Child of God.
Eliza the valued Follower of Jesus.
Eliza the cherished Servant of the Lord.
This will stick with me whether or not I go back to school. This will remain even when hobbies, interests, feelings, and inclinations change. When callings change.
I have an identity in Christ that is intrinsic, permanent, and unchanging because he doesn’t change.