An e-mail subject line just caught me by surprise: “Your identity remains unchanged.”
Really? I guess that’s good to know. I’ve wondered.
How much does a person’s identity change over the years? How much of who we really are is changed simply by the accumulation of years and experience? How much of our genuine identity is changed just by making the journey across life’s mountaintops and through its valleys, as we’re lifted up by deep joys and disheartened by deep sorrows? How much is just rubbed down or polished smooth by the day-to-day relentless tumbling of the sand grains of the years? What’s eroded and lost? What’s brightened and beautified? What will be left and how will it have been changed?
How much of what makes me “me” changes not much at all? How much would be almost unrecognizable to someone who knew the long-ago “me”?
I just picked up my coffee mug. (I’m not so foolhardy as to try to write without coffee.) Looking at my grandkids’ sweet photo on that cup, I fervently want to believe—I do pray—that the sweetness of those spirits, the pure laughter, and the sparkle in the eyes, will still be there when the years have piled up and they’re playing with their own grandkids and savoring sweet smiles and laughter and joy, and when they’re praying the prayer I pray right now that the kernel of that beauty and joy is something that grows and deepens over the years and never becomes lost or twisted or marred.
We are not our bodies, even though we have them. Yet even the ways our physical bodies change, but remain the same, is mind-boggling. As others have eloquently noted, our bodies are like waterfalls. The cells that make them are always changing, but the DNA inside ensures that though we’re changed by age and the cells we have are not the ones we started with, we have the “same” bodies. Amazing.
How much more mysterious is the soul, the part of each of us that makes us unique creations of God? As a Christian, I believe that God’s Spirit living inside us as we’re submitted to Him, continually cleanses our spirits, renews us, re-makes us, refreshes us, re-creates us into the persons He would have us be. And in mystery and in joy, as He molds us ever more deeply into His image, we become increasingly our truest “selves.”
I have far more questions than answers here. But I think the answer, deeply mysterious and filled with joy, is that for me to become more fully the self God made me to be is to find my identity in the One whose identity never changes.
By the way, that e-mail note was from a company supposed to keep me safe from identity theft. I now see that it said, “Your identity information is unchanged.”
If what I’ve just written is true, the worst identity thief is not a human one. And the Creator and Protector of my true identity is Divine.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at