I have come to find that sometimes the hardest time to write about something can be when we’re smack dab in the middle of it. Often it feels safer to be a few steps ahead of something before sitting down to write about it. But God doesn’t just meet us in the aftermath. In the solutions. In the recoveries. He meets us right where we are at: in the thick and tangled up mess. In the processing. In the wrestling. He doesn’t always provide a boat for us to ride above the waters. Instead, He may keep us inside the turning currents but give us goggles to see some treasures while we’re there. And the best part of all is that He doesn’t just throw us the googles, He jumps into the waters with us.
Now don’t let me mislead you, there are no storms of suffering surrounding me like they may be you. But there is a different kind of storm and it is going on inside of me. Side note, one embarrassing thing about writing in the midst of something is that our perspective is usually skewed. Everything looks and feels much bigger than reality. So we tend to be a bit dramatic. But, I digress. In my own little self-sized internal storm these big intimidating waves taunt me, “WHO ARE YOU EVEN? AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?” Yeah self… who are you?
3 years after the real life version of “getting a gift I did not desire” (ie having my daughter) I have come to further realize that my struggles were more than the initial news of an unexpected gift. I was aware of this, but as always, there is more going on inside of us than what is on the surface. The surface-level is an expression of what is below it. Often it takes some digging and unveiling. So here I am, 3 years later. And on this side of it, I can tell you two things. I can unashamedly proclaim that I love my kids in a way that has totally exploded my heart and life. I can also, more ashamedly, confess that I don’t always love being a mom. More seriously, I can still deeply resent it. Big deal, right? Who doesn’t feel that way from time to time. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that motherhood wasn’t, and still isn’t, just a threat to my own plans and timelines. It was a threat to my very own self-made identity.
So, maybe you’re reading this and you’re in a totally different place in life than me. Maybe you find yourself being depended on in ways you never expected. Maybe you’re dependent on someone else in ways you never imagined or wished for. Maybe you’re sitting at that same desk or pulling up to that same apartment or looking down at that same bare finger, all for years longer than expected. Maybe your life has been uprooted and replanted in a brand new place surrounded by brand new people. Maybe that degree, or job, or trip, is being put on hold. Maybe you are experiencing the excruciating pain of longing or loss. Or maybe it’s (whatever your it is) here and you weren’t expecting it to come when and how it did.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.
Who am I?
Wherever you find yourself in life, I hope my raw, flawed, zoomed in, goggle-sort-of-view of these things I’m learning brings some grace and understanding and truth to you.
“You aren’t alone”
As I have shared some of my personal wrestling with my own identity and worth, I have been met with empathy and a real sense of comradery. That’s a sweet gift you can receive and give to someone, y’all. It can be one of the most comforting things. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say it can also be sobering. It’s comforting because we see that we aren’t left to deal with things on our own. It’s comforting because we aren’t strange for being the only one to go through something. But it’s sobering because we don’t get to throw ourselves an ongoing pity party. Because we don’t get to wear a badge for being the only one to struggle a certain way. You are one in a million, but you are also one of a million. So do yourself a humbling and helpful favor, and give people permission to tell you they have been there, or are there, too.
Stripped identities can be scary and sacred ground
The very things I was unknowingly clutching onto to form my identity did not only feel imposed upon by motherhood, they felt at odds with it. Where I wanted to be free spirited, I felt motherhood told me I must be restricted. Where I wanted to be adventurous, I thought motherhood meant I must be rigid. The list goes on. It felt like some painful sort of self death would have to happen in order for another life to be born in me. I deeply resented this death of self. But what I often fail to realize is that this sort of self death will be both beautifully true and foolishly false for the rest of my life. It is a constant and necessary losing of self and finding of self all at once.
When we realize our identities- be they a title, role, ability, relationship, desire, dream or so much more- are in some form being taken from us, it’s really terrifying. When the thing that we have let label us and define us for so long is somehow no longer a part of us, it can feel kind of like being exposed and having nothing to hide behind. It’s uncomfortable and scary. But don’t miss this, it’s also sacred and soft ground here. It’s an opportunity to be rebuilt, remade, and redefined. Or maybe just reminded of who we already are that we may have forgotten about.
The dictionary definition of identity is: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And while there could be many ways to define it biblically, I think Christian identity can be summed up in this verse found in Corinthians, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old has passed and the new has come.” Identity is a buzz word in many Christian circles. And while it may not be a specific word used outside of these circles, the idea of identity is a big deal to us all. I think this new world of self branding and self promotion through social media reveals our intrinsic identity-chase.
Now the tricky part I’ve found in this whole identifying our truest self thing is that identity is both fundamental and functional. Fundamentally, I believe myself to be a human being created in the image of God who has been recreated in Christ. But functionally I currently find myself flailing around in a perceived state of crises, instead of resting securely in the one who’s undeserved and totally willing self death birthed my new life. I find my identity-naked self being exposed, instead of hiding behind the rock of ages. So how do we bridge the fundamental to the functional? We preach the gospel to our very own heart and mind and soul. Until the day we die. The gospel wasn’t just a thing of the past, it is the very essence of who we are now and it is to permeate into all we think and do and say and are, today.
There is a subtle yet major difference between contentment and settling. Settling says “this” is all I am, can be, or going to be. Settling suppresses God given passions and gifts and desires and dreams. Settling usually plants seeds of bitterness and self pity. Contentment gladly embraces what God has seen fit to give to us in His own good time. Contentment is not afraid to strive while also being deeply settled. Contentment usually breeds thankfulness and joy. We are whole beings who are capable of functioning in more ways than we often give ourselves credit for. We often sell ourselves short in claiming only our primary occupation as who we are. We let this thoroughly define us. Instead, carve into your calendar an enjoyable hobby, make space for that creative outlet, pursue your passions, and explore what makes you feel like, you.
Being you, right where you’re at
The potential danger in pursuing what may feel a little out of our borders is that in turn we might miss what is right in front of us. This has hit me like a ton of bricks in my discontentment lately. No, I’m not only a mom, but yes I am a mom. So instead of seeing my passions and personality and gifts and goals as something I must put into some sort of outside source, I should seek to channel these things into motherhood. If you’re creative, bring creativity into your work place. If you’re merciful, show mercy to your children. If you’re driven, be diligent in your studies. Bring your adventure and structure and knowledge and compassion and your craftsmanship into the very spheres you are already in, if you believe you are supposed to be there. It would be a shame if in the constant chase for something more, we waste what has already been given to us.
Bringing it (to your own) home
I’ve heard it said that good desires make bad masters. As do good callings make bad identities. So how do we know when our misplaced identity has turned into idolatry? How do we know where our true identity lies? I think one helpful gauge is by recognizing the way we respond when something is taken from us or given to us. Does the loss lead us to normal disappointment or to total despair? Does the gain lead us to a healthy sort of happiness or an awaited sense of wholeness? Does it have the power to make us or break us?
I will not soon forget the wise counselor who looked into my misty eyes and kindly urged me not to think that shifting my identity into motherhood is my new ticket to fulfillment. Instead, they said, being a Christian is your identity. It is at the center. Everything else for the rest of your life is just an avenue off of it.
So friend, our heavy ladened souls searching for worth and value can find rest in who we currently are and always will be, in Jesus. It’s settled and secure. No matter where we go or what we do or who we become, we are in Him. And it’s all from Him and for Him and to Him, forevermore.