I always identified myself as the strong one, the smart one, and the kind one.
I was the one who would be there to listen to my friends and empathize with them when they were frustrated or upset.
I was the one who always turned in homework on time and never skipped classes.
I was the one who was taking eighteen credits with a pile of extracurricular activities on the side and still maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
I was the one who served faithfully in leadership and never backed out of commitments, no matter how overcommitted I was.
But all of that changed during the last semester of my senior year of college. Over Christmas break, my dad passed away from leukemia. I went back to school ten hours from home to finish my senior year just five days after my dad’s passing. In the year and a half prior to that event, I had learned to drown my feelings in busyness and to make my identity as a good student and exemplary Christian an escape from processing all of the emotions that followed my dad’s diagnosis and cancer journey. I planned to do exactly the same thing with my grief. Instead, I found myself asking for extensions on projects and having to skip classes when I traveled home for my dad’s memorial service and when I got the flu. I didn’t have enough left of myself to pour into others. Then the coronavirus happened, and my school went online for the rest of the semester.
Everything I had used to fill myself and numb my emotions was gone.
I was stuck at home with my family where we were forced to come face-to-face with our grief and loss. I had to re-learn how to be a good student while trying to juggle home life and do my classwork online. I could not be the strong one, the smart one, and the kind one. My identity was shattered. I had to find the faith and strength to endure the journey of grief and the chaos of the pandemic outside of everything I had used to define myself over the past four years.
The concept of identity plays a huge role in endurance. How we define ourselves contributes significantly to our ability to endure trials and suffering. In 1 Peter 1, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of believers who have been scattered among many countries. Persecution of Christians is on the rise and Peter writes to encourage them as they face a hard reality. The truths he gives these believers are truths that we can also use to rediscover our own identities when everything we have filled ourselves with is shaken. When we find our identity in these biblical truths, we will be able to endure whatever hardship comes our way:
1. You are chosen by God.
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. (1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV)
God chose these people to be saved and to obey Him. Even though they are living out-of-place and as cultural aliens, God has chosen them to be in this particular place in His story.
2. Your hope is alive.
In 1 Peter 1:3, Peter uses three words or phrases that emphasize this truth: born again, living hope, and resurrection. We are alive in Christ, born again to a hope that is also alive because Jesus is alive. Our hope is in Jesus because He has bought us back from sin and given us eternal life with God. We can use this living hope to encourage us in the darkest days. We are not like those who don’t believe. They have no hope, or if they have hope, it is only in small things that have no power to encourage them in the here and now. But hope is part of our identity and makes us stand out from those who have no hope.
3. Your glorious future awaits.
Peter uses more keywords in verses four and five to remind his readers that their identity is grounded in the future. An inheritance is reserved for them that is ready to be revealed. When our identity is more about the “then” than the “now,” we can endure the present better. This is one truth that kept me afloat through this crazy spring. I was in a class studying 1 Peter and was constantly reminded of this future hope. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to endure the heartache of today if all I have to look forward to are fifty or sixty more years of tomorrows that won’t be much better. But knowing that there will be an end to all of this and that there is truly something better coming gives me what I need to make it through each day, one “today” at a time. We can know that the God who has promised us future glory for tomorrow will give us current strength for today.
4. Trials are temporary.
Nothing on earth lasts forever, including hard times. It might seem like forever when we’re in the middle of it, but someday we’ll look back from a sunnier spot and be able to reflect on God’s faithfulness through it all. Peter tells his readers, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). This is only “for a little while.” Even the hardest of trials has its end. Some may last for a lifetime, but that’s where future hope comes in. When we recognize the temporary nature of trials, we do not allow them to consume our thinking.
5. All glory goes to God.
This is one of the hardest truths to remember because each of us, in our heart, wants the glory that only God deserves. But Peter gives a reason why God allows us to suffer trials for a little while: so that our faith will be proved genuine and result in praise, honor, and glory to God (1:7). When we have endured a hard time, we can look back and see that our faith was made stronger through it. In and of ourselves, we cannot generate the kind of faith that will prove genuine when it is tested by the fire of trials. Only by the grace and strength of God can we endure—which is why the glory ends up going to Him.
Just as Peter encouraged, we must focus upward to find our identity in Christ, and that will carry us through hard times. When we are finding our identity in our own strength, faith, or ability, we are unable to endure difficulties. Trusting in ourselves is like relying on a sugary, caffeinated soda pop for hydration. It will only end up making us thirstier. But when we find our identity in who God is and what He has said about us, done for us, and promised us, we return to the endless well that will keep refreshing the water of life inside of our souls.