Some of you may remember that when I was preparing to marry Ike, I struggled a lot with changing my last name. It’s not that I didn’t want to take his last name–I very much did!–but I had been Sharon Hodde for 28 years and that’s who I was. I had earned two degrees under that name, written and published under that name. That name was entwined with my identity, so the name change felt like a loss of self. For about the first year of my marriage, I felt as though I was neither Sharon Hodde nor Sharon Miller. It was weird!
For those of you who are married, you know that this identity shift is not limited to the name change alone. The idea of marital unity is also a reality that, though instituted on the wedding day, requires living into. It was not something that I necessarily felt right away. Only over time did Ike and I grow into that spiritual unity in a way that was palpable to me. We grew into our new identities as a married couple.
Even the Christian life involves this awkward change. Although salvation is an immediate reality, our unity with God is not something we always feel and it is something that we grow into. We learn how to live in a way that is Christian. Over time we submit more and more of ourselves–our bodies, minds, and spirits–to Him.
Whenever your identity changes, even when it is the best kind of change, it can be very difficult and at times disorienting. I am experiencing another one of those monumental identity shifts right now.
Although I am thrilled to be pregnant, it’s taking a lot of time for this new reality to sink in. I don’t think of myself as a “mommy.” Most of the character traits and personal skills that I have used and cultivated thus far are not maternal ones. I still see myself as relatively independent and very selfish. Right now, my world is still, to a large extent, all about me.
Even when I feel my son kicking inside of me, it is rather surreal. What’s more, my baby still feels like a stranger to me. I don’t know what he looks like or what kind of personality he’ll have. I don’t really know who he is, so it all feels a bit abstract to me.
I wish I was the kind of woman who instantly felt maternal upon becoming pregnant. I wish the identity shift felt more natural, and I wish I could step into it like it is the thing I have been waiting for all my life. But for some reason that hasn’t been my experience.
As a result of this disorientation, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the nature of identity. What I have come to realize is this: While I tend to think of myself a certain way, my identity has actually been rather fluid. I am not the woman I was 10 years ago. And as I’ve already mentioned, my identity underwent major shifts when I become a Christian and when I got married.
And it’s about to change again.
Although change is hard for anyone, part of me wonders if there is a danger in holding too tightly to any identity other than the one we have in Christ. Given the constantly changing nature of our identities, I wonder if an unhealthy attachment to a particular version of ourselves can inhibit God’s work in us. Perhaps He wants to prune something toxic from our identities that keep us from growing. Perhaps He has something better in store for us. Or perhaps we have clung to some part of our identities so tightly that it has consumed us.
2 Corinthians 4:16 says that we are renewed each and every day. Romans 12:2 exhorts us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Clearly, the Christian soul is not a stagnant one. We are not saved and then fixed. We are works in progress. We are in constant states of becoming. At all times, God is building and refining and growing us.
Which makes me wonder if my vision of myself is too small and limited and sedentary. Rather than cling to a version of myself that is comfortable and safe, perhaps I need to lean into the change. If God really does want to make me a “new creation,” then that is a radical, radical change! It’s not just some tweaking, but a different, better SELF.
While I don’t think that means that God wants to dispose with the personality traits and affinities He wrote into my being, I do think it means that I shouldn’t get too comfortable where I am. God is in the midst of perfecting me into a glorious being that honors Him, reflects His amazing Son, and testifies to His love. Now THAT is an identity!
My identity may be shifting into mommy-hood, but the above passages of Scriptures lead me to suspect that there is even more at work. God is using this season to make me into a new creation. He is sanctifying me and teaching me and molding me into an even better version of the self I am now. This bigger picture is not only exciting, but it helps to overcomes many of the fears associated with this new season of life.
What a good God we serve, who can use a precious blessing like a child to make us better servants of Him!