My identity feels shaky these days. My purpose seems unclear. I lost a sense of both of those when I lost by husband. Probably a radically lame thing to say in a culture that prizes independence, but it's true.
I was a wife and a devoted caregiver. I had a role and I played it - sometimes well and sometimes not. There was stability and familiarity in the rhythm of life that we created. I enjoyed having someone else to help lead the way and make decisions for us. That secure identity was taken from me when Greg died. I became a widow and solo parent; a person trying to figure out life without my partner.
It is destablizing to lose such a big part of your identity in your late 30s. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in my early college years, trying to figure out who I am and what to do with my life.
I hadn't realized how much my relationship with Greg defined my sense of self and purpose until it was taken away. Over the past 26 months, I have been on a journey of slowly watching every part of my life that was defined by his presence change because without him, it no longer makes sense. It's left me feeling undefined and uncertain and I have tried to fill that hole over and over again, only to find it an endless quest.
While I can look back with rose-colored glasses, the truth is more complicated than Greg's presence giving me a solid identity. Yes, I did know where my life was headed (or at least I thought I did!) and I had clearly defined roles of wife, caregiver, and homeschooling mom. But none of those roles made me okay or provided the stability and identity that I longed for. Even in their best moments, they didn't last. In the end, they were as fragile as Greg's life.
I can try to replace them with other temporary things: people's approval, accomplishments at work, rocking the solo-parenting thing, fitness, relationships, adventures... the list goes on. Yet all of these things are just as shaky. To build my identity and security on anything in this life is foolish.
So the question I'm left with is where do I find my identity? Do I keep searching for something to build my life that will tell me who I am without Greg? Would I ever be able to find something that could satisfy my soul and never go away? Not on this earth. If the person who pledged to spend their life with me no matter what could be taken away, surely everything else is just as shaky, if not more.
While driving in the car recently, an old hymn started playing that I hadn't heard in a long time. I was deep in thought and wrestling with all these questions of identity when the lyrics broke through.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
In that moment, I was given the gift of perspective. All of our hearts are longing for so much more than the things in this life can offer us. My heart is full of longing. My mind is troubled with fears. I need rest from the endless toil of trying to measure up. I need rescue from the sin that brings destruction to myself and to those I love. And all of those desires can be met in Jesus.
Jesus, the God-man who was born to set his people free. Jesus, the one whose love and mercy can rescue us from our fears and sin. Jesus, the one who enables us to finally rest because we no longer have to strive to do better, to find our identity, to live up to the constantly shifting standards that people have for us. Jesus, the desire underneath all of our lesser desires; the one who replaces our ceaseless longing with joy.
This is a perspective that I have to fight for, daily. As soon as I stop reminding myself of these truths, my heart begins to wander. But in those moments when my eyes are fixed on Jesus, I finally (even if briefly) experience peace.