I vividly remember the day I first realized I was not normal. I always knew my faith was different from the other children at my Christian elementary school.
However, for the majority of my childhood, I had been much more preoccupied with rescuing tiny animals, painting every surface I could get my hands on, creating elaborate back-stories for my toys, and building little nests from twigs for the mythical creatures that I believed to reside in my backyard. During the first few years of my life, I was far too concerned with imagination to worry about complicated theological differences.
One afternoon, my fifth-grade teacher asked the class rather jokingly, “All right, who here is a Christian?” After all the children had hastily raised their hands, I soon realized that every eye in the room was resting on me. I sat there frozen—not knowing whether raising my hand was the right thing to do.
My teacher found me after class and apologized profusely; he had offered the question with a hint of sarcasm I hadn’t caught on to and had not thought of how it might put me in a precarious position. He then asked me, “Zoe, are you Jewish?” I easily replied with, “Yes,” thankful to be asked a question to which I knew the answer. The first instance that I questioned my atypical faith marked the beginning of a search for significance regarding my identity, but also spurred me on to develop a series of false identities.
I crafted my Christian mask with care and precision, making sure to seem like everyone else just enough to not draw attention to myself and spark any uncomfortable conversations. My Jewish mask was even more impenetrable since my family feared that any mention of Yeshua among our Jewish community could leave us excommunicated. The mask I used among my atheist friends worked best in avoiding the topic of religion entirely, not wanting to spark any controversy, but passing up all opportunities to be a light. It was only when I came home to pray with my family on Shabbat that I didn’t know which mask to wear, and though I thought my tactic was justified in dealing with my complex identity, in the end, I lost myself.
I became a chameleon; changing colours to adapt to my environment, blending in for safety, though the hues of my true colours were a mystery to me. My personality existed in a liquid state, and with heightened precision and control, I took up only the space I was given. I adhered to the recipe life gave me and measured myself accordingly.
Throughout my teens, I wore a mask in every situation, filtering every decision through a colander of shame. Fear was my master, and I allowed it to flow through me like morphine; numbing the prospective pain of rejection, but also blocking me from feeling real joy. After everything was said and done, I created a mask to hide my numbness; since I had put so much effort into hiding my identity, I hadn’t had the time to sit back and realize just how miserable I was.
And yet, there was a part of me that could not be concealed no matter how hard I tried. My connection to the Torah and the Jewish Mashiach was embedded into my very being and, despite my best efforts, shined through each layer I had created. Through the years following my high school graduation, I began a journey to discover God and to rediscover myself—and soon the two paths converged into one. As I began to remove each mask one by one, I realized it was not my perceived flaws that had been covered all these years, but the divine image of my Maker who had crafted me akin to Himself. As I peeled back my outer layers of shame, I was revealing God bit by bit.
Who am I behind the mask? It would be a lie if I said I have it all figured out. My chief discovery has been an unquantifiable freedom that accompanied the act of letting go and trusting God with my identity. Though there is still a gap between who I am and who I want to be, I believe who I’m meant to be lies somewhere between the two.
The Messianic movement is still young, and by taking ownership of our peculiar identities in spite of worldly ridicule, we are paving the way toward a brighter future for our religion. As second-generation Messianic Jews and Gentiles, we are the children of trail-blazers, and though we were not the ones to set this journey in motion, with each passing generation, the path fares a little bit easier. Without question, we are at the onset of a world-changing phenomenon, and though we are the first group of young people to encounter identity crises so early in our lives, generations to come will remember us for our bravery.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)