“Daddy, can’t I just dye my hair black, color my skin dark, and use colored contact lenses…?” My voice trailed off through tears over the phone.
Having grown up as a Caucasian girl in Japan, looking and feeling different was nothing new to me – or at least it shouldn’t have been. But here I was, 20 years old, in Thailand – a new country, a new language, a new culture, and away from my family. I was at a point where it was a struggle to even step out of the house.
My dad chuckled. “Listen, Hannah,” he answered, “God made you the way you are for a reason. You are unique and special, and He will use you for His glory in ways that you may not be able to see now.”
What my dad said made sense, but it didn’t change my situation.
I continued to struggle with my circumstances, wondering why I never felt this way when living in Japan even though I was just as different there as I was here. Soon I realized that it wasn’t being different that was hard for me but all the attention I was getting from the Thai locals (who are more vocal about their opinions than the Japanese) that I dreaded.
Being a foreigner seemed to have many downsides to it, and I felt different and useless. I wanted to find a purpose in being different, something about being different that made me useful in a special way, but I never did find that. Three years later, I still don’t enjoy the attention I get for being a foreigner, but I’ve learned to ignore the stares and comments and to move on with life.
I’ve questioned my worth, my purpose, my identity; but I now see that God has been using these things to teach me some valuable lessons.
Have I found answers? Not in the way that I expected to.
My focus was on myself and what I could do. I was looking for worth in myself, a purpose for me that I could actually see, identity in something I could be or do. However, that was all wrong. I was looking for all these things in my broken self instead of in my perfect Creator. When I suddenly realized that I was focused on the wrong person and shifted my vision from myself to Jesus, my perspective started to change.
Being different may make us feel useless, but the Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14) and that God numbers all our hairs (Matt. 10:29–31). If God – the Creator of the universe – counts all our hairs, that means He cares about us more than we even care about ourselves.
Although we are broken because of sin, God created us in His likeness, and He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sin. It is difficult for our finite minds to comprehend, but it is true. What more do we need to prove our worth?
We may have dreams of what we want to become or great things we want to do. We may struggle with not knowing what our purpose is or the purpose for the hardships we are facing. But the Bible says that all our days are written in God’s book (Ps.139:16) before we were even born. It also says that God has “good works” prepared in advance (Eph. 2:10) for us to do, and that God has called us by name and chosen us to do His work (Isa. 43).
We may not immediately understand the purpose of what we are experiencing, but we can be sure that God is in control of everything and that nothing that happens to us is an accident. Everything is a part of God’s perfect plan. Our job is to trust and obey.
Some of us may struggle with identity in the sense of not having a country or culture to identify with. Others may search for identity in skills, talents, or accomplishments. We all want to have something to identify ourselves with, to belong to, to be accepted by. It could be a country, culture, job, personality type – anything. None of this, however, will give us satisfaction or a true sense of belonging. There is only one way that can happen, and it’s through Jesus.
The Bible says that we are His children, His beloved, His people, His bride. It’s difficult to understand how we could be all of those, but I think that God is using different ways to describe how much we belong to and are loved by Him.
With our identity firmly rooted in Him who is unchangeable, we don’t need to search for identity anywhere else. In fact, we cannot belong to or identify with the world anymore, because we belong to Jesus – not to this world.
God created me the way I am for a reason.
He has a plan for my life, even though I don’t yet understand His purpose in making me different. But I know that I belong to Him, I am His child, I have an eternal home waiting for me, and nothing can ever change that.
Dependence on ourselves or other humans leads to heartbreak, confusion, and disaster, but complete, unconditional trust and dependence on Jesus leads to joy, peace, and love. Even when we don’t understand, we can find peace, satisfaction, and rest because our worth, purpose, identity – and everything else we need – are found in Jesus.
“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 ESV