When I became a mommy, I had a huge identity shift. Before Sophie, my biggest identifiers besides my faith were my status as a wife and teacher, a friend and daughter, a sister or sister-in-law. But somehow all of those other parts of me shrunk down to ity-bitty little pieces when I gained the title of mommy. And being a mommy is all-consuming.
I remember talking to a friend whose children are already grown up, telling her how I had become known to many now as “Sophie’s mom.” She told me to embrace it because that’s how I would be seen for many years to come. This new part of my identity has been so wonderful for me to discover, as it is for any new mom. And eventually the balance returns and we emerge from our houses with our new little babies and once again find out how to be a sister, a friend, etc.
When Micah was born, my identity shifted again because I decided to quit my beloved job as a teacher to stay at home with my babies. Teaching is like breathing to me. I can’t help but teach. I feared that I would suffer an identity crisis of sorts when I identified myself as a stay-at-home mom rather than a teacher. But I found that I didn’t struggle nearly as much as I anticipated because my teacher-ness was still oozing out of me in other ways. That has never changed.
One of the ways that I continue to enjoy teaching is through working on Sunday school curriculum for our high school teens at church. This has literally been a lifeline to me as my roles have shifted. Our most recent study has been about identity, and I’ve gleaned some very important reminders from my study of this topic. Below is the first gem that I definitely want written on the tablet of my heart.
God knows my name. My true name. Not what I call myself, not what others call me. But who I truly am. I was touched so deeply as I re-read the story of Jacob in Genesis 27-32. Jacob was a terribly deceitful man. Most of the things he had in life involved deceit either on his part of the part of someone in his family. But one night he wrestled with God, and everything changed. I love all of the images and feelings that are conjured up in thinking of wrestling through the night with God. In my heart I have spent many a day and night wrestling with God, so I feel what Jacob must have felt that night, the fight, the angst, the fear, the determination, the surrender. Jacob was never quite the same afterwards.
My favorite moment in this story is when God asks Jacob a simple question: “What is your name?” In one simple question, God cuts through all the nonsense. “Jacob, tell me who you are.” It’s not that God didn’t know his name. Of course he did. But he’s putting his finger right down on the issue that he wants to address with Jacob, the issue that they’ve undoubtedly been wrestling over all night: Identity. “Jacob, who are you?” Jacob, whose name means trickster, must tell God who he has become because of his own sinful choices and the sinful choices of others. When he answers God, he is saying, in essence, “I’m the trickster, the deceiver.” He has to be honest with God about who he is. But then God does something that just blows me away. He cuts right through all the lies that Jacob has believed about himself and lived out in his life thus far. He says, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.” When God looked at Jacob, he saw the trickster, the deceiver, but he also saw something so much more. He saw a fighter. He saw an overcomer.
The study of this passage led me to question my students and myself — What false names have I given myself? What sins have I allowed to define me? Who does God say that I am? I think if we can be honest with God about how we see ourselves and the faults we are living in, then he can rename us, too, just like Jacob. I love what he sees in a scoundrel like Jacob. I love that he could see beyond my faults to who I really am, to who he made me to be. So often we listen to so many other voices to figure out who we are. And we hear so many other names: failure, unloved, terrible mother, not a good friend, unattractive, unwanted, not smart enough, not good enough. The list goes on and on. We call ourselves these things. But what has God spoken over you and me? Loved, wanted, beautiful masterpiece, created for a purpose, overcomer. I want to choose these names for myself. I want to live under these beautiful identities rather than letting my sins and the sins of others define me. I choose to let God name me.