There are so many conversations around identity today, around gender, sexuality, political party affiliations, nationalities vs ethnicities, book readers vs movie watchers vs music listeners, the list goes on.
In my own experience, I have had to navigate through these two worlds since moving to Australia at a young age. It can be a subtle and subconscious thing in life for a long time, especially when still young, to think that you’re different because of your accent, your skin colour, the food you eat at home, how different your weekends are compared to some other kids you overhear talking about their own. You try to make changes over things you can control. How you talk and pronounce words, how you style your hair, what clothes you want now that doesn’t make you so different.
We don’t realise that it’s okay to be different, to not be the same. To learn that we are made up of all these different parts and that there is nothing wrong with that. That this is actually a blessing.
When we live life through more than one lens, we have more perspective. We see the struggles and privileges that come with different aspects of the world that we live in. We learn how the norm in one dominant culture might not exist in another culture. It gives us perspective to understand things that usually can have a bias from only one viewpoint.
I had to learn to love me for me.
When I was young I knew I was different and wanted to be like other kids that I saw. In doing so I didn’t realise that I was losing a part of my identity. I lost the ability to speak in my native language, Fijian. I even lost interest in understanding the importance of my culture as a part of me. When I was slightly older, I came to the realisation that I couldn’t speak Fijian to my parents, to my family and friends back in Fiji. I felt like a fraud, or as some people like to call it, a plastic. Not a proper Fijian, simply because I didn’t know the language anymore.
I had to learn to love me for me, again.
For this mixed identity I was now, born in Fiji but grew up in Australia. Western school during the week and Fijian living on weekends (especially in church).
Through all of this navigating, God was a constant. Sometimes in the background, waiting on the sidelines for me to figure things out, ready to catch me when I fell apart in the midst of trying to put myself together.
Part of growing into my own identity was realising that I wanted to learn more about God. I found myself no longer just going to church because it was a compulsory task set by my parents, or praying before meals because that’s just what we did at home.
I found myself growing into an active and inquisitive young Christian who loved God but wanted to know so much more about God.
Learning more about Jesus strengthened my faith. Continues to strengthen my faith.
One of the things I’ve learnt about Jesus that really opened my mind, besides the whole life, death and resurrection that reconciles us back to God thing, was that Jesus also lived a life in between two worlds.
Jesus was fully divine and fully human.
He would have seen the world both as God intended it to be and as it was in community with other human beings. Jesus experienced life among people who were not perfect, but instead of condemning and hating them, he taught and he loved.
As we live life experiencing the in between, the good and the bad of it all, we also learn that we walk different paths than others do. The generation of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have grown up in a time where it wasn’t as obvious to live through different lenses.
So how do we listen to their experiences and learn from that?
How do we use our voice to share how different aspects of life in different communities cause harm, or oppress others?
How do we then teach from what we learn by living through different worlds?
How do we do this in ways that still show the love of Christ?
It isn’t easy navigating through the journey of finding who you are, but find comfort in Christ also being an in between.
Know that God has you through this too, just like with everything in life.
And don’t be afraid to talk to others about this. Whether they’re your struggles or learnings, light bulb moments or moments of doubt, trust in your parents, a guardian, a youth leader or mentor about your journey of identity and of faith. You don’t have to do this alone.
Let us be empowered to live our lives to the fullest in the in between.
Ofa Foiakau is the Youth/High School Ministry Lead and Field Officer (Central/West) within the PULSE team.