I’ve heard people whose spouse passed away, women in particular in my case, say they don’t know who they are anymore, especially if they had been together for a long time. They’ve lost their identity. But I’ve also heard people who’ve lost a corporate job say this. And Moms who have just lost their “job” when all the kids grow up and move out of the house. Interestingly, I’ve even heard people who have lost a significant amount of weight say they struggle with their new identity.
It’s kind of strange isn’t it, if we pull back away from each particular situation and just observe, it’s kind of strange that someone would identify themselves by who they’re with, what their job is, or even what they looked like. But we do. It’s a human thing.
It’s so human that people expect you to have an identity struggle. The social conditioning of our culture makes it so. According to Wikipedia, social conditioning is the sociological process of training individuals in society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society. Whoa!! You might want to rewind that and hear that again, and let that sink in a minute. It goes on to say that the concept is stronger than that of socialization, which is the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. It’s stronger because the purpose is to “train” you to think a certain way…so you’ll fit in. Social conditioning tells us we are only as good as the car we drive, the amount of money in our investment portfolio, our vacation destinations, how many Instagram followers we have, or our ability to stay looking 30 even when we’re 50. Ugh, the pressure. So, no wonder so many people struggle with their identity when they have a major life change. It’s no wonder so many people are asking, “Who am I?”
And, I’m just personally curious, I wonder who they’re asking that question to. Who is supposed to tell them who they are now? Are they asking their friends and family? Are they asking the world and all its social conditioning? Do they want them to tell them who they are now? Maybe, truly, they’re just asking themselves. Who am I? Who am I now that I’m not a couple anymore? Who am I now that I’m not a corporate executive? Who am I now that no one needs me or relies upon me like they used to? Who am I?
I’m sure for a brief moment I may have asked myself that after my husband’s death. But clearly, I remember a time in my life when I thought things were panning out so beautifully. I was writing worship music and recording songs. Some of those songs even got picked up by different radio stations throughout the US, were put on recording projects, and were sung in big and small churches in places I’ve never even been before. I was travelling and leading worship, and I was speaking to various women’s groups and women’s retreats. I was also involved in my local church leading worship every Sunday and in the women’s ministry, teaching and leading a prayer team. I was doing all the things. I felt like all of my gifts were being used in that season. It was an incredible time. Until things started shifting and changing. One thing seemed to come to an abrupt halt, one thing stopped altogether permanently. Another thing totally shifted direction and fell apart. The timing of everything that happened in every area of my life was uncanny. That’s an old word, maybe - uncanny. I just mean that everything that happened seemed to have a supernatural force behind it for a very specific purpose, which is actually the definition of something being uncanny. And, as I found out, that’s exactly what it was. After asking the question, “What in the world is going on?” to no one in particular, I started to get a sense that it was for sure a supernatural force, the Supernatural force, God Himself, that was sifting my life. Like literally, I felt like everything was dumped into a mechanical, metal sifter and He was pulling that handle - you know, the part of the handle on the sifter that makes two metal pieces whisk back and forth to make the flour fall through little by little. That’s what was happening to my life, but I had no idea why.
My grandmother used to bake cakes and pies from scratch and she always sifted the flour before adding the other dry ingredients. One day I asked her why she did that, and she said, “There’s several reasons: It’s easier to mix, it gives you greater measuring accuracy, and it breaks up any lumps and eliminates clumps and foreign objects. It also aerates the flour, making space between the particles and increasing its volume.”
Whew! If God was sifting the things of my life, was He doing it to create a situation where things would mix together a lot better? After all, along with all these amazing things, I was also a wife and mother of 3 children. Was it so that anything foreign - quote/unquote - wouldn’t be mixed in? Or was it because He wanted to make space in my life for more increase? These all sounded like very amazing reasons to be sifted.
However, that’s not what was going on. And the more I stomped my feet in defiance of the sifting, the more the Lord sifted. Finally, one day I broke. And in all humility, I asked Him what was really going on. Gently, I felt His Holy Spirit ask me, in my spirit, “Tricia, if you had nothing else. If everything was taken away from you - if you never sang another song, if you never led another prayer group, if no one knew your name or appreciated who you are, if you never got to use your gifts again - would I be enough?” There it was. He was seeking to find out where I was finding my identity. Was it in the things I was doing? Or was it in Him.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again a thousand times, if not just to remind myself, “You will know something is an idol in your life by your reaction when it is threatened or taken away.”
Yes, even good things we do can become idols. Being a mother. Being a corporate executive. Being a wife. Our identity, when we allow society to “train” us, can be caught up in what we do, instead of who we are. First, let me say, in your very existence, your very essence as a human, you are worthy, and you are enough, just as you are. Past that, no one needs to tell you, or “train” you to be more than you are so that you are (quote) “approved by the society in general and peer groups within society.” (end quote) Your Creator, your Heavenly Father approves of you, and that’s enough. In fact, when we ask, “Who am I?” perhaps we should be asking instead, “Whose am I?” Because I believe that’s where we’ll find our true identity. As a child of the One true God, HE gets to define our worth and value. He gets to say who we are, not society. And I know, from personal experience, that when we can truly say “If everything else gets stripped away, Lord, You are enough,” - when we can say that from the depths of our soul, then we will be as satisfied and content with life as we could possibly be - no matter what changes, no matter what kind of sifting we experience.
Friend, have you been sifted lately? Have you come up against something in your life that has changed everything that you’ve previously known? Has it changed your identity? Are you wondering who you are now? Let me encourage you not to be conformed to social conditioning that measures you by your title, accomplishments, bank account, possessions. These are empty idols. They will never serve you. Especially because they will shift and change, outside of your control. But if you take this opportunity to find your identity - who you truly are, with or without all those things - you will find your truest self; the one perfectly worthy, perfectly enough, perfectly approved of by the One who made you - perfectly you.