December 20, 2023

Learning Who We Are: We Can’t Do it Alone.

Think of a coin—it has two sides, heads and tails. In the same way, individuality and relationality can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

When we wake up each day we sense that we are experiencing life as individuals. We stretch, we pour ourselves coffee, we experience the warmth of it in our bodies, and our minds (and emotions!) turn to the day ahead. We live out our lives within our bodies, feel emotions in our bodies, and set goals, strategize, and sometimes ruminate around our thoughts. Our minds and our bodies are integrally connected. 

How do we come to form our thoughts and beliefs? We might believe our thoughts are our own, but they are not. The human brain develops within the context of relationships; so our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas about ourselves develop relationally. Children are needy and dependent for a long time. As a result, we come to know ourselves and develop our beliefs in the context of experiences with our caregivers, families, and communities. So while we are born with a unique genetic make-up that influences our uniqueness, we are reciprocating beings. Our sense of who we are is based on our nature and nurture. In other words, our identity is something both innate and also something we learn from others around us. 

Think of a coin—it has two sides, heads and tails. In the same way, individuality and relationality can be thought of as two sides of the same coin. They are irrevocably joined together, yet clearly distinct and separate from one another. While our relationality connects us to one another, our individuality is central to the connection. As we lean into the gifts and talents that makeup our sense of individuality, we discover the value and purpose of our unique contributions, and we contribute to the greater whole. As we encounter the uniqueness of other people, we gain new perspectives on ourselves.

Perhaps our relational natures contribute to the reasons why some people feel uncomfortable with themselves? Why do so many of us have ruminating thoughts about being not good enough, or not fitting in? Why do so many people fail to thrive and experience vitality, satisfaction, and peace in life? What does healthy spirituality have to do with growing as an individual? 

The pace of life in our modern age can certainly pull us away from experiencing the fullness of who we are. Often, our obligations can overshadow our passions since they tend to feel pressing and urgent, leaving little time for pursuing passions and inner purpose. We also receive messages from our families and our cultures that can undermine our confidence in our uniqueness or the clarity of our sense of calling. 

It’s common for people in their twenties to clarify their sense of purpose or sense of calling, or at least find a meaningful job that suits them, but it’s often hard for people to hear a sense of calling – from within or from God – over the messaging from well meaning family and from culture. What messages did you receive (or are you receiving) from those around you – about what you are good at, what you care about, and what you should do?

Becoming intentional about discovering our gifts and talents allows our life narrative to reshape and evolve. With this growth comes clarity, joy, fulfillment, peace, and confidence as we become more comfortable balancing the distinction between passions and obligations. 

For practicing Christians, we are called to become like Christ, or to conform to the image of God in Christ, but this is often misconstrued to be a call to uniformity. What is the value of relational connection if we are all the same? In the Christian tradition we understand Christ’s nature to be inconceivably diverse so the extent that it takes every human that has ever lived and will ever live—including you!—to encapsulate every facet of his likeness, which was God’s original intention as God skillfully and intentionally formed us in God’s image.

Thrive Center


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