Who Am I?

John Urqhuart was hardly seventeen when he received three first-prizes as a student at St. Andrews University under the tutelage of renowned moral philosopher Thomas Chalmers. While the other students lined up for public recognition at the awards ceremony, Urqhuart quietly accepted the awards and slipped away unnoticed. His classmates could only describe him as being entirely “insensible” to praise.[1] Within a year, Urqhuart would pass away from a sudden illness, but not without leaving behind him a legacy of profound piety and a burden for souls that would inspire five of his fellow students to devote their lives to the mission field.

From where did his power come? His biographer revealed the secret when he noted that for Urqhuart, the love of fame naturally “evaporate(ed) unobserved like water in the sunlight of the love of Christ.”[2]

Urqhuart knew his identity.

Who am I? It’s the question that every human must ask, and no time does the question haunt oneself more than in the season of young womanhood. Relationships change, our desires morph and grow, and the world of adulthood looms before us. Suddenly, the reality dawns that decisions made today will steer the course of our lives. And at the root of it all lies our identity.

A thousand solutions vie for our attention to answer that gnawing “who am I?” It doesn’t take long for even children to figure out that acceptance comes through performance. Thus, we throw all our efforts into pleasing those whose opinion we care about most – parents, peers, church members. The effort itself begins to define us. “I am a seamstress, a musician, an entrepreneur. I am popular, beautiful, or witty.”

Often, who we aren’t plagues us more. “I struggle in school.” “My peers won’t accept me.” “I just don’t fit in.” “My clothing is out of style.” “I’m still single – why is no one interested in me?” They’re real questions, sometimes painful ones, but they never get to the root of the issue. Buying a new shirt, forcing your way into the popular group, or finding your future spouse won’t ultimately satisfy. Sure, it will feel good for six months. But in ten years, in sixty?

That’s where the paradox of the gospel comes in. The world asserts “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” Paul says no, “you are not your own, you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19). The world answers our deepest questions by boosting our self-esteem, Paul says no, “for you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). The world puts value in our achievements and associations, Paul says no, “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). The world proclaims success by following our way, Christ bids “take up your cross and follow me” (Mat. 16:24). The world offers a counterfeit happiness when we focus on self. But Christ presents a deep-rooted satisfaction, one that offers identity paradoxically not by focusing on self but by removing our gaze from self to Him.

That fixed gaze, the only hope to solving a thousand identity crises over the course of our lives, is immensely practical. It doesn’t come about by a summer camp experience, emotional high during worship, or mere intentions. Thankfully, the way to have our identity rooted in Christ is laid out clearly: the Word and prayer. The Word is our food, our life, our breath. Unless we’re in it constantly, we will starve. To seek God in the pages of His Word requires deliberateness: setting our alarms a half-hour earlier or retiring in the evening to spend time with Him, crying out to God to reveal Himself, and then continuing to meditate on His Word throughout the day. Listening to the Bible on my phone has helped me to fill my minds with scripture in those spare moments, whether getting ready or driving in the car. However you choose to do it, the goal is not academic knowledge of the Bible but a relationship with the Author of it. Or as my mentor once reminded me, “you’re spending time with a person, not a book.”

Only this life of seeking God will provide that rock-like confidence, that unshakeable identity rooted not in self but in Christ. As Robert Murray McCheyne once urged, “for every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely.”[3]

That was Urqhuart’s life, and if we are to have hope in a world of uncertainty, it must be ours.


[1] Stuart Piggin and John Roxborogh, The St. Andrews Seven (Edinburgh, 1985: The Banner of Truth Trust), 28.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] Robert Murray McCheyne Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert McCheyne (Philadelphia, 1844), 22.

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