Sometimes I wonder what is the most essential ingredient that makes me, me. Over the years I had many ideas of who I was, but it turned out that I was none of those things. And then I was absolutely sure I was other things, more internal things, but I was not those either, and the question remained unanswered.
In university, I thought I was my grades. If I got good grades, I was told, I would get a high-paying job and eventually be happy. If my grades were higher than my peers, I felt smarter than them, and if my grades were lower, I felt dumber. In the end, when my schooling was completed and I began to live a standard secular life, I discovered that I was not my grades.
As an adult, away from my parent’s nest, I thought I was my income, my car, my possessions. I thought what I owned would define me and differentiate me. If my income was higher than others, I was more successful than them, a better person, and if it was lower, I was inferior. My stuff had to be better than other people’s stuff, but in the end, I discovered that I was not the items I own or what is in my bank account.
Then I fell for the idea that I was my experiences, particularly my travel experiences and relations with women. The countries I visited would define me; the women I fell with would make up my identity. I was a traveler, a “player.” If I had traveled to more countries or slept with more women than you, I thought I was superior to you, but in the end, I discovered I was nothing external to me, nothing that could be grasped in this material world.
When someone is empty of Christ then a thousand and one other things come to fill his soul: jealousies, hatreds, boredom, melancholy, negativity, a worldly frame of mind and worldly pleasures. Try to fill your soul with Christ so as not to have it empty. Your soul is like a cistern full of water. If you channel the water to the flowers, that is, to the virtues, you will experience true joy and all the thorns of evil will wither away. But if you channel the water to the weeds, these will grow and choke you and all the flowers will wither. —Saint Porphyrios in Wounded By Love
So I must be my personality. I am my sense of humor, my quirks, my demeanor, my attitude. I am all the things that cannot be precisely duplicated in anyone else. If I made more people laugh than you, I had a better personality. If more people wanted to hear what I had to say, I was more interesting. I cannot so easily say that my personality is not me, because if it is not me then what is me? But then I asked, where exactly does my humor come from? Does it really come from inside me or was it influenced over the years by factors outside of me and by the milieu I live in? Does not my quirks, demeanor, and attitude, come mostly from my parents and upbringing? Doesn’t the way I act come mostly from wanting to become some kind of ideal of a man as defined by the culture? In the end, I had to conclude that I was not exactly my personality, which to my surprise has changed in major ways over the past few years through God’s grace.
I got it: I must be my thoughts. Many people have told me that I’m “sharp” and “intelligent,” and this must be because of the way my brain works on a functional, biological level. It is unique and solely mine, irreplaceable and unchangeable. My thoughts are definitely me… until they come from the demons in the form of judgments, temptations, and vulgarities. Or until they come from God or His angels in the inspiration to do a good deed. How can my thoughts be “me” if they can derive from beings external to me, if I can serve as a vessel for unseen spiritual forces? In fact, I cannot even prove to you that the words written here are definitively from me and me alone. In the end, I concluded that my thoughts are not solely me, and neither is anything else that allows me to compare myself with others in any way.
There is not much else I can declare as being me. It can’t be my body, which is constantly changing and will soon not be mine when I die. It can’t be my relationships with other people, which are also changing by the day. It’s not the foods I eat, the way I pray, or even my favorite books. No, those are all external; they aren’t me. So who am I? There is something in me that is “me” but I can’t grasp it with my hands or my mind.
One evening, in a state of contemplation, I looked up at one of my icons of Lord Jesus Christ. I asked Him, “Lord, who am I?” I stared at the icon for some time and then I felt a warmth in my heart, and the thought that came to me was, “You are a creature of God who can perceive God and give glory to Him, and behold His beauty with indescribable joy for all eternity.” And that thought seemed correct to me, that the “I” in I is a soul, a spiritual vessel, to recognize the God of all creation, the only faculty which makes me me, which will stay with me forever, and that I can only be defined according to my relationship with my Creator, and all that is separate or apart from my relationship with God is not me, and will soon pass away, and how eagerly do I await the day that I can commune in divine fullness, clarity, and love with the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages.