Fundamentally, this question drives everything we do. From our political views to how we interact with others. Our identity is the basis of who we are as an individual and how we understand it affects the way we pray.
I’ll start. I am a son, a brother, and a seminarian. I have a rural upbringing with a childlike Christian faith instilled in me at a young age. I am a friend and a romantic. I try to see the beauty in all of God’s creation and imitate His love for me when interacting with others. But the root of who exactly I am lies in the most important dimension of my identity: I am a beloved son of the Father.
Our identity can be divided into two categories: that which is natural, and that which we need to grow into. I’ll give a couple examples. Growing up in a small town, I tend to be more introspective and shy away from a busy lifestyle. In my spiritual life, that manifests itself in a childlike devotion. I don’t need thunder and lightening in my prayer to know that God is present. He only needs to nudge me as a reminder that He’s still there. This part of my identity came naturally to me because it is based on my upbringing.
My identity as a seminarian was something I needed to grow into. Growing up, I wasn’t expected to be a man of prayer who has all the answers to one’s spiritual problems. Now I am. It wasn’t until I was a seminarian that there was more pressure on me to be a good example of morality and spirituality. It’s a challenge that God asked me to undertake, and as a priest, it will be even greater.
But being a beloved son of the Father is something I was both gifted (at baptism) and needed to learn about. It took me a long time to realize that God desires to have a deep and profound relationship with me. I’ll emphasize this point: God is the one who longs for relationship in a deeper and more profound way than I could ever imagine. My longing for God is a response to this gift of identity that He already gave me. Sin doesn’t sadden God because we disobey him, like a parent being disappointed when we get a speeding ticket. Rather, sin saddens God because we’re breaking relationship with him. Going to confession isn’t us asking God to give us another chance, rather it’s God’s way of asking us to give Him another chance.
But how that be true? How can a God that’s so big and powerful, who created the universe, also look at us and say “the world needed you too”? This profound reality is an identity that takes some growing into. It takes years of faithful meditation to even receive a taste of how much God loves you. Even St. Therese of Lisieux only understood this truth on an intellectual level.
Brothers and sisters, if we don’t at least get a fraction of understanding of this truth, whatever vocation we are called to will fall apart. In your next Holy Hour, ask Jesus to show you what it means to be a beloved son or daughter. Ask Him to prove to you that he cares about you more than you could imagine. Visit about it with your spiritual director. Allow this core identity to shape you. Let it infect the way you interact with others, the way you pray, and the way you love. More than anything else, you are loved.