The Surrounding Environment and Identity
As we have seen, there are a variety of major factors that will impact the development of a child’s identity. These include the God of the Bible, significant individuals, and the community within which the child is living. We would be unwise, however, to minimize or ignore the impact of a child’s surrounding environment that goes beyond their relationships and even their nature (as designed by God). The child’s surrounding environment, including their home, their toys, the food they eat, the trees and buildings they see outside the home, and many other things are all part of the surrounding environment that influences what they think about who they are in the context of WHERE they live. This environment can provide comfort or pain, beauty or ugliness, security or fear, and other emotions and sensations that may not be associated with a person or community.
The Context of Our Identity
As a child begins to develop a distinct understanding and definition of self, the surrounding environment will create a physical context in which to place that definition. All of us tend to answer the question of who we are with references to things like geographic location, climate, economic circumstances, etc. This is natural and reflects how we think about identity. We understand our identity, in part, in light of our world, including non-relational elements of that world. When we are young that world may be small, but it’s real nonetheless, and it helps shape the child’s identity.
Unfortunately, as with other factors impacting a child’s developing identity, the church’s ability to influence a child’s surrounding environment can be quite limited. It may be next to impossible for a caring teacher to even gain access to the child’s world, let alone do much to shape it. Still, it’s important for us to recognize the significance of this world when it comes to the child’s growing identity.
It’s a Two-Way Street… in Every Direction
It’s important to note that while the realities mentioned above may be shaping the child’s identity, the child quickly learns that they are able to shape these realities as well. Crying when the child is wet elicits a response from a significant individual who then addresses the discomfort. Crying when the baby is hungry accomplishes a similar resolution. The God of the Bible allows Himself to be moved by the prayers of people, even when they come in the form of a baby’s cry. The factors impacting a person’s identity are dynamic and ever changing, which provides Christian educators with an opportunity to influence the processes and forces that are shaping the identities of children under our care.
A Model of Factors Fostering Biblical Identity
The above factors impacting identity development can be represented in the accompanying graphic.
Outside of The Self are critical forces that influence the child’s identity for better or for worse. God (His design and Word), significant individuals, various communities, and the surrounding environment are all powerful forces that ARE shaping the identities of the little ones in the church. And, as represented by the arrows, influence is taking place in both directions. The child is influencing the various factors even as they are influencing the child.
The question then becomes HOW can we leverage and shape these forces in order to help children develop a truly biblical identity. But first, let’s talk about what that identity should be. We’ll begin that conversation next.
This article is one of a series related to identity.
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.