I have been thinking a lot about identity this week, probably I went to a concert this Tuesday. I finally got to see New Found Glory live, one of my all-time favorite bands and one that I’ve listened to for the last 16 years. They are a pop punk band out of Coral Springs, Florida, and I absolutely love their music because of the lyrics, the energy, the guitar licks and base lines in their songs, and because they basically play the soundtrack of my youth. They pretty much sing about girls and falling in and out of love (as I guess most artists do), but they do so in such an awesome, fun, and compelling way. If you named any one of their eight studio albums since 1999, I could tell you who I had a crush on during that season of my life. This is because I would listen to their songs all of the time and, of course, have a certain girl in the back of my mind that I was pining for. Oh, Sameer. This sounds so desperate, but whatever, this was my life! I thought about girls a lot while growing up…what can I say?
Anyway, back to identity. My musical tastes have varied over the years, and while I have largely moved on from 80s music, rap, and country, I have never stopped loving emo/punk/indie/hardcore music. I think this phase started in around 2000, and it’s held strong. And one of the largest acts in the genre of pop punk is New Found Glory, and I guess their songs stand out in my mind as best representing this longstanding season of my life. But as important as the music was to me, so was the scene. So much so that I began to attach myself to it and constantly desire to be associated with it. I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind (e.g., moody, rebellious, confused, impulsive, sensitive, reckless). It just worked for me. And I embraced it.
I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind.
I would discover and listen to all of all of the coolest bands that hadn’t yet gone mainstream and “sold out.” I would buy band stickers at shows and plaster them all over my door and above my computer desk. I would drive all over Florida and Michigan (where I went to school) – even by myself – to see the groups I loved. I got unique piercings (no tattoos, though!). I wore choker necklaces, and loved the way they looked on others in the scene. I would wear skate shoes or black workboots, as most others did. I would brave the mosh pit, and pinball around with other rowdy, sweaty guys and girls while the music roared in front of us. I would reach out for the setlists that were taped to the stage, and I would plead for a pick from one of the guitarists, or a drumstick from the drummer. I would wait patiently for the band at the merch table after the show to get an autograph and a photo. And I would always hope that one day at a show, I’d talk to a super cute punk rock girl, someone who wore blue nail polish and sparkly makeup on her eyes and face, and a hoodie representing a band I listened to, and then we would be lifted up onto the pulsating mass of the concert-goers around us, and crowd-surf together…into the sunset. That never happened, but I always thought it might.
So, fast forward again to this past Tuesday. I was out in Denver for a conference, and it just so happened that New Found Glory was playing. My friend Dan lives out there, and loves them as much as I do, and we grew up going to shows together, and it had been years since we’ve done it, and so we were like…dude, this is a God thing, let’s make it happen!!! And so we did. And all day Tuesday I was honestly so pumped. I haven’t been as excited about something in months, and so I just was listening to their music, and rocking out in my room, and reminiscing on all of the good and bad memories that flooded back into my mind. It didn’t make me depressed at all, though. It just made me happy inside, because it felt like I had stepped into a portal of my past, and I was somehow able to deeply feel the deep feelings I felt all these years ago. You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia. But none of the sad stuff. Just the good stuff. And even walking eight blocks to the concert venue underneath the downtown city lights, I was just buzzing with excitement and floating on a cloud. And I was like, man I should do this more often, I totally miss this feeling!
You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia.
The show was ridiculous. It was absolutely bananas. And I had such a fantastic time. Really. I loved singing at the top of my lungs all of these lyrics which meant so much to me while growing up. They were the tangible representation of my emotional state of mind, and painted these vivid word pictures that crystallized the angst and pressure and fear and strangeness of every new experience I faced in life by simply reminding me that I wasn’t alone. And that others felt them too. I loved being up near the front of the stage, smooshed together with a thousand other people, with the lead singer periodically shoving the microphone in my face so I could sing along and feel even more a part of the delightful madness that surrounded me. It was one of the best nights ever. But…it got me thinking. And, like even the most amazing things we ever do in life, it left something to be desired.
I don’t want to point to the fact that I am now firmly ensconced in adulthood as the reason why I am not completely fulfilled by even the most awesome experiences in this world. But the fact is that as you get older, you gain perspective, and you realize that even mountaintop experiences still don’t fully satisfy. And what was profoundly obvious to me after the show was that everyone there wanted to be connected to the band. To the lyrics. To the music. To the punk rock scene. To what it represented – something cool, something edgy, something underground and DIY and decidedly outside of pop culture. I also wanted that connection – both that night and while growing up. I longed for it. I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendent – something above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.
I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendent – something above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.
That’s how it is with everything we do. We are sometimes (frequently?) unsure of our identity – of who we are and where our value comes from – both as adolescents and as adults, and this makes us feel unstable. And so we gravitate towards something else that seems much more solid and stable. It could be your job, career, or the school you go to or went to. It could be CrossFit or yoga or favorite athletic activity. It could be your girlfriend or wife or kids. It could be your favorite sports team. I’ve done all of these things, and I still have a tendency to do it. But I’m trying to faithfully and fervently remind myself that I simply cannot get my identity from any of these external, temporal sources, and must take a gigantic step backward when I catch myself headed in that direction.
It’s not easy, though. Self-correcting your course back towards God feels pretty boring even though you know it’s the right thing to do. Basing your identity and worth after what God says about you is simply not as tangible nor as immediate as everything else. Yes, I can read His Word and meditate on how He feels about me – but it doesn’t usually translate to what my real life looks like at that moment. My real life looks like a mess sometimes – and sometimes feels like it. And God doesn’t deal in emotions as much as all of those other things we use to give us our identity instead. He’s not about making sure that we are, for example, bursting with anticipation and joy when we finish doing our devotional, or when we finish church, or after we listen to praise and worship music. You’ll recall I was so pumped on my way to the show on Tuesday night, but I don’t typically feel that way during my daily discipline of pursuing Him. Yes, it does happen on occasion, but I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing. He wants them based on our faith and trust in Him.
I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing.
I’m okay with that. I’ve lived long enough to know that He does always come through (although perhaps not in the way I want, but the way that is definitely best for me), and that sourcing my identity in anything else other than Him leaves me feeling unsettled, incomplete, and searching for more. Searching for better. Searching for the next thing. And still coming up short.
But when I base my identity in what He has said, and I get it inside of me, deep in the core of my being, I don’t feel like something is missing, and I don’t need to search anymore. He has clearly told me that before I was even born he set me apart. I’ve been dwelling on that sentiment for the last twenty years, and you’ve probably heard me say it in a meaningful conversation with you, if we’ve ever hung out one-on-one. And its truth is reflected in all of my attitudes and actions. I believe 100% that I am set apart – because He said so. Seriously, 100%, like, with zero doubt. And it is one of the most life-affirming, confidence-bestowing things ever.
He also says that I am chosen – which to me means that no one settled for me, but that I was wanted, and am wanted, because of my heart and my potential to do great things for Him and for others. This helps me to remember that no matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me. And so I’m not going to give up on Him. He also says that I am created in His own image. I mean, nothing is more beautiful and spectacular and more rock-star than God. I value Him for being freaking awesome all the time, and so I am going to value myself regardless of how I’m feeling or even the mistakes I’ve made and the regrets I have because He made me like Him, and my heart’s desire is to always get better over time. And I believe that’s all He is asking of us.
No matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me.
The concert was so rad, and I was really thankful that I went. Even now. But I have no desire to try to replicate the high I felt before the show or during the show. Even while I was rocking out with everyone else there in front of the stage, I could step outside myself and know the truth: that I was having an absolute blast, but it would end soon and take all of these warm feelings and nostalgia and belongingness and connectedness away when the stagehands were packing up the instruments and speakers and mic stands. But what wouldn’t end was the reality of the Lord in my life, and how much He loves me and values me. And the close, personal relationship I can forever enjoy with Him.
We have so many things here in this life to delight in and experience. But they’re just things, even though we sometimes make them to be so much more than that just to fulfill the longings we have and combat the insecurities we feel. I’m thankful that I am increasingly aware of my inclination to do this. I want to appreciate all He’s put in my life and all that He allows me to do, but I don’t want to get caught up in them and make them fulfill me, define me, and show me that I finally belong to something bigger and better than just myself. I just want to be caught up in Him. Because He’s already done all of that, in the best and most lasting way possible.