The truth is that we define ourselves in relation to something or someone else. As a child I grew up defining myself in relation to my parents and extended family. People knew me by my relation to my mother, father, grandparents, and other family members whom they knew. I would introduce myself as the son of my father and mother. Now I often introduce myself to some as "Amy's husband" when they know my wife or as "Joseph's, Andrew's or Rachel's Dad" when they know my children.
I define myself in relation to what I do. One of the first things we do when we meet is say what it is that we do -- our vocation defines us. I am a Pastor... I am a nurse... I work for Trane... I am retired... Sometimes we define ourselves in relation to where we live... the list of things that we use to define ourselves can go on and on.
Increasingly in our culture, what defines us is our sexuality. The labels of straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, etc., have become the things that most capture who we are. Where other relationships may come and go (my relation to my parents or children or spouse or even work), our sexual identity is seen as the thing endures. Who can forget when Governor Jim McGreevey announced "I am a gay American." After being husband, father, politician, and Governor, what he chose to define himself was his sexuality.
All of these relationships that we use to define us are incapable of giving to us the identity that we need and long for -- the one identity which is planted and rooted in eternity and does not change even as we do change. That relationship is our relationship to God. Yet we cannot relate to God until and unless He chooses to relate first to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. The great longing within us to know who we are and to define us as individuals and our place within the great creation are ultimately dependent upon God's first action to reach out to us.
The great travesty of sin is that it has become a condition upon our nature that renders us -- dare I say it -- sub-human, less than we were created to be. Yes it has marked us with death but the death that is the worst is the death of our identity and place within the great creation that sin caused. We have tried to repair this missing element in our lives by defining ourselves in relation to many people and things but none of these answers our need or satisfies our longing.
When Augustine said that his soul would not rest until it rested in Thee, he was echoing this aching quest to know who I am and my place within all that is around me. We want to know who we are and we choose many paths to answer this question yet none of these answers can satisfy our longing until we are able to see ourselves in relation to God our Creator.
Our relation to God our Creator cannot be explored until God bridges the gap sin has created and comes to us in the fullness of humanity through His Son. He must meet us on the soil of our sub-humanity in order to repair the breech, restore what was lost to us, and give us what we want and need most of all -- identity and place.
I am sure that I read where C. S. Lewis said something about sexuality replacing our quest for God, when religion and faith are no longer the focus of our identities, we are left only with our sexuality and our sensuality. I listened to an Orthodox priest who said we cannot accept "human nature as an independent thing, as somehow: 'I am whole and complete in myself, and I only lack supernatural grace.' That is not the Orthodox view. The Orthodox view is: 'I am now abnormal. In my fallen humanity, I am not my full self. There’s a sense of sub-humanity in my humanity.'"
The priest went on to say: "I find it very interesting in modern life, people define themselves with aspects of what they like. They define themselves sexually or they define themselves professionally. It’s only some aspect of man, but not the whole and complete man. And I think that’s what destroys politics. You have interest groups that are trying to find meaning where there is no meaning, and they’re giving themselves this kind of existential meaning by saying: 'I’m homosexual. I’m heterosexual. I’m a professional. I’m a blue collar. I’m an immigrant. I’m a native,' or whatever or however you want to define it. These things are all attempts to get by the essential fact that you are nothing until you’re with Christ."
This is what the Church comes to proclaim -- not a better life today, not finding happiness, not figuring out how to have a better marriage or be better parents, not how to have more sex or better sex, not how to be more popular or more well liked, not to have more things or get ahead financially, no! None of these things can satisfy the longing within or answer the questions that matter of who I am and where is my place? Only Christ. When we begin defining ourselves in relation to Christ -- to the person we were made to be in the waters of baptism, the person who lives not by sight but by faith, the person for whom God sets an honored place at His Table when we deserve not even crumbs.... then we will know contentment and peace that passes understanding.
It is not that all these other ways to define ourselves are so terribly evil (as son or parent, for example) but they are deficient. They cannot give to me the identity I need, the one that was lost to me when a simple act of choice on the part of my first parents stole from me what should have been my birthright. Now, in the new birth of baptism, I receive what was supposed to be mine from the beginning -- my identity planted and rooted in God my Creator as the gift of Jesus my Redeemer through the Spirit who teaches me to know this and trust in this grace. This is who I am... now... no matter what life brings me or does not... and who I am eternally because of Jesus' resurrection.