I was at a party when a friend introduced me to someone. To get to know me, my acquaintance predictably asked, “So, what do you do?” I groaned. For years I was a stay-at-home mom. I had four boys in the span of six years. As thankful as I am for the privilege of investing my full energy into my boys during those formative years, I cringed every time I had to answer that question.
I worked hard all day for a worthy cause, but somehow my simple “I’m a stay-at-home mom” answer felt underwhelming. I struggled to form my identity apart from being a mom. Thinking of myself as “just a mom” reduced my identity to a caregiver. Conversely, believing that caring for children was my highest calling exalted motherhood as the source of my worth.
But my identity is not limited to motherhood. What we do all day does not define who we are. This struggle isn’t unique to moms or even to women—we all need to be reminded of where our true identity can be found. And it starts with a who, not a what.
For those who have put their faith in Christ, the gospel declares who you are. It affirms that your identity is determined by who God says you are in relation to him. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
The almighty God and creator of the universe is our Father. He created us in his own image, giving us inherent dignity (Gen. 1:27). He has adopted those whose faith is in Christ into his family and made us fellow heirs with his son (Rom. 8:17). Our calling is to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6). We have been set free from our bondage to sin (Rom. 6:6). We are overcomers who cannot be separated from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:37-39). We have been rescued from darkness and given a better kingdom (Col. 1:13). Our identity is communal, not individualistic. We are a people who belong to God. Our identity is beautiful, life-giving, and most importantly, settled.
We struggle to own our identity because the Bible doesn’t answer the question our culture asks about who we are. Instead of rightly understanding and confidently living out our identity, we cling to false identities—identities that are easy to explain and conveniently categorized. To be defined by what we do or what we’re passionate about has become normative.
We must reject the temptation to allow the world to dictate the terms of our identity, though. Our identity doesn’t have to be framed in ways that make others comfortable. The gospel changes everything—including our identities! If we don’t immerse ourselves daily in our gospel-shaped identity, we will be tempted to search for our identity outside of who God says we are. We will become content living out a false identity.
I was blind to my false identity until it crumbled. For 18 months, my family of six worked towards adopting a Ugandan girl—Gracious—we met through our work with a nonprofit. We spent much of our time filling out paperwork and meeting with lawyers and social workers. We gave all our money then fundraised tens of thousands of dollars. We were creating more space in our home and more margin in our schedules, readying ourselves to welcome her.
All our conversations involved Gracious. Her adoption took over our lives.
I mistakenly allowed my identity to become entangled in her adoption. Who was I? I was her mother—spending all my time, energy, and money to bring her home.
But one morning, we woke to the news that she had unexpectedly passed away.
As I grieved the loss of Gracious, I realized I was also grieving the loss of my false identity. I allowed what I spent my time doing to determine who I was. I thought working to bring her home defined me. Being the mother of this special girl was what made me special. I believed a false identity.
Who was I if I wasn’t her mother?
Part of my healing over the past year has involved rejecting my false identity. Clinging to an identity defined by God sets me free from attempting to create one for myself. Knowing who I am frees me from the temptation to live up to others’ ideas about who I should be.
I know who my Father created me to be. I’m his, and he equips me to live in this humbling truth. I’m free to cry to him in my pain. I’m free to fail and lovingly receive discipline and instruction from him. I’m free to say “yes” to him and “no” to my flesh. By his grace, I’m not enslaved to sin and I’m not who I used to be. He started a good work in me and promises to finish the job (Phil. 1:6). My identity in the Father liberates me.
We are more than what we do, though we show the world who our Father is through our life. But what we do is not ultimate—who we’re imaging is. Our identity is anchored in the ultimacy of our Father. It’s not determined by the impressiveness of our actions. My identity is about who I belong to.
As counter-cultural as this may seem, my identity isn’t about me. My life, including my identity, is about and for my God. What we do is significant, but not ultimate. Christ’s redemptive work is ultimate. Our work contributes to the advancement of his kingdom on Earth by using what we do to reflect his light into a dark world. We offer a foretaste of his coming kingdom through our parenting, careers, adoptions, hobbies, travel, spending, work, and anything else we invest our energy into each day to the glory of God.
I spend time in Kenya, and I love the way my Kenyan friends introduce themselves. It usually goes something like this: “My name is Peter Abungu. I am the husband of one wife and father to three children. I am a born again Christian because I put my faith in Jesus Christ.” This communicates who they are while not limiting their identity to what they do. How much more representative is a statement like this rather than merely stating where we spend our nine-to-five?!
Is it possible to reimagine the way we get to know each other? And in doing so, perhaps we will get to know who we really are as well. Let’s share the truth of who we are with one another and testify to God’s saving grace in our lives. Let’s share our identity with others in a way that proclaims Christ as our life:
Hello friends, I’m Christy Britton. I belong to God and use my time and talents to make much of Christ, who redeemed me and welcomed me into his kingdom family when I was his enemy. Who are you?
Christy Britton is a wife and mom of four boys. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide and writes curriculum for Docent Research. Her family worships at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. She writes for several blogs, including her own, http://www.beneedywell.com/. You can follow her on Twitter.