I need mental help. And before you laugh, so do you and so does everyone else. And teenagers? Well, I suppose that goes without saying. The reason we all need mental help is because we all suffer from the same crippling ailment that robs us of our mental faculties and greatly impairs our better judgment. It is known in certain circles as Willful Habitual Ongoing Alternate Multiple Identities, or WHO AM I. What circles you ask? That’s not important! What is important is recognizing the symptoms. The three most common symptoms of WHO AM I include:
- Sudden rapid loss of common sense
- The inability to distinguish between “appropriate” and “inappropriate”
- Rapid changing of identity amongst certain peer groups or social networks
Recent research shows that every human being is prone to WHO AM I with special attention given to its dramatic effects during the teenage years. What research? I SAID IT’S NOT IMPORTANT! What we have seen is an incredible ability for young people to rapidly shift their identity when faced with social challenges.
For instance, student “A” may be an active member of your youth group who attends regularly, answers questions with a fair amount of competency (even though it frequently sounds as if she is asking you the question), and has been involved in several mission projects. From all outward appearances student “A” seems to be the ideal member of your youth group. However, on Friday student “A” goes to the high school football game where her friends use what would be classified as “unsavory” language and have a propensity for crude remarks toward other students. Student “A,” suffering from WHO AM I, then proceeds to instantaneously lose her ability to decipher what is appropriate and promptly changes her identity to match the identity of her peers. Following the football game, student “A” then suffers another episode of WHO AM I as she returns home, hops on Facebook and posts for the whole world to see, “Jamming to [insert pop artist here]! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE [insert title of pop song riddled with sexual innuendo here] <3<3<3” What we can see here is that something is very wrong–aside from her emphatic insistence that everything is less than three. What WHO AM I has done is fragmented her identity. It has created this belief that she can have three totally different identities coexisting within one person and that this phenomena is normal, even expected.
The solution? Stewardship. That’s right, have your students give you as much money as they can and this problem will clear up virtually over night!
That was a joke.
The solution is actually correct, it’s the explanation of the solution that is the problem. The truth is that stewardship is an incredibly powerful antidote for WHO AM I because stewardship is a doctrine–yes, I said doctrine–that is primarily focused on identity. That is to say, all of stewardship revolves around two primary questions: Who is God? Who am I? What we get in response to these questions are sixty-six books full of eyewitness accounts regarding the actions of a holy, loving and gracious God who created us with the identity of stewards, that is, those who have been called to reflect God’s love and be representatives of God’s will on creation. This means that none of us are capable of creating or switching our identity because our identity is a gift that does not originate with us. And what is that identity?
- We are beloved, redeemed children of a gracious and merciful Lord who spared not even Himself to save us from our own mess.
- We are to subdue and have dominion over creation according to the will of God (Gen. 1:28) and to treat our fellow stewards in a similar God-pleasing and loving manner (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27).
The problem that most of our youth face today regarding identity is due to the fact that they see identity as something they have to find for themselves. This results in an endless exploration and experimentation in an effort to develop a philosophy about themselves that fits with what they believe to be a significant identity. But you and I both know that such a system is doomed to fail. The failure is a result of a culture and society that is constantly in flux. As trends and ideas change, each student feels they have to change in order to maintain status and relevance. And with each change they carry remnants of each identity. What we need and what we have is another way to solidify identity. That is stewardship.
By carrying with us God’s given identity as stewards we are able to maintain a consistent single identity that is rooted in God as the creator/owner and us as the steward/caretaker. This changes the game completely. We no longer see appropriate steward behavior as the alien work. Rather, it is the moments that they struggle with WHO AM I that show themselves to be foreign to our created and redeemed identity.
Taking care of personal property, giving of our material possessions as well as ourselves for the work of the Kingdom, loving and caring for others, are all issues of stewardship and all issues of identity.
“Should I clean up the youth room after we are done?” Of course you should. Not because your youth leader made you do it, but because that is who you are in Christ.
“Should I give some money in support of this sponsored child?” Yes. Not because your youth leader signed some piece of paper and made a commitment, but because that is what stewards of God do–they love as we are loved.
“Should I speak up against others when they are making fun of another person?” Absolutely. Not because your youth pastor said you should, but because that is the kind of person God made and saved you to be.
And this is not to say that upon hearing this revelation of truth your students will be instantly transformed into super-stewards that will always act in conformity to their steward identity (although that would be amazing). But when we reclaim this full definition of stewardship as identity we regain the Gospel force behind the steward’s work in sanctification and we begin to see that we care for creation and love others not out of legal compulsion, but because that is what beloved children of God do. As C.F.W. Walther so eloquently put it, “Apples do not make an apple-tree, but the apple tree produces apples.” In other words, it is not your works that define your identity, but your identity that directs your works. And when we make mistakes as stewards–and we will–that identity becomes even more important as we see not only our given identity as steward, but also our given identity of beloved and belonging to God. And ultimately, there is no greater identity than that…or at least, that is what my mental health professional tells me.