While the puzzle of “who am I?” is yours to piece together, don’t be fooled by friends, family, tribes or even your own feelings. There is a truer source for your identity than any of those.
His father told him he was a shepherd. And that had certainly become his reality…one in which he seemed destined to live out his life. It was how he spent his days, pretty much all of them up until now. It wasn’t his choice. It was his father’s choice for him. And he was a good son. So, a shepherd he became. He wasn’t bad at it. He practiced and developed all the necessary skills for it.
There were some exciting parts of shepherding, ones which would get any young man’s blood pumping. There was the occasional wild animal to scare away, or even to fight. He practiced flinging stones with his sling. He did enjoy that part. He could spend hours setting up pretend enemies out of sticks and logs and large leaves for target practice. He missed more than he hit, but that didn’t matter, because the occasional bullseye was all it took to send his imagination soaring with stories of villains and heroes. He was always the hero.
But it was that same imagination which caused him to resent this identity his father had chosen for him. That imagination had plenty of time to take over his thought life during all the peaceful hours when he would make his flock lie down in green pastures or graze by still waters. During those long, peaceful hours, he would sit and dream of a different calling…one that involved poetry and music and dance. His father told him he was a shepherd. But he knew differently. He did not feel like a shepherd. He felt like a poet, a painter of beautiful word pictures and a writer of songs. He felt like a creator of wonderful stories and music. That was how he identified. He could feel it in the deepest parts of him. He knew it irritated his father and he knew his brothers laughed at him for it behind his back, and sometimes to his face. But he thought he knew who he was, because he could feel it.
But he would go on to learn one of the most important lessons any of us can learn about our identity: that even our own feelings do not tell the whole story of who we are. Rather, when it comes to questions of our identity, there is only one source of truth: our creator. Here’s how he would eventually write it:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether… For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:1-4, 13-14
According to his creator, he was more than a shepherd, and even more than a poet or a writer. As his story unfolded, he did become all of those things, and much more. His father and his brothers identified him as a defender of sheep against lions, but God identified him as a defender of His people against giants. His king identified him as an enemy, but God identified him as a best friend, and as a servant. His wife identified him as a stoic leader, but God identified him as one who would dance in the streets and teach us to praise God with exuberance.
When those closest to him tried to identify David as other things, he resisted…because God identified him as a King. The greatest King Israel would ever know. His story was far less than perfect. His search for himself still included some poor choices and detours, even after God identified him as a king. When he should be going off to battle, he remained home and identified as a casual lover, a murderer and an adulterer. He would continue to make identity choices based on his own preferences and feelings, but thousands of years later, the reason we still tell his story is because of who God said he was: a king, and a man after God’s own heart.
We are living in a culture where identity is lost in a sea of chaos, confusion, anxieties, tribes and their respective worldviews. Our friends and families tell us who we are. Our “team colors” tell us who we are. And our feelings tell us who we are. But none of those sources are reliable. The only one who can tell us who we are is the one who formed us in the womb, who knows our every thought before it forms in our mind, and who loves us more than we will ever know or imagine. The critical question this raises for each of us is this: as you piece together the puzzle of your own identity, to whom or to what will you listen? To your family? To your tribe? To your feelings? Or will you listen to the only one who really knows?