Last week I had the privilege of going to Passport youth camp with our youth group as a chaperone. I love getting to spend time with our youth, but I was reminded throughout the course of the week that being a teenager is hard. Teens are in that weird in-between stage of not yet being an adult but no longer being a child. They’re trying to figure out who they are while still trying to fit in with their peers.
The question of identity never really goes away. We may phrase it or answer it differently in each life stage, but at the end of the day, we are all trying to figure out who we are and our place in this world.
While at camp, we read the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-27. I’ve often heard this story taught as a lesson in generosity and as a scathing rebuke of the wealthy. Those are valid interpretations, but one of the best parts of the gospels is that there is never just one truth to be learned from their stories. Each story has layers of meaning, and this story is no exception.
The Rich Young Ruler’s whole identity was his wealth, so much so that we don’t even know his name. He’s simply “the rich young ruler.” He’s pious as well and lives what was by Jewish standards a righteous life.
We don’t know why he approaches Jesus and asks him how to “inherit eternal life.” Maybe he was looking for Jesus to affirm that he was already doing enough. Maybe he had a feeling that there was something more to life than how he was living now. Either way, he asks the question.
And what does Jesus do? He looks at him and truly sees him. Jesus sees this man whose whole identity is in his material possessions and social status. And Jesus loves him. Right there, as he is.
Because Jesus loves the man, he invites him to give up the one thing that defines him. The one thing on which his entire life and identity is built. Jesus invites him to take on a new identity, one rooted in God. Before he can fully live into that identity, he has to let go of his old one.
We can all relate to the Rich Young Ruler. We all have that one thing that we hold most dear, that defines who we are.
In high school, my one thing was academics. I built my entire identity on being the smartest, the person with the highest grades. I really didn’t think I had much else going for me. I was quirky and a little awkward. I wasn’t the most popular girl in school or the one all the boys were tripping over each other to ask out.
There’s nothing wrong with being smart and doing well in school, but I had built my identity on getting the highest grades. Senior year rolled around, and I excitedly applied to the honors program at my top college choice. When I got the letter telling me I didn’t get into the honors program, I remember sobbing on my bedroom floor. My identity was so tied to academic achievement that when I “failed,” I felt worthless.
Now I see how God used those “failures” and “rejections” as catalysts to discovering my true identity as a beloved child of God. I no longer have to be the smartest person in the room to feel like I’m worth something. God isn’t calling me to be smart. God calls me to be the person God created me to be, finding my identity in Christ alone.
This is the invitation Jesus gives to the Rich Young Ruler. “You are not your wealth. You are so much more than your wealth, and the life you are living now is so dull compared to the life you could be living. Find your identity in me. Be the person I created you to be. That is living.”
Jesus gives us that same invitation today.
So, what is your one thing? Where are you finding your identity? In your marriage or singleness? In your family? In your employment or retirement? In your wealth or poverty? In other’s expectations of you?
Or do you find your identity in Christ?
Jesus never asks us to let go of something unless it hinders us from living the abundant life that he offers us. As you reflect on your one thing, remember that Jesus looks at you and loves you as you are right now.
Because he loves you, he challenges you to find your identity in him, so that you can be who he created you to be. The world is a better place for all of us when we live into our true identities as God’s children, bringing light and hope into the broken places.