Over the years, I have acquired quite a few labels that add up to create my identity. Some of these labels I sought out and others I begrudgingly accepted after peers assigned them. They range from beneficial to benign to damaging and from trivial to significant. What they all have in common, however, is I allowed them to become a part of my identity.
The resulting identity of all these labels is the tangled mess that I am now, as an adult, seeking to “unbraid” and redefine based on the truths of who and what I am meant to be.
Some of these labels are obviously detrimental. Accepting the image of a fat kid, and believing that I am just overweight as part of my identity, had to be addressed in my battel to develop healthier behaviors. Sometimes I still fall into the old behaviors of turning to food for comfort, but that’s not who I am… I clarified my identity.
Other labels were beneficial and remain a part of who I am today. In high school I was teased for my chastity, which I proudly maintain. Likewise, my diligence at school has carried over to how I conduct myself at work. These are identities that I am happy to retain (as long as they don’t become obsessions, but that is a different topic).
Overwhelmingly, these labels are subconscious and unknown parts of my identity. Without an event or message to bring them to the surface, they remain unquestioned or even unnoticed. Unremarkable aspects of my identity, like my gender; it’s just who I am and who I will always be.
Those unquestioned and unknown labels can be dangerous, however, and one of them has been wrecking my life. I’m just glad that this morning I realized it so I can begin to wage war against the lie that is keeping me trapped.
As the second of four children, my house was a bit chaotic growing up. Arguments and shouting and disagreements were common occurrences… heck a mother with two kids probably would say the same. Plus, with both parents working most of my childhood, they had their own marital disagreements. The result is I developed an aversion to conflict.
Additionally, I have a very empathetic heart. When I read, I cry tears of joy or sadness with the characters, even if I know the story was just made up for an illustration. I can’t watch those commercials about starving kids in Africa or women trapped in sex trafficking. My stomach growls with the starving child, my face burns as the girl is slapped by her handler… it’s just too much for me.
I want us all to get along and be happy. And I will do anything, absolutely anything, to make sure the people in my life are happy and agreeable with me and each other.
I am the Peacemaker.
As I wrote about Monday, the preceding weeks have been cloaked in this suffocating pressure that I didn’t know how to come out from underneath. Of the last 10 workdays, I have been doing work-related-but-not-in-the-office events six of those days, causing me to fall behind. Meanwhile, I have a close friend in pain over losing her husband and family conflict, neither of which are in my power to fix.
I have been reading Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen and last night was the chapter about numbing out. That is exactly where I am. If I just eat one more sweet or watch one more video or check Facebook one more time, then I can hide from this pressure for one more moment. And it works… until that moment passes and it all comes crashing back in one me.
Jennie talks about the same experience, with feeling the pressure of the growing ministry and being a parent and wanting to hold it all up. She encounters an older gentleman who shows her that her identity is all tangled up in her ministry.
Then this morning our pastor preached about the Rich Young Ruler. Honestly, I was kinda annoyed that this would be the topic. Seriously, like I have heard this preached on SO many times. I am at a point I really need God to show up for me and instead I get to hear, yet again, that I need to go all in… am I not all in enough already? I’m in burnout mode and have nothing left to give!
As Chris was preaching, however, he pointed out that Jesus wasn’t interested in the money that the ruler had… rather He recognized that the ruler’s identity was in his money instead of in Jesus. When Jesus told him to give it all away, He was exposing the young man’s idolatrous identity.
We transitioned into a time of song and reflection and it all clicked together. I am trying to be responsible for the happiness of other people and there will never be a time that I have that power. No matter how much I love my friend, I can’t raise the dead or comfort the mourning. No matter how much I love my family, I can’t resolve conflicts or make people agree. No matter how hard I work at my job, I can’t satisfy every customer.
But God can.
And really, it’s not my job.
Donovan often reminds me that I can’t control anyone else’s experience of me. This typically comes up when I am talking about my concerns about how others perceive my behavior, writing, or appearance. But really that sentence could be a bit shorter and remain true: I can’t control anyone else’s experience. Period.
And trying is exhausting. That is a lot of weight to carry! The identity of “Savior of the World” has already been claimed and I am not the one.
What a blow to my ego!
Perhaps, but what a relief to my exhausted and weary soul. It is time to wage war on this false identity and, in doing so, to free myself to live.
I love my friend with all the love I have and wish I could salve the pain of loss. But I can only love her and be there; I cannot take away the pain.
With everything in me, I love every member of my family. I can refuse to take sides. I can see everyone’s perspective. I can pray for wisdom and grace in what I say or leave unsaid. But I am not responsible for the decisions anyone makes and I am never going to be the source of peace in my family.
Every customer I work with has become a friend. I care about them all and I want them all to have great success in their own business. I can give my 100% and do my absolute best to provide excellence in my work. But I will never prevent backlogs, pricing errors, shipping delays, or any of the other challenges that are just a part of doing business. All I can do is bring my best attitude and my best effort to each moment of my day.
And with that freedom, I can breathe a little deeper. Since it’s not my responsibility, I can’t drop the ball.
Instead I am choosing to drop the label.