Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who Do You Say I Am?

by Sarah Van Diest 

That question is simple, but incredibly complex, yes? You can answer with your name, your occupation, your position in a family or in society, etc. Some will answer with their sexual orientation. And we may all answer that question differently depending on who is asking and what the context is, but just because we offer different answers at different times or to different people doesn’t mean our identity changes, does it?

I am on the verge of getting my hair cut. By the time you read this, it will be drastically shorter. I know, that’s not a big deal, it’s just hair after all, but it has brought me to some serious thinking.

First, for those of you who know me or have read my bio, you know that I cut my hair when I am overwhelmed by stress, when PTSD factors runneth over. It’s not a great coping strategy, but it is a relatively harmless one. I am presently experiencing a great amount of stress, and yes, the haircut is related, but at least this time I’ve made an appointment with a professional instead of picking up the scissors and hacking it off myself. So, it’s premediated hacking. Ha!

Second, I’ve begun to understand how much of my identity I’ve put in my hair. Crazy, right? But this paradigm of thinking isn’t based on thin air, it’s based on years and years of subconscious data collecting as I’ve lived among people in society. I have had long, flowing, blond hair that aided in my escape from an overcrowded bus in the heart of China, and I’ve had short, boyish hair that I cut myself. The difference in how I was treated at times was noticeable. Some of it was likely only my perception, but some of it was real. And this leads me to the thought I’d like to consider today:

Who are we and how much of who we are is shaped by how others treat us?

It is impossible for us to live outside of the perceptions of others, unless we choose to fully isolate ourselves and live as hermits. Even then, there will be perceptions and we will likely know at least some of them. We are stuck living where the way others view us in part determines how our lives flow, but what does that mean for us? How are we to be who we are? And how are we to know who we are if others are defining us by their perceptions?

Our position in society is a temporal thing. Throughout our lives we will likely change roles many times. So in a sense, our identity is fluid. We may stay in some roles longer than others, but we cannot always stay a child, or a college student, or an author, or a wife, etc. We age. Life circumstances change. Our answer to “who are you?” isn’t a constant. How are we to base a life on such an unstable thing?

In Matthew 16, when Jesus asked the disciples who others said He was, they gave a few answers, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was, “’But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”

I love the way Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” I love this because it was not flesh and blood that made up His identity or revealed His identity, but the Father in heaven. It was nothing about Jesus’ appearance or stature in society that made Him who He was. His was not a fluid identity, but permanent and perpetual.

Our true identity is like that of Jesus, permanent and perpetual. Ours is proclaimed by the Father, not by our place in time or our role in life; our identity is revealed by the Father and nothing of flesh and blood can uncover it for us or determine it.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” There are things for us to do, yes, but those things are not our identity. Who are we? First and foremost, we are “His”. Then we are His “workmanship.” Then, “created….” You get the idea.

Soon my hair will be a lot shorter than it is now. Does that mean I will have a new identity? Some may treat me differently, but their treatment of me is not the determining factor of who I am. My identity is set in Christ.

Think on these words from scripture today, they are who the Father says we are:
  • Loved
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made
  • Image Bearer
  • Workmanship
  • Crowned with Glory and Majesty
  • Equal
  • Beautiful
  • Heir of Grace and Life
  • Friend
  • Gift
  • Valuable
  • Imperishable inner Beauty
  • Flawless

Walk in who you are today.
(Thank you, Curtis Tucker, for this list.)

Who are we & how much of who we are is shaped by how others treat us? @SarahVanDiest (Click to Tweet)

Educated as a teacher, Sarah taught school for nearly 20 years. As a young woman, she lived in China amid the rice paddies and water buffalo near Changsha, and then later taught English in Costa Rica for four years and raised her two sons. 

Sarah is married for the second time, the mother of 2 boys and the step-mother to 3 more. She and her husband, David, work together in their agency The Van Diest Literary Agency. Her full name is Sarah Ruth Gerke Van Diest. She’s 5’5” and cuts her hair when stress overtakes her. 

She is a freelance editor (including a New York Times and USA Today bestseller), blogger (The Write Conversation) and writer for hire. Her first book releases with NavPress in 2018. 


  1. What a thoughtful and thought provoking post, Sarah! We human beings are so complex creatures. Why we keep insisting in summarizing our identities in one or two words when there is so much about us than what people see.
    Having said that, we can control how people perceive us.
    But all our earthly identities are just masks and temporary as you indicate. We are spirit. And one day, our souls will return home to its Creator.

    1. Beautifully said, Ingmar.
      Thank you!!!
      Many blessings,

  2. This brought tears to my eyes, Sarah. The length of my hair doesn't reveal my level of stress but the varying sizes of clothes certainly do. Because of childhood remarks, I've always felt others perceived me based on my weight. As I grow in Christ, I find rest in knowing He alone is my authentic identity. I considered for a fleeting moment to avoid Blue Ridge this year because of my weight gain but my weight is not who I am, it's simply my struggle. I'm praying for you and for the stress you're under right now. Blessings to you!

    1. Oh, Cathy. You have such a beautiful heart!! I always see it in the words you write. I am so eager to see you at Blue Ridge. Thank you for not cancelling! And thank you for sharing your heart!
      Love and hope,

  3. Sarah, there couldn't be more than one woman on earth who cannot relate to this, if even that one exists. I have been in those shoes all of my life. I'm praying for you as you deal with the stress in your life. Blessings, sweet lady.

    1. Thank you, Debbie. It is a fascinating thing to realize that so often, even when we feel so alone, there are many others who are walking the path with us or have walked ahead. Ha! Of course, why else would there have been a path worn in the ground? Other feet have trampled the grass before us. There is comfort in that thought.

  4. Permanent and perpetual. I need to remember that 😊

    1. Me too, Jennifer!!!
      Blessings on you and your dear family!

  5. This is why I like to cut my hair short. It loosens the hold my perception of my outward appearance has has on my identity. I learned that years ago, and yet I've let it grow time and time again in order to feel prettier. I love how age is helping loosen that hold now. And I love the list you gave. Absolutely! Amen and Amen. May it be so. May that be who I realize I am and you who you are no matter what length our hair. Hallelujah!

    1. Yay! Andy, I've always loved your look! You are beautiful! :)

      Thank you for your words here. This life is a journey, is it not? I'm thankful to have met you on the path!!! You are a sweet sister!

  6. It's remarkable that these same words entered my inbox on the same day I heard them from the Pastor's podium. Thank you for sharing your inner struggle. My hair will be shorter soon too. Although, practicality and hot weather fuel my decisions on when to cut.

    1. We have such a good, good Father, Cindy. Thank you for your words. They encourage me!
      Blessings and enjoy who you are today!