We wear internal labels like name tags on our chest. Mother. Daughter. Wife. Winner. Loser. Lazy. Sick. Wealthy. Poor. Sinner. Saint. Do any of those labels sound familiar?
They often come from external voices, from people we admire, or even people we don’t. But the loudest voice we hear is the one that comes from within. Our internal voice.
I started thinking about identity this week after an editor called me an “accomplished journalist.” I liked the label, but it came as sort of a surprise. That’s because my inner voice often tells me I don’t measure up. I wear the name tag “Inadequate,” despite all the bylines that Google reveals, or all the job offers I get. I’ve struggled with that label all my life.
One of the other name tags I wore for a long time was “Daughter,” and another was “Caregiver.” Even after I became “Wife,” I focused on the other two labels, and then my mother died, and I was lost. I was an identity in search of a cause. I poured myself into the project of taking care of what my parents left behind. Cleaning out their home. “Dutiful Daughter,” I was.
I was still being “Daughter,” but not quite. And I knew it. I knew it best on holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I walked the aisles of Kroger in search of food and stumbled upon the greeting cards. “From Your Daughter.” A voice said, “You can’t buy a card. You aren’t a daughter anymore.” Ouch.
Our grief journey often is a journey to explore our identity and find a new one. We might not be “wife” anymore because our husband is dead. Or we might not be willing to be the caregiver we always were anymore because we’re spent. We exhausted that role on one person, and they are gone. It’s jarring when your identity is in flux. Who am I?
I asked my mother that question once. She’d been dead two years, and I imagined her sitting there in her home with me. My identity had been wrapped up in what she thought of me, but she was gone. “What am I?” I said. “You thought I was great.”
Alone in her empty living room, I turned my thoughts to God. What did he think?
I wouldn’t know the answer for several years, but I had asked the right question. Our internal voices, influenced by people’s perception of us and shifting circumstances, can lead us astray. But God will not. Over time I accepted the message the Creator had been communicating all those years – I love you and I will protect you. I will defend you. I won’t abandon you.
It’s true that I still hear my internal voice spit out a label that isn’t really appropriate, but I’m learning to see a bigger picture and go to God with the negative messages. Grief morphed my identity, but God reached through my sorrow and proclaimed that I am still a “Daughter” – his daughter. And because of that label, I’ve got the strength to defy all the other voices.
Who are you? What label do you want to shed today? What label do you want to embrace?
Copyright © 2018 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com