Finding Yourself in an Ocean of Options

Susan Wood Identity, Spirituality and Religion 1 Comment

Youth today have so many options: Kids are invited to follow people on Facebook. Follow groups. Follow trends. They’re barraged with Tweets and Instagrams calling them to like:

LIKE  like-sign

LOVE  love-heart

RESPOND NOW  envelopearrow

BELONG  group-sign


It’s dizzying. There are so many options to follow: It’s hard to know who you are and to whom you belong when you are following so much. How do you work out your sense of self, your identity, your purpose? How do you find the spark that’s unique to you—not a retweet of someone else’s? How do young people locate themselves when they’re awash in a sea of competing voices?

battleshipgame-squareI used to love to play Battleship with my brothers—and now with my kids. Do you remember how you find a boat? C4, B6, A9. You locate the boats with coordinates. Youth need coordinates to locate themselves—to form an identity. They need reference points to know their course.

Navigating the waters of adolescence is no easy task. Along with the abundant opportunities are also deep and turbulent waters.

A myriad of celebrities, social groups, cultural and sexual identities, fashion trends, hot-button causes all vie for youths’ attention and allegiance. It’s hard to know who you are and to whom you belong when you are following so much.

Speaking Now as a Psychology Professor . . .

People—especially in the academic world—often ask me, why religion? Why is religion so helpful for kids to thrive? My first reason points to the power of transcendence. A transcendent encounter is so profoundly meaningful because of the way it can propel change in how kids understand themselves and their place in the world.

Second, I say, “Religion not only offers an encounter with the divine but also provides an embodied belief system, a real community of people offering a defined set of ideals, values, and beliefs—and actual examples of how to live them out.” In this way religion provides a community of coordinates. And people need coordinates to locate themselves.

People are not ultimately intelligible apart from the family and community within which he or she exists. Furthermore, people are not intelligible without reference to the transcendent horizon within which they exist and to which their deepest longings point. (Benner, 2016, p. 22)

In the game Battleship you locate the boats with coordinates. Youth need coordinates to locate themselves. And they need reference points to chart a course.

An Alternative: A Set of Coordinates

Religion provides an alternative: a set of coordinates to find oneself by. It provides a grand story—a story to follow and to belong to. When youth know what story they are a part of, they can begin to find and understand their role in the story.

  • Whether it’s aligning oneself with the Jewish concept of Tikkum Olam, of being a part of God’s covenant people in the repair of the world.
  • Whether it is the gospel narrative of being a follower of Jesus.
  • Or whether it’s understanding oneself as a contributing citizen of a democracy.

Knowing the story to which you belong and your role in that story gives a person a profound purpose.

God invites us into God’s ongoing work in this world. When we understand our lives as contributing to a greater story and can live out our role in that story—that’s thriving.

If we—as believers in the Christian grand narrative—understand thriving in this light, then we understand that God invites us not simply to accept what God has done through the cross, but also to accept and embrace our part in God’s ongoing story. Our invitation to thrive becomes an invitation to a new order—one defined by the pattern of Christ.

So when Jesus says, “Follow me.” He’s not referring to Instagram or Facebook. He is referring to a way of life, to participation in his ongoing ministry here on earth.


Benner, D. G. (2016). Human Being and Becoming: Living the Adventure of Life and Love. Grand Rapids: Brazos.

This blog is adapted from a portion of Pamela Ebstyne King’s May 5, 2016, installation address “Invitation to Thrive,” not previously included among the three excerpts posted on the Thrive Center website:

For photos and highlights of the installation, see Congratulations, Pam King!

A podcast of the installation service is available on SoundCloud.

Another adaptation of this content appears in Fuller magazine, Issue 7 (Fall 2016), 60–61. Available at

About the Author
Susan Wood

Susan Wood

Susan Wood is the community outreach communication specialist for the Thrive Center. Among other responsibilities, she manages, writes, edits, and promotes website content.