A few years ago I was invited to write an article for Who do you think you are?, the companion magazine for the BBC’s family history series. The piece told the story, indeed the tragic story, of my great, great, great grandparents, Sophia and Richard (Frost) who lost four of their nine children in an explosion of gunpowder which destroyed their house in 1839.*
Last week, as Jane and I travelled on from North Wales we stopped off in Telford and touched history. First, an 18th Century ‘wagonway bridge’ at Newdale (now called Lawley) which Richard, Sophia and family would have walked across. Then visiting the gravestone of the lost children in Wellington, a town within the larger Shropshire conurbation.
Unlike those featured on TV, there is no-one famous among my ancestors and indeed no-one whose skills have been ‘passed on’ to me. The Frosts of past times possessed more practical abilities in their little finger than I do in my entire body… a stone mason, coal miners, agricultural labourers, cotton mill and iron foundry workers.
It’s a sign of modern times that I describe them using their occupations, isn’t it? Indeed, our answer to the question ‘What do you do?’ continues to mark out aspects of who we are. We might also define our identity by describing our marital or relationship situation or where we live (often an indicator of status or lack of it, in itself). For some, living with a disability or significant health condition becomes their identity – indeed it may well have subsumed it altogether, as the role of caring for someone may do also. We might hide aspects of ourselves because we feel we will no longer be loved, liked or wanted ‘if people knew’.
Sometimes we live life based on what we think other people think about us (as if we actually know what other people think…). There is a very perceptive quote about how our sense of identity can be distorted by such thinking: ‘It is a mistake… to compare the outside of other people’s lives with the inside of our own life.’
Living life with any approach based on comparing ourselves negatively with others will almost certainly lead to feelings of inadequacy, failure and lack of fulfilment. Such inner convictions (and dare I add, our prejudices) skew, rather than affirm our sense of identity and self-worth and make it very difficult to genuinely answer the question, ‘Who do you think you are?’
The title of this post is not ‘Who do you think you were?’ As one gets older it’s easy to think about how we were when we were younger and what life was like then. But such reflections can in themselves skew our current view of who we are.
‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
Whatever age, God hasn’t finished with you yet: ‘Who do you think you will be?’
While we may not be able to change some aspects of the situation we find ourselves in, we can change our attitude towards it. In his resignation speech, Sajid Javid alluded to this approach, saying: ‘It is a choice. I know just how difficult this choice is. But let’s be clear. Not doing something is an active decision.’
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*You can read the article here.
Do also take a look at richardfrostauthor.com