When I was younger, one of my favourite ‘toys’ was a cut-out doll. She came with a paper wardrobe: from tracksuits and gym-wear to sequins and feather boas. But it wasn’t just her clothes you could change: it was her: her lips, her eyes, her hair, her nose and her shape. Whatever you wanted, she could become – and her identities were as disposable as her hairstyles.
I thought I’d grown out of dolls. But in fact, I grew into one.
Whatever people wanted me to be, that’s what I’d pretend. Because I knew what they didn’t – there was no ‘real me.’ She stopped existing at age 13. I shrunk her into non-existence. I cut off the bits of her I didn’t like. Too needy, too intense, too messy, too much. When I was certain she was gone, I started again.
I tried to make myself into someone I could respect. I’d be smart, and if I couldn’t be smart, I’d be funny. I’d be beautiful and if I couldn’t be beautiful, I’d be thin. I’d be talented and if I couldn’t be talented, I’d be industrious. I’d be popular, and if I couldn’t be popular, I’d be nice. I’d be valuable: and if I couldn’t be valuable, I’d date someone who was.
You’d think I’d have learnt. Or given up. But I didn’t. Because it mattered. And it still does. But I was starting in the wrong place. The big question of life is not ‘who am I?’ but ‘who is He?’ It’s not an identity I create for myself through self-discipline or good intentions. It’s about receiving the one I’ve been given: my identity in Christ. Spotless, loved, free from accusation: and more real than any Emma I can imagine or create.
Make no mistake: even though the ways I tried to ‘find’ or ‘create’ myself were superficial, the questions that drove them are not. Who are we? Why are we here? What gives us value? It’s tempting to mock those who invest in exteriors: but it’s their answers that are flawed, not their questions. If we dismiss these people – we’re the ones who are shallow: they’re trying to answer the deepest yearnings of all our hearts. And they, like us, need Jesus.