Identity. It’s a small but very powerful word. The bedrock of how we think and feel about ourselves, it’s the value we place on what we do and it affects almost every single part of our lives. But one harsh comment, a ‘dislike’ on social media or friends turning against us and, if we’re not secure in who we are, it can so easily be rocked.
This is the reality for so many people today but put yourself in the position of a young person. Someone who’s becoming increasingly independent and discovering more about themselves, only to be bombarded by websites, magazines, friends and social media telling them how they should be feeling and acting. It’s really tough!
The scale of the problem is so large, that schools and governments are placing an ever-increasing emphasis on helping young people develop a secure identity and positive relationships. This teaching will be compulsory in England from this September.
But where is the Christian voice in this? We know what God says about the amazing value and purpose he’s placed on every single life, but how will young people in our schools hear this?
As the truth of what I share sinks in, you start to see a change in some of the guys
In step our Respect ME teams. Each week they go into high schools meeting thousands of young people and running lessons that equip, empower and build them up to be the best they can be, all from a Christian perspective.
They’re never ones to shy away from the tough topics and questions. They run lessons on self-esteem, bullying, relationships, sex, sexting and abuse to age appropriate classes.The message of Jesus’ love and the hope this offers is always at their heart. And the impact this has on lives is phenomenal.
One of the team’s most hard-hitting lessons is about abusive behaviour. Year 11 students are challenged to think about something they own that is valuable to them and the lengths they would go to protect this thing, whether it’s their new iPhone or latest Nike top. The team then go on to unpack for students how much more precious and valuable their lives are, and why it’s important to value ourselves while also respecting and protecting those around us. Pointing all the time to the love Jesus has for them.
Up in the North East, Joe, our Respect ME worker for Teeside, was running this lesson and finished by holding up a box. While holding it he said, ‘inside there’s something of incredible value, I would even go as far as to say it’s priceless.’ He then asked if anyone would like to look inside. Unaware that the inside of the box was mirrored, a Year 11 lad put up his hand to volunteer. As he opened it up Joe said ‘It’s priceless. Do you believe that?’ To which he replied, ‘I do now!’.
How beautiful is that? Young people’s eyes are being opened to the fact their true value and identity lies within.
‘You’re priceless. Do you believe that?’ ‘I do now’
Our identity and how we feel about ourselves can so easily affect our relationships with those around us, positively and negatively. This is why lessons also inform and equip young people to make good healthy choices in all their relationships so that they can fulfil their God-given identity.
Bullying is just one example of when relationships veer from what God intended them to be. This is why we tackle it with Year 8s. Through personal stories the pupils’ eyes are opened to the drastic impact words and actions can have, before being shown how they can stop behaving in this way. The lesson ends with students being asked three personal questions and being given the chance to share if they want to.
In one school this offer was made and almost straight away, Aaron* stepped forward and bravely opened up about how he was struggling with being bullied and how difficult this was for him. It was such a significant moment as he spoke out in front of his classmates in such a vulnerable way, with the team being able to tell him directly that the lies he’d been told about himself weren’t true. As he returned to his seat Emily* asked for the microphone and shared how after being bullied herself, she had started being nasty to others. Not mentioning any names, she went on to say, ‘You know who you are, and I just want to say I’m sorry and that there won’t be any more bad blood between us’. This was such a precious and unexpected moment of reconciliation and restoration.
And the doors God is opening up don’t stop at schools. Shunita, our team member in Wales, has recently been invited into a Young Offenders’ Institution to deliver courses of lessons on self-esteem and bullying. What an amazing opportunity it is to get to tell young people who have been told repeatedly that they’ll amount to nothing about how precious, loved and valuable they are to Jesus. And that their lives have a purpose that isn’t defined by their past.
‘As the truth of what I share sinks in, you start to see a change in some of the guys,’ says Shunita, ‘they begin to show more compassion for one another and start engaging in our discussions and conversations more.
‘But more than that, you hear some of them starting to speak more positively about themselves in the small things. These may be tiny steps but they have the potential to totally transform their lives. As they chat to me and share some of what they’ve been through, I’m able to listen and tell them about how loved they are by their heavenly Father and that it’s here they can find their full identity.
‘It’s something we all need to hear and fully grab hold of, whether we’re a young person in a school or in another stage of our life. We’re loved and valued by Jesus – let that be the foundation each one of us builds our identity on.’