Surviving a Struggle for Identity
- Cindi McMenamin Author, Women on the Edge
- 2010 16 Jun
Belinda looked straight into my eyes as she explained to me why she left her husband of 25 years: "I married when I was 17 years old. I didn't have an identity. I didn't even know who I was."
After a season of "discovering" many things about herself - that she was artistic, she loved people, she had a servant's heart to take care of others - she also realized she was a woman who loved God and wanted to be obedient to Him. She knew that meant not deserting her marriage vows. She returned to her marriage after a six-month separation and, 20 years later, is not regretting her decision to trust God with who He was - someone who would honor her if she held tight to her situation and trusted Him over her own confusion about who she might or might not be.
Helen was truly a woman on the edge. Right out of high school, she married a man she barely knew and spent much of her married life and growing up years searching for her identity, striving for peace in a stormy marriage, and struggling to keep her sanity while raising three young children. By the time her last child reached high school, she divorced her husband whom she claimed "never really knew me," married an old boyfriend from high school "who has always thought the world of me" and moved on, claiming she had finally found herself. But today, in her mid 50s, she is divorced again, her children are estranged from her, and she continues to wonder if she is on the right path for her life.
And Kelly was a popular teenager - and the star of her school's track team -- when she broke her ankle in a cheerleading accident that ended her track career. Desperate to find out who she was - apart from the school's fastest runner - she fell into a downward spiral of eating disorders, out of an effort to not gain weight because of her inactivity, and to gain the attention of those who continued to compliment her on her weight. But several years later, she realized how she looked didn't fill her with a sense of significance. It only led her to a life-threatening addiction.
What is at the root of our search for identity? Why are we so consumed with trying to "find" ourselves? Is there really a piece of us missing out there that we must find? I believe that, rather than needing to find ourselves, we need to forget about ourselves and focus on the One who created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. I truly believe our struggle to find ourselves is really just an ignorance of who we are in the eyes of our Creator, an unawareness of how much we're worth in the eyes of our Redeemer, and an unclear picture of our ability to glorify Him simply by loving Him and living for Him.
Survival Steps for an Identity Crisis
A search for our identity can lead to broken relationships, depression, eating disorders, and even various addictions, especially if we believe our significance lies in who loves us, how we look, what we do, or what we weigh. And no matter what our area of weakness, and no matter what our age or stage in life, you and I can be tempted to go down a self-destructive path in searching for our identity.
To help you steer clear of a path toward destruction, Kelly (whose story is above) helped me come up with these "Survival Steps for a Current - or Coming - Identity Crisis":
Ignore the Lies and Invest in the Truth
There will be days when your own negative self talk tells you that you are worthless. There will be days when the enemy of your soul will torment you with feelings that you're not young enough, thin enough, or attractive enough to really be happy in life. There are days when the enemy will taunt you to start walking a path toward your own identity. But beware: Christ told us to lose our life (quit focusing on ourselves) in order to really find it. When you look at yourself, you will see your shortcomings, weaknesses, and mistakes. But, when you direct your gaze at Christ, you will find perfection, strength, unconditional love, beauty and completeness.
Immerse Yourself in God's Word
Reciting Scripture keeps our minds focused on God's truth rather than Satan's lies. The Word also keeps us unstained by the world and its ideals, philosophies and values. The world will tell you - on television, on the radio, in songs, or across the table at the coffee shop - that you are the most important person in your life and finding yourself is paramount. But Jesus said: "If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me" (Matthew 10:39, The Message)
Invite Accountability into your Life
Proverbs 27:17 tells us: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man (or woman) sharpens another." The Bible also tells us of the benefit of having another person in our life who can hold us accountable and keep us from falling: "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Get real with someone you trust and ask them to pray for you and hold you accountable in the area in which you struggle.
Incorporate Daily Prayer into You Life
If you're only praying when you're in trouble, then you're in trouble. Prayer keeps us focused on God. So it needs to be continual, so we don't lose our focus and start thinking of ourselves again. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to "pray continually." I find that when I do that, my focus is more on God, than on myself. When I struggle with feelings of guilt or shame, with wanting to feel more significant, or with wanting something in my life to change, I must redirect my focus onto God and start praising Him. When we recount God's goodness, recite His faithfulness, and repeat songs of His worthiness it switches the focus from our self pity to our Savior's praise.
Can you, too, proclaim the goodness of the One who is the Answer at the end of your search? Will you, in this moment, surrender your search for yourself and replace it with the realization that, in Jesus, you have found all you could ever want? There is something wonderful in being able to say: "I've finally found what I've been looking for."
June 17, 2010
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and the author of several books including When Women Walk Alone. This article is an excerpt from her newest book Women on the Edge. For more information on her ministry or books, see www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.