WHO AM I? This question is foundational for all believers, because when we are saved by Jesus, we become a new person. Understanding the characteristics of our new nature is an ongoing process in living a life that reveals Jesus to the world. The following stories are not just accounts of people who endured the process of rediscovering their identity in Christ, but they are also stories of a heavenly Father who loves his children enough to show them a far more abundant life.

LYNDA’S STORY

MAJ Lynda Johnson, USA (Ret.)

Lynda Johnson doesn’t look like the typical U.S. military officer. The retired Army major describes herself as a 4’10” woman, mom, minority, and someone who is “comfortable not having any aspirations to become a general. Retiring was no big deal. Just another day.”

Johnson didn’t find her identity in career success or in a military uniform. Instead, she identified herself with a beloved hobby: running.

“I didn’t run marathon races or anything,” Johnson said. “Running was a respectable excuse to not join in team sports. It was a place safe from unmet expectations, miscommunications, and callous rejections. Being a ‘runner’ made me, by default, better than the non-runners, and at minimum potentially useful according to the Army standard.”

At her retirement physical, however, she learned that she had to stop running because of a degenerative disc disease, flat feet, and arthritis in her left knee. With no surgery or medication options available, Johnson had no choice but to quit.

“I was devastated,” Johnson said. “How would I stay in shape? What would I do for recreation? I was convinced I was a ‘runner’ for so long! It was my default answer when people would ask what I did for fun.”

“I have to focus on remembering that my full value is not determined by a job, an accomplishment, or a person’s affirmation.”

Lynda Johnson

This begs the question: Who are you? In other words, what is your identity? As Christians, we often officially identify ourselves as followers of Christ. However, our identities are defined by any number of things—from military careers to being the hardest worker in the room, the most effective leader, or the fittest person in the unit.

While these things aren’t inherently bad, allowing them to define us is dangerous. “The fact is, we have several identities in life. They all work together to help us answer the question ‘Who am I?’ They can also overpower or twist our spiritual identity,” CH(LTC) Fred Robinson, USA (Ret.) explains. When this occurs, believers often find themselves in a “spiritual identity crisis,” as Robinson puts it.

“The world has many tempting sources of identity other than Scripture,” he says. “Some can deceptively last a lifetime. Most however, eventually lose their ability to help us find positive meaning in life.”

While Johnson enjoyed running, Christ had different plans for her priorities. “God wanted me to focus on Him and who I was in Him,” Johnson said. “He wanted me to literally stop running for my own peace and gain, and to spiritually start running the race He specifically set just for me.”

Johnson has since replaced running with hiking. Still, her identity isn’t caught up in it. God could remove that, too, and she says she’d be fine.

“What we do changes, and should change, but who we do it for should never change,” Johnson said. “I have to focus on remembering that my full value is not determined by a job, an accomplishment, or a person’s affirmation. I have to intentionally respond with faith in who I am in Christ.”

JIM’S STORY

LTC Jim Harbridge, USA (Ret.)

“I had no plans that didn’t involve retiring after at least 20 years. I had no fallback.” That was his response when LTC Jim Harbridge, USA (Ret.), missed a promotion despite good reports on his performance.

Harbridge said he placed his identity in career success as a young major. After graduating from the Command and General Staff College, he found himself serving as both an infantry S3 and XO at the same time during his two-year Key and Developmental (KD) course. While challenging and rewarding, he found himself very internally focused.

After leaving that two-year program, he headed up a new organization, where, for the first few months, he was the only field grade officer. “I got to be king of the castle, which was great, but it was also very ego-building,” Harbridge said. “I was very internally focused… the Army was my idol. My identity came to be what I was doing in my career.”

Christ re-centered his life “traumatically,” to use Harbridge’s word.

“I went to this job that generally indicates that you’re on the road, you’ve been successful in the first two or three years, and you’re on the road,” Harbridge said. “But I was not selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel on time.”

Missing the promotion to lieutenant colonel led to a few weeks of crisis in Harbridge’s life.

“I didn’t sleep at night,” Harbridge said. “I was a history major in college, then an infantry officer. My whole plan was to stay in the Army as long as I could.”

However, at around 3:35 one morning, Harbridge’s life turned around once more. “It’s the only time God has ever spoken directly to me, He said ‘it is enough.’ That’s a pretty clear message. I wish He spoke that clearly a lot.”

That moment released the anxiety and stress in Harbridge and helped him realize what his identity was, and why the Army wasn’t necessarily what God wanted, although it was what Harbridge wanted.

“We probably give ourselves more credit for having our identity in Christ than we really have,” CH(COL) Marc Gauthier, USA (Ret.) says. “I almost look at it as if you look at a pie chart. And most Christ followers have some slice of the pie, hopefully a large slice, based on their identity in Christ. And it’s very likely there are other slices that are there. And the danger is when those other slices continue to increase in size. So I think sometimes God takes us through stages, or seasons of life, where he shows us where our identity really is. And that kind of blows us away.”

“It’s the only time God has ever spoken directly to me, He said ‘it is enough.’ That’s a pretty clear message. I wish He spoke that clearly a lot.”

Jim Harbridge

On his last look, Harbridge received the promotion to lieutenant colonel. He could still retire after 20 years as he’d planned. However, the delayed promotion allowed Harbridge to retire at Fort Leavenworth, where he ended up teaching for the CGSC and growing more involved in the OCF ministry there. He currently serves as the OCF Field Staff rep at Leavenworth.

However, just because a military career is over doesn’t mean the identity crises are over as well. Gauthier draws an analogy to when he was at his first summer camp at around the age of nine years old. At the camp, all the young boys would play a sort of water-rugby game with a watermelon greased in Vaseline. Every time one of the boys wrapped his arms around it, the watermelon would slip out of his grasp.

Our identity can be just as elusive: when we think we’ve got our identity in the right spot, we’ll often find that it has slipped out of our grasp. Keeping our identity in Christ is a matter of personal discipline.

Nevertheless, we cannot provide this discipline for ourselves. “It’s not a matter of your own personal willpower and just gritting your teeth,” Gauthier says. “Rather, it requires a complete dependence upon God to help us find our identity in Christ.”

Harbridge still struggles with placing his identity in Christ. Instead of placing his identity in the Army, Harbridge now feels the urge to place his identity in being “the Leavenworth OCF guy.” Part of this is personality, but part of it is also spiritual warfare, according to Harbridge.

“The ways the Enemy attacks me are either, ‘Hey, you’re not good enough, I guess you’re going to fail and you’re going to let everybody down and, you know, people are going to know you’re fraud.’ Or ‘Man, you are killing it! Yeah, OCF is really lucky to have you. Their whole Fellowship would probably collapse if you ever left’—which is nonsense. But, yeah, it’s a struggle.”

“Many of us allow lies to seep in about our identity,” Gauthier says. “You know, ‘you’re not enough,’ ‘you’re a failure,’ ‘to be acceptable, you have to produce this much, or achieve this level of success or, you know, accumulate this amount of possessions.’ And they’re lies that will only distract us and inhibit our ability to develop our identity in Christ.”

DEAN’S STORY

VADM William Dean Lee, USCG (Ret.) staked his identity in his rank and professional success throughout his career in the Coast Guard.

“When I was a younger man, I never paid much attention to the Ten Commandments, especially the first one: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me,’” Lee said. “I felt pretty safe on this one. After all, I didn’t possess any wooden statues, plastic Buddhas, or golden calves. There was nothing sitting on my mantel that I prayed to.”

His perception of idolatry—and his own life—changed after his retirement, however.

“I recently read a book entitled Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and I was convicted on several levels,” Lee said. “The gist of her message is centered around what she describes as ‘one of the most chilling commands’ in all of Scripture.”

This command is articulated in Matthew 22:34-40, where the Pharisees confront Jesus, asking Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” His response is that “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

For Lee, this scene begged the question: Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind? Is Christ the center of my identity, or is something else?

“[I] Never knew how guilty I was until I struggled with the original question: ‘Where was your identity, Dean? Was it Christ-centered, or was it Dean-centered? Better yet, where is it now?’ ” Lee said. “Truth is, my idols were there all along, always in plain view, and I never gave them a second thought. They were collar devices denoting my rank; they were medals, and they were gold uniform insignia signifying that I had acquired the ultimate god pursued by all military officers—that of command.”

Lee achieved success, becoming a flag officer of nine ranks and seven commands. However, the signifiers of those accomplishments are “now collecting dust in a wooden shadow box given to me by my staff on retirement day. Contained therein, sad to say, is my former identity.”

VADM Dean Lee, USCG (Ret.)

“Truth is, my idols were there all along, always in plain view, and I never gave them a second thought.”

Dean Lee

Chaplain Robinson says many believers face this temptation to place their identity in their career.

“My experience is that believers in the military, especially those not grounded in their spiritual identity, are deceived by the power of the professional identity found in the military,” Robinson says. “If they are successful with promotions and key positions, they can be fooled into thinking that these things have pleased God as well, and their spiritual life is a success.”

“I made it to admiral, checked the box, but ultimately failed,” Lee said. “I couldn’t even keep the first commandment. I now recognize the futility of chasing the idol of success, only to catch it and put it in a box. That god is dead, never to be resurrected. I am ashamed for chasing it, but forever grateful for the lesson learned.”

As he approaches 66 years of age, Lee feels like he understands the struggle of identity better. He still feels the temptation to stake his identity in having a nice patio, green lawn, and big house in a pleasant neighborhood. Yet now he’s more aware of the problem, as well as the solution.

“There is Jesus,” he explains. “To that end, we can be grateful for the grace of the one true God—who sent His only begotten son that we might live—despite ourselves.”

ALY’S STORY

“I’m single and content,” said MAJ Aly Angel, USA, regarding her marital status.

However, Angel will admit that wasn’t always the case. Responding to pressure from fellow Christians, she read books on marriage, listened to sermons on dating, journaled to and prayed for her future husband, and even fasted for God to send him to her.

“It left me exhausted,” she said.

Ultimately, Angel said for a time she placed her identity in the goal of getting married.

One of her friends even gave her a 50% off coupon code for a three-month membership to a Christian dating website. “It did not work well,” she explained. “Trying to be everything for everyone does not work.”

Chaplain Gauthier says while we can benefit from the wisdom and the input of others, “ultimately, does it align with God’s invitation? And so, you know, trying to live up to others’ expectations can tie you in a knot.”

Nonetheless, Angel still found herself drenched in a marriage-based narrative by the Church. “The church placed a large emphasis on being a wife and mother as a high calling,” Angel said. “Married women were considered blessed, single women were treated like a disease that needed to be healed. One sermon I listened to on Christian radio said single women weren’t ‘whole’ because marriage completes them.”

When she attended Bible studies, Angel faced the question, “Have you found anyone yet?” When she answered, “No,” she only received more advice and exhortation to pray and try harder “because I was missing out,” she said.

MAJ Alysa Angel, USA

“I quieted the noise around me so I could hear God’s truth. The marriage and motherhood idol had to die.”

Alysa Angel

“If we’re trying to look at identity, we’ve always got to go back to Scripture as the controlling, grounding documents, and God’s Spirit as it stirs us up as we read it,” Gauthier says.

Angel did exactly that: she returned herself to the truth of Scripture. She also got rid of her television and social media, stopped spending money on marriage books, and asked people to stop praying for her to get a husband. “I quieted the noise around me so I could hear God’s truth. The marriage and motherhood idol had to die,” she said.

“When we’re struggling with identity, we’ve got to create the white space inside our minds, our hearts, our souls to ask the Lord, ‘Do I have this right?’” Gauthier says. “What’s God’s still small voice saying?”

Gauthier cautions that a desire to get married and have children certainly isn’t negative, but it must be subordinate to our desire for God: “Marriage and motherhood certainly can become an idol, but it doesn’t have to be if that desire is subordinate to the desire for God and to live in fellowship with Him.”

Angel says she turns to truths in Scripture that tell her she is “fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s Word tells me I am a child of God regardless of my marital status.”

Gauthier emphasizes that this must remain at the core of our identity—the fact that Scripture tells us we are children of God, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This is crucial in the struggle “to combat the lies that [say], you know, ‘You have to have God, plus this thing or this status.’”

Angel no longer finds her identity in the desire to get married. Instead, she finds her identity in being a child of God. “When others ask me why I’m not married yet, I respond with laughter and share about God’s love for His children.”

GRANT’S STORY

LT Grant Johnson, USN

LT Grant Johnson, USN, wrapped his identity around his aspirations to become a Naval jet pilot, calling it his “little kid dream that I took to college and then on into flight school with me.”

“To fly pointy nose aircraft, to be in the fight, take off and land on the carrier— that is what excited me going into this business.”

This became his main identity, and it wasn’t long before warning signs emerged. Johnson operated in the mentality that he needed to always push forward, try to outperform everyone, and remain aloof from the little distractions of life.

“I was a complete jerk at times,” Johnson said. “I’ve had buddies tell me that.”

He had friends and peers in OCF and another local ministry associated with Tun Tavern Fellowship asking him why he cared so much about becoming a jet pilot. “I never really had a good answer for that,” Johnson said. “I mean I guess my answer was probably, ‘This is who I am, you know?…Why are you questioning me about something that I think is who I am?’ And I wasn’t really seeing it in the loving light that they were actually saying it from.”

Everything changed when he received his primary fixed-wing performance score. He needed a 50 to move on to flying jets. He scored a 49.5.

“I can distinctly remember sitting there and the civilian guy that calculated your score at the end of the day comes up to me and, like he knew—those guys know what’s what,” Johnson said. “So, he comes up to me, and very quietly whispered in my ear, ‘Hey man you got a 49.5.’ And I’m just sitting there just like…My dream, or what I defined as my reality, had just been crushed.”

This came after his on-wing instructor had reassured him that he was doing fine and that he had nothing to worry about. “This guy who’s seeing behind the curtain, he didn’t even have any control over it and so, obviously that was no man’s doing, you know?” Johnson said. “That’s one of those few times in my life where I can clearly see God’s hand.”

“To fly pointy nose aircraft, to be in the fight, take off and land on the carrier— that is what excited me going into this business.”

Grant Johnson

Nonetheless, Johnson struggled with the adjustment. It wasn’t until after receiving his first duty assignment as a helicopter pilot that he started to realize he’d incorrectly placed his identity. He also realized something else—his first helicopter ride was an unforgettable experience he calls “wholly unique.”

“I enjoyed it more than any other flying I’d been doing before that,” Johnson said. “So that was like one of those knocks from God, like, ‘Hey, I put you there for a reason, and you’re going to enjoy it.’”

“We’ve got these amazing components of our identity that we can rest in,” Gauthier explains. “I mean, ‘Man, I’m Abba’s son, how cool is that? And my Abba is the creator of Heaven and Earth.’”

The same logic works the other way, however. Citing Jonah 2:8 (“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love”), Gauthier explains that whenever we stake our identity in something that isn’t Christ, our spiritual growth falters, and we find ourselves serving an unfulfilling idol.

Robinson also cautioned if our identity is coming from people, “we will ride a rollercoaster of ups and downs depending on the feedback we face. When it comes from God, we find peace, assurance, motivation to give and serve, and a shield of faith to protect us from the flaming arrow lies of Satan.”

RICO’S STORY

Capt Rico Lane, USAF, found his identity in his desire to succeed. “I grew up without a father, so I always looked to things around me for my identity. Actors, rappers, and mainly my accomplishments and talents,” Lane said.

He cultivated a persona based on a mixture of comedian Martin Lawrence’s witty personality and the toughness of the rapper DMX.

“I would also like to make my mom proud, so when I would do good at football, school, or anything that I took the time to do, I would find my identity in my success,” Lane said. “This traveled with me in the Air Force, and if I wasn’t successful then I felt like there was a problem with me, so I worked extra hard to ensure I had a successful career. My identity was completely wrapped up into the fact that I was an airman, and it got worse when I transitioned from enlisted to commissioned officer.”

Robinson says a person’s family unit—whether we have parents or not—often has the strongest influence over us in terms of identity.

“Our parents…are the first to treat us like we are loved, nurtured, cared for, worth time and effort, or the many ways these can be withheld,” he says. “Therefore, our childhood, especially our father, forms the roots of our spiritual identity and concept of God. Once becoming a Christian, we hopefully can learn how God, our ‘Abba Father,’ is a perfect parent, and can fill all the gaps our parents may have left.”

God ultimately turned Lane’s focus on accomplishing his goals against him. He did this through the motivational speaker Eric Thomas. Despite his history of consistently working out, Lane struggled with losing inches in his waist—especially in his 30s. It didn’t help that waist measurement comprised a significant portion of the Air Force fitness test. Lane first began applying Thomas’s teachings to losing inches on his waist.

“After about four months I lost like 30 pounds and my waist was at a 34,” Lane said. “I couldn’t believe it, but I was like, ‘This guy knows what he is talking about.’”

This respect for Thomas’s teaching eventually led to an additional respect for his Christian faith. “God knew I would not listen to anyone who tried to preach to me,” Lane said. “So, he allowed what Eric Thomas was teaching to work, then made me realize Eric Thomas believes in biblical principles. This is what led me back to God.”

Capt Rico Lane, USAF

“God showed me that I put my trust in my Air Force career and not Him. He showed me that all my talents and career success were a gift from Him and without Him it can all be taken away.”

Rico Lane

While transforming into a fledgling believer, however, Lane found himself in a difficult disagreement with his commander. “During this incident God showed me that I put my trust in my Air Force career and not Him,” Lane said. “He showed me that all my talents and career success were a gift from Him and without Him it can all be taken away.”

After prayer and advice, Lane summoned the courage to address the issue with his commander. This ultimately led to their reconciliation. On his next performance review, that commander ranked Lane as his top CGO (company grade officer).

This incident taught Lane where to place his trust: not in the Air Force, but in Christ. “God will always be there for me,” Lane said. “Now I know I am a Christian before I am anything else.”

Blessedtimony: Be sure to visit Rico’s website and listen to his podcast [Click here]