Erik was born in Germany to a Jewish mother. It is thought that he probably took on the last name of his biological father. However, after he and his mother moved away, she was remarried and he then took on the name of his step-father. It is also believed that Erik was never completely convinced as to the actual identity of his biological father which became a quest that would take up much of his life and provided tremendous influence for his eventual work in psychology.
The boy was Jewish, though he apparently didn’t look it. Thus when he interacted with his family’s Jewish community he was often treated like an outsider and when he interacted with his non-jewish community he was treated poorly for being a Jew. Erik didn’t know where he belonged.
These struggles are important for understanding both Erik’s story and his eventual contributions to psychology. Not knowing who his father was or what his last name actually should have been in addition to not knowing where he belonged exacerbated a problem that is common to every person. Specifically, Erik had an identity problem. Who was he? Who’s was he? These are questions we all ask and questions which every person needs to have answers for.
Erik goes on to become one of the most influential people in the world of psychology by shedding light on his own problems: human identity formation. He spent the rest of his life studying this process in human development, specifically in children and adolescents. Most of what we now know and use in this field is either directly from his work or is in debt to his work for something.
Erik’s journey isn’t over though. It is said that even until late in his life he was wrestling with the question of what his last name was supposed to be. Eventually, Erik changed it to its final form, the name we know him by now: Erikson. Tranlation: he was Erik, “Son of Erik” or Erik, “Son of myself”. In the end his identity was not given to him and so he provided it for himself.
Those words should stir deeply in the heart of Christians. From whom to we get our identity? Who’s son (or daughter) are we? To whom do we belong? Are we meant to provide these things for ourselves or are we to receive them from someone or something else?
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We have received a spirit of sonship. This word can also mean adoption. We are sons and daughters of the living God. There is no question of our identity in God’s mind. We are meant only to journey into that discovering that for ourselves. Furthermore his Spirit is testifying with our spirit that we are in fact his. Which means that when we hear or believe otherwise, that thought is not from the Spirit. The thought which questions God’s absolute Fatherly love for each of us is from somewhere, or someone, else.
There is absolutely no question that young people in all stages of adolescence are dealing with identity formation. Most psychologists assert that this is something we deal with for the rest of our lives, but that the bulk of identity formation is done when we’re young.
We need to intentionally help students understand how God in fact speaks to their journey in his Word. God has answered their deepest questions and our role is to point them to it and/or remind them of it! I don’t think this is a ministry model or another strategy. It is a journey that they are already on and something that God’s is actively working in them (remember that if they’re in Christ, his Spirit is testifying to their spirit). We can’t afford to miss this.
As both a warning and an encouragement, there are a couple of things that will hinder our ability to minister to these folks. The first of which is when we don’t believe this ourselves. You can’t lead someone down a journey you’ve not been on. Second, when our churches don’t actually represent this. Nurturing, grace-filled environments are crucial.
And we didn’t even get into the theological significance of being “heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ”!
This is the second post in a short series I’m doing on the relevance of Romans 8 to college ministry. You can check out the first one here.