A few weeks ago, I caught the movie "Into the Wild" on a flight to Europe. The film tells the true story of Chris McCandless, who, after graduating from Emory in 1990, gave away his $24,000 life savings, vanished from his family, and spent the next two years working his way up to Alaska, where he lived in in the wild, away from human contact.
I found his story compelling and moving. Who doesn't at times wrestle with the struggle for a true identity?
Though my own story is quite different, I resonated with McCandless's search for an identity. I grew up adopted, knowing only the faintest traces of information about my biological identity. How do we find ourselves? How do we wrestle with the quest for an identity?
McCandless grew up in a web of lies. His parents were not who they claimed to be. His discovery of their deception contributed to his own deep struggle with his identity. After fleeing the confines of his life in Atlanta, he gave himself the name "Alexander Supertramp", and headed off in search of himself.
Can one really find one's self in this way? Do we create our self and our identity, or do we discover it? It seemed like McCandless's newly created identity was no more real or unreal than the identity given to him by his dysfunctional family. We are all given names by the people around us. Some of those names are terms of endearment, these are the names we cherish. Some of those names wound us deeply ("stupid", "fatty", "lazy", etc.). But who can really and truly name us?
Can any self we create for ourselves be real? It seems that the only self that is real is the one known and created by God. Who else can truly name and identify us other than the one who created us?
God is described in the Bible as giving those who overcome a white stone with a name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Revelation 2:17). I wonder what that name will be? It seems like part of life's journey is spent discovering hints of what God has written on that white stone and then living out that identity. At least that's how it seems to me.