By Macey Phillips
I’m 25 years old and in the midst of an identity crisis.
So many times as Christians, we focus on the wrong things and find ourselves living a life that does not identify with Christ. We put money, careers, family, friends (and the list goes on) in front of our relationship with God. We don’t necessarily mean to do it, but we find our identities in the things of this world because that is exactly what we pursue.
Yet God has a funny way of using our past mistakes to help us grow as Christians.
I grew up in a loving Christian home. When I was a teenager, if you had peeked in our big white house’s windows, you might have seen my mother typing furiously at her computer, polishing off a brand-new devotion that she’d post on her blog soon. You might have seen my father studying a lesson he was preparing to teach that Sunday to his Bible study group. You might have seen our whole family seated at the dinner table, heads bowed, praying: “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food.” You might have also seen me, a young woman on fire for God, diving into his Word and praying earnestly for a deeper relationship with him.
At least, that last bit is definitely what I’d like to imagine myself doing. Instead you’d probably see me watching movies or goofing off with my best friends. Or more likely you wouldn’t see me at all because I would be playing basketball, running around the neighborhood, or attending a youth group event. I would often volunteer my time at soup kitchens and make friends with the friendless and post Bible verses on Facebook. But only so I could hear, “What a leader she is! What a good girl.” I went to church in high school and talked like I had a relationship with God, but my focus was never on him. It was always on how others perceived me as a Christian, or worse, just how others perceived me.
Soon though, I would find myself humbled in a big way.
The very thing that made me feel like a good Christian and good person was stripped from me. Some of my best friends ended up abandoning me and talking behind my back. People at school started rumors. I began to be bullied. I soon found myself in a dark depression, the kind that mothers worry themselves sick over. And at my lowest, when I thought I couldn’t get any lower, I found that even the church leaders and my closest Christian friends wanted nothing to do with me.
Eventually I’d had enough of it. I wanted nothing to do with home. Or with God.
The year I moved to college was one of the happiest times of my life. I was at The Ohio State University, my dream college, somewhere I had wanted to go my whole life, from the time I was in a Buckeye onesie. I thrived in this environment, the kind where people are allowed to flamboyantly be themselves and nobody cared.
I was allowed to be the nerd that I had desperately wanted to be in high school. I took a full load every semester, pursuing classes that sounded even slightly interesting. That is how I found myself in an anthropology course, studying the missing link between apes and man. And in a sexuality course that discussed the gender biases in society.
I had tried—weakly—to find a church family a few times my freshman year. But I soon found that I preferred sleeping in on Sundays or exploring something new in the city of Columbus. I stopped praying. My Bible grew dusty.
I went to lectures, poetry readings, bars, clubs, concerts, presentations, and cultural events. I was soaking everything up like a sponge, to the point that I had no more room for God. I was completely saturated with this thirst for knowledge.
And that is what led to a tough conversation on the back porch of my childhood home. It was summertime after my sophomore year. The afternoon was hot, sticky, and the smell of the magnolia bush saturated the air. My mother’s face was full of anguish; my dad was silent. I had just finished telling them that I wasn’t a Christian anymore, that I wanted nothing to do with their God. The wrought iron chair dug into the backs of my legs and I dug in for the rest of my college career. No amount of prayer, no amount of conversation with my parents, no amount of patience or wisdom or tears could convince me that God was real. There was just no more room for him.
Peter said we go through trials like identity crises “so that the proven genuineness of your faith . . . may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).
It was almost a year ago on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2016, when I took my mom’s hand during a church service. “I think I want to go to the prayer room, Mom.” She quickly looked at me, took a beat, squeezed my hand, and began weaving her way through the crowded aisles. The prayer room was dark and couches littered the floor. I sunk into one of those couches and I had a long talk with God. I asked him to truly be Lord of my life, despite the fact that I still had many doubts and fears. Just 15 minutes later, my father baptized me.
Today, three years after graduating college, after many discussions and arguments, tears and heartbreak, pleading and prayers, I find myself in an identity crisis in the best way. I am rediscovering who I am in Christ.
My relationship with him is nothing like the relationship I had pretended to have in high school and certainly not what it was in college. It is a little more sheepish and shy. My favorite thing to do is to thank God for everything, from that first breath I take in the morning, to the sound that rain makes on my back porch, to the simple pleasure of having dinner with my husband. I am growing closer to Jesus and discovering a little more about him every day.
I am newly married, in a new career, in a city that I did not grow up in with a brand-new relationship with God. Life seems a little unsure, and I don’t fully know what I am meant to do or where I am meant to go. But I love Jesus. And I know he loves me. The prayers I say, the worship songs I sing, the thoughts I have are all the more genuine because I went through those trials and crises. I may not know exactly where life is headed right now, but I certainly know the joy and peace that came when Jesus was finally revealed to me.
Macey Phillips is a language arts teacher and writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio.