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.
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.