Monday, June 13, 2011

Identity Crisis

Recently I've found myself struggling with the issue of identity. And yes, the title of this post is definitely overkill, since I'm not really in any kind of crisis! Still, the question of identity has definitely been agitating the grey cells of late.

As I pondered the issue, I realized that I've been trying to bolster my ego by fashioning an identity for myself based on externals, on things that make me feel good about myself. This is a very frustrating pursuit, because basing my identity on my status or personal merits only makes me more aware of just how far I fall short.


For example?

Well, I can build my identity on being a good wife. The problem is, I struggle daily with selfishness, and I can point to dozens of women that I know who are much better wives than I am. Ouch.

That's okay, I can build my identity on being a good mom. But I can think of so many women who are much better (not to mention more experienced!) mothers than I am. Strike two.

I can define myself by my love of creative home arts like crafting and sewing -- but I can think of several friends off the top of my head who have more creativity and skill in their little fingers than I could ever dream of.

I cloth diaper! See, I am someone special! I'm a frugal, eco-friendly mama... who almost always uses disposable wipes and puts diapers in the dryer more often than I really need to, just because I'm lazy. And then there's the whole defining-yourself-by-what-you-put-on-your-baby's-tush issue, which is really just plain pathetic!

The list can go on an on -- but there will always be people who take better photographs, bake better cookies, keep their homes cleaner (not that I even considered putting that in the running!), etc.

Before you come to the conclusion that I'm horribly depressed and think that I can't do anything, let me assure you that I do not intend this as a pity party! Nor do I think it's a good idea to evaluate my "worth" by the accomplishments of the people around me. Rather, to get to the bottom of this issue, I find it necessary to be perfectly honest with myself, and considering the character and talents of my acquaintances help me realize that I'm not as incredibly amazing as I think I am. That said, my home is not a pig-sty, my marriage is not on the rocks, and I can sew a straight seam! But whenever I try to identify myself based on personal skills or merit, it's a doomed endeavor. And there's a very good reason for that.

Ironically, a few days after I started thinking about this issue, I received a Publix Baby Club newsletter in the mail. Inside was an excerpt from the book What Every Mom Needs. And here's an excerpt of that excerpt:

Moms of young children are consumed with being caretakers. We sacrifice sleep and our own desires and needs to care for a baby. it's not surprising that we sometimes look in the mirror and wonder who we are.

Moms need identity. We know that the "Who am I?" question comes up in every season of life, but for the mothers of young children, the answer gets tangled up with our roles and responsibilities. we need to redefine ourself and find a definition that will sustain us during this season. Though we enjoy what we do, we need to find an indentity that transcends the role of mothering and reminds us of who we used to be and who we still are, in addition to being a mom.

The book was published by Zondervan, so presumably the authors were Christians -- and having not read the whole book, I don't know where the authors were headed. The excerpt goes on to provide questions to help you find your identity, such as listing your favorite activities, your greatest strengths and weaknesses, etc. Quite possibly they were going to put moms on the right track, but judging only from this excerpt, the problem is being recommended as the solution to the issue of identity!

I have to agree with the authors on one point. It's certainly a bad idea to define yourself by your children -- not only is it unhealthy spiritually, but it also saddles your children with the responsibility of living up to your personal expectations, and turns you into a very boring conversationalist!

However, it's just as bad to define yourself based on your "special" characteristics -- God-given though they are. To do so is to worship the creature rather than the Creator. And because we fall short, it also sets us up for certain disappointment.

So who am I, really? I know with certainty that I'm not the best wife, mother, seamstress, cook, writer, or decorator.

Who am I? A child of God, redeemed by the shed blood of His only Son, living in hope because of Christ's resurrection from the dead. That is the only identity worth having, the only identity that cannot be touched by time, circumstances, or the accomplishments (or failures) of others. And because I can't take credit for it, there is a two-fold blessing: not only does it preclude me from focusing selfishly on my so-called "accomplishments," but it also transcends my innumerable failures! What a blessing, what a relief from the horrible pit of both self-love and self-loathing!

I am one for whom Christ died.

The magnitude of that thought is simultaneously exhilarating and humbling. He loved me -- loves me -- enough to die for me, even though my sin made me hopelessly unworthy of that love. That love, which will never fluctuate or lessen, is mine forever.

So why do I want to build an identity based on whether or not I overcooked dinner, or how clean my bathrooms are? Those things are transient. His love is eternal. I should plan healthy meals and clean my home as an outpouring of His love to others, not so that I can win a trophy in the "Homemaking Hall of Fame." When I focus on my performance (which I evaluate by purely earthly standards) I end up moping, convinced that I'll never measure up. And I never will "measure up" on this earth -- not to Martha Stewart's standards, and certainly not to God's standards. But thanks be to God, I don't have to measure up. Christ did that for me!

God has indeed uniquely gifted me, but those gifts are not intended for my personal satisfaction. No, those gifts are to be used for the exact purpose He has for my life. He ordained me to be my husband's wife and my son's mother, all for His glory and our good.

So it's onward and upward, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:1). Onward and upward, praying that He will free me more and more from my self-obsession and my earthly focus. And praying that I'll feel a bit more motivated to scrub those bathroom floors, while I'm at it!

You can find my Theological Disclaimer here.


  1. Beautiful and powerful post, Shannon... even for the non-wife and non-mother writer of this comment. : ) What you've said is applicable to all of us. God bless you!

  2. Oh Shannon, if only you knew how applicable this post is to me right now. If only you knew that I logged onto the World Wide Web to publish a similar blogpost and stumbled upon this. Thank you, God, for blog readers and friends!

    I wish I wasn't leaving. *sigh*

  3. This was such a perfectly needed post Shannon! As a mother of 4, wife of 13 years...I still need this reminder. I struggle beating myself up daily for my lack...when what I need to do is remember who's child I am and that my purpose is planned out by Him and for His glory.

    This was just what I needed today :-)

    Lots of love,

  4. Hi Shannon - Pablo, Little Man and God all love you because you are you. Not because you can sew in a straight line. Not because you can cook and clean house. Purely and simply because you are the one and only you. That is your identity. You are special to your loved ones because of who you are not because of what you can or cant do. All those people you think do things better than you? Are all thinking the exact same thing about you! Be true to yourself and be yourself. Skills and talents are just things that you can pick up or put down at different stages in your life. Who you are will stay with you and those closest to you - forever.

  5. Clare, Jane Ellen, and Sommer, so glad you found this post helpful! And Jane Ellen, it won't be forever -- and we'll be counting down the days with you! :-)

    Olly, thank you for your sweet words and encouragement! It is hard for me to stop evaluating myself based on skills or to stop comparing myself to others, and your comment was a good reminder for me. However, I do know the sin in my own heart, and if I were true to myself I would give in to that sin and selfishness without hesitation (which I usually do). Though I am justified in Christ, the sin in my heart is always ready to lead me astray. By God's grace I seek to be true to Christ, because He is the only one who is never wrong, never selfish, and totally trustworthy. I can truly say, I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior! I hope you know His love, too! And thank you again for your kindness.


  6. Such true words. Thank you for sharing them - they have been a blessing to me today, and I'm sure to many others as well.

  7. Shannon, beautifully put and so similar to my own "identity crisis" of last year. God sent the doctrine of adoption and "Because He Loves Me" to instruct me in the right way to think about myself and to reveal what He thinks about me. And finding that truth, I could say a blissful goodbye to the uncomfortable "dress clothes" of self ego-building.

    The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two thins of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off – getting rid of the false self, with all its ‘Look at me’ and ‘Aren’t I a good boy?’ and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.” — C. S. Lewis

  8. Shannon, I had another little visit today. It is'interesting' that I had an I.C. when I had been mothering a 5,3,+ 3 y.o. and still wasn't sleeping very well. I felt old (well, I was 47 at the time), and wondered what I had done:)
    The Lord gave me courage and insight at the very moment of despair! Now I am in a new I.C. as a 59 y.o. with young adults who are all finding the Lord's will in their lives. I am in demand, but see the time coming quickly when I will be an empty-nester. Again, the Lord to the rescue. When I am weak, He is strong! Thanks for the reminder of who we are in Christ Jesus. I daresay it strengthened many a young mom (and a few of us oldies, but goodies). Blessings!

  9. Shannon,

    This post resonated with me so much that I was compelled to respond. How ironic that my daughter commented similarly 3 months ago what I feel today.

    Just this morning I recognized that in this new environment I am comparing myself with others (these new talented, gentle, loving, gracious wives and mothers. Instead of comparing myself to God's standards I am gazing vertically. When I look up I realize that I can never compare -- and that's the point. I don't have to. Christ did it all for me.

    Thank you, dear friend.

    By the way, I read your disclaimer. I know it can be iffy to take internet people at face value. But I know you in person. And (as a person goes) you're up there on my "admiration" list. I just won't use you as the standard...well, not anymore.


  10. I don't know if you will ever see this, but this blog post was an answer to prayer today. The past week, I've been significantly feeling like I've lost myself in this all-consuming (but amazingly wonderful) job of stay-at-home mom. I stumbled upon your blog while googling skirts for inspiration, and your self-description sounds ridiculously like me (Anglophile? I've never known another to use the term!). I bookmarked your blog, and I'm glad I did. I was having a particularly difficult time yesterday and have been praying fervently for guidance. In perusing your older posts, I came across this one. Reading it brought tears to my eyes, because your words are precisely what I needed to hear. I thought you might like to know how God is using you even months after writing this. Thank you so very much. :)

  11. I am so very glad that this post has been helpful to others -- and it's also encouraging to hear from others who have "been there, done that" (or "are there, doing that").

    Tammy, you're on my "admiration" list -- but I'll resist the urge to use you as *my* standard, either ;-)

    And AshleyTemp7, this is when I'm so glad that I moderate comments, because I get to see each and every one! Yours blessed me so much, fellow Anglophile :-) It's so lovely to find a kindred spirit in the bloggy world!



I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!