If I could write a letter to myself ten years younger, I wouldn’t write wistfully: you have zero gray hair! you aren’t yet jaded by burnout! you have so much enthusiasm! I know now how much joy will come wrapped up in the painful lessons of life and I will almost pity the shallow happiness of my early twenties. I wouldn’t lecture, but I’d have some hard questions for my younger self to answer. . .
(a letter to my younger self)
Hi, younger me,
During the next ten years, you’ll be living the answers to these questions:
How are you defined?
Where does your identity come from?
Who are you?
You will spend some time being defined by someone else. You’re madly in love with him, so it’s going to seem natural and cool, and this co-dependent phase is going to cloak itself in respect and admiration for this man you’ve married. I’m Daniel’s wife. I’m married to Daniel. I’m a firefighter’s wife. I’m married to a small business owner. You will say all of these phrases and it will all seem so innocent but you will be putting so much pressure on him. You won’t even realize how much you drain your relationship of life and joy when you are sucking all of who you are out of him.
And when he’s not perfect, and it turns out that you married a human with feet of clay, your carefully constructed identity will crumble and leave you broken and empty because you were seeking definition from a man.
Hard things are going to happen to you. You are going to experience unbelievable grief. You are going to lose your baby son and you are going to live in a small town where you will carry the identity of the mamma whose baby died. You will let yourself be defined by the crushing circumstances that happen to you. This is an identity that is at once horrifying and also comforting. It’s initially safe but it can become crippling.
This label allows you to grieve but it also traps you. You are going to have fight hard not to stay broken and shattered. You need to actively seek healing and be brave enough to embrace joy when it comes; you will need to let your fingers loosen from the grip they have on the loss nightmare.
You’ll find your meaning in your work, which of course, for you, is your children. You always said you’d never be one of those moms who defined themselves by homeschooling, yet here you are, finding it easy and comfortable to assume this role and identity. Paul David Tripp wisely writes that children are a miserable place to find your identity and you will find this to be true. Teaching them is also a disillusioning identity most days. These little students don’t waltz into your office thanking you for the privilege it is to learn from you.
No, on the contrary, you will battle for their minds and hearts and pray your heart out and love them so much that you hurt inside when you look at them and it is going to be the hardest job you have. You love them enough to die for them but if they’re your only reason to live, you will be continually frustrated because they will continually let you down. You will never be enough. You can’t work hard enough to make them perfect. Making children your life work is beautiful. Making your children your life is dangerous for both of you. Know the difference.
You will find that many things you love to do seem to develop conflicting identities; you love to work hard and business is fascinating to you. But you’re a stay at home mom. According to the mama wars, these identities conflict. You will like nothing better than staying home and sitting on the front porch with a book, or making dinner for your family. But you will also find out you love to travel. You will get a passport when you are thirty and you will love every minute of exploring the world you get to see because of it.
The emptiness of finding your identity in your husband, children, work, and ministry–the conflict of your interests–will drive you to Christ. Because it is in Christ that we find out who and what we are living for.
One day, you will have a light bulb moment. One day you will realize that you are in so much bondage as you struggle to reconcile the identities you carry. You will begin to let these false definitions drift away, their value equivalent to fake ID cards; you will realize that if your identity is secure as a child of God, you are free.
If you are His child and loved by Him, you don’t need to carry the burden of what has happened to you. You don’t need to rely on another person for your security. You don’t need to prove your worth by what you do. You don’t need to reconcile the seeming conflicts of interest. But you’re a stay at home mom! You are getting a sitter to work! What kind of mom leaves her children? No. Don’t play the game. But you haven’t accomplished enough! What kind of worker quits after two hours to go home? No. You are a child of God.
When you begin to live your life making decisions through the lens of God’s Word and what is pleasing to Him, you will find unbelievable freedom and joy. Because of the freedom you have as a child of God, you don’t have to create an identity for yourself: He is your identity. Your life can be lived with joy and gratefulness for the many unique opportunities He gives you to glorify Him.
You can be a firefighter’s wife. You can love your babies. You can teach. You can write.
You can thrift your clothes and you can order in dinner.
You can love ministry without letting it be your (exhausting) reason for existence.
You can go to London. You can stay at home and plant green beans in your garden.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not continue under a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
Photography: JenniMarie Photography