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Losing My Identity (And Finding It Again)

Losing My Identity (And Finding It Again)

I was propelled into motherhood.

When I got married, I was only 21. I conceived my daughter on our honeymoon, literally seven days after the wedding. The shock of an unexpected pregnancy hit me like a tidal wave. I began to furiously tread water in a sea of questions. What was motherhood? Was it part of me? All of me? Not the real me?

After the first wave of anxiety and fear quelled, these questions simmered at the bottom of my soul for years. I went through the motions of faith and of parenting but deep down, I was restless and jaded for almost a decade.

Back then, I was juggling new motherhood whilst studying for an MA in English Literature. I was working. I was in school. I was a new mom. The lack of sleep and the endless self-giving began to take its toll. I also began to seriously question the power of Christianity. The theories and philosophies I learned in secular graduate school challenged my faith. Parenting challenged my character.

Two huge questions in particular hounded me over the years.

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1. Why did so many non-Christian moms in my neighborhood seem to be “better people” than I was?

They volunteered fanatically at preschool and on parent advisory council. They were ultra-conscientious about seat belt laws and composting and they never fed their children Kraft dinner (a big no-no here in the organic-crazed Pacific Northwest). In short, they were better moms than I was. If the Gospel is supposed to be this great good news, I wondered, then shouldn’t I be letting my little light shine, beating the other moms at all this and more, and having people come up to me and say “My, there’s something different about the way you mother. I want what you have.”

My reality was so depressingly far from that ideal.

A friend offered advice to assuage my mommy-guilt. She led me to Matthew 5:45, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” That’s common grace, she said. God sends rain on everyone. So morality too, is like rain. When you see goodness in secular people, know that it’s from God. He grants good gifts to all. The existence of good, moral non-Christians doesn’t discount your belief system. Christians don’t have a monopoly on morality.

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It’s actually a good answer. But back then, it didn’t quite satisfy me. It should have satisfied me, but it didn’t.

This is why: there was a hidden premise lurking inside my question. I was essentially saying to God: God, I can’t trust you if you don’t make me at least as morally upright or morally better than other moms out there.

And this premise was so wrong. The gospel is much more than just becoming a good person. It slowly dawned on me that my question, “Hey, why are other moms better than me?” was actually deeply self-centered. Pride at its root is always about how we measure up compared to other people.

The looking glass of scripture and the magnifying glass of the Holy Spirit showed me that I was emphasizing comparison; and comparison distorts my vision. Over that decade, God peeled back the layers comparison and of my sense of inadequacy. And as God unpeeled that onion called ‘me,’ hope and joy returned to become more constant companions.

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While God worked with me through that first question, another even more threatening question was brewing.

2. Why did I follow Christ? Was it only because I had been raised in a believing home?

Was I just brainwashed into this belief by my family and by regular church attendance? Was the gospel really true? Maybe it was only true for me because of my heritage? I was a young mom, thrown into new and challenging circumstances. Was I just clinging onto my culture, my heritage, an empty cultural form of being a Christian? Was my hope in God akin to grasping at straws?

Non-Christians in my secular university would argue, “Christianity is true for you and good for you in your experience, but it’s not true for me and that’s ok. You’re very narrow-minded; don’t push your views on me”.

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But Jesus’ claims to exclusivity are crystal clear: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Sit on this idea. Let it really sink in. Does it actually sound pretty arrogant? A little intolerant? No one comes to the Father except through Christ? No one at all?

All thoughtful Christians eventually have to come to terms with the idea that any one religious leader who says such a thing must either be crazy, lying, or telling the truth.

When I boiled it down like that in my brain, brutally and honestly, I had to come to conclusion that Christ was neither crazy nor lying. No other great and successful world religious leader had ever uttered such a thing. Christ’s claims were unique and bold. And they had to be true. So God gave me an intellectual answer pretty quickly: Yes, Christianity is objectively true.

The emotional resolution came much more slowly.

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Intellectually, I knew Christ was neither crazy nor a liar. But emotionally I really began entertaining the theory that secular people were better off. Secular people seemed happy and free. They could do whatever they wanted to do. They could go skiing and camping and hiking and kayaking on Sundays. I had to go to church. And honestly I really didn’t want to be in church. Work was hard. Parenting was harder. I wanted a break on Sundays, not a two hour ordeal fighting boredom with my bum glued to a pew.

This is where God not only shed light on my addiction to comparison, but shed light on my addiction to me.

For over seven years. I had been clinging desperately to a fight for my identity. I wanted to figure out my place, my role, my career, my right to be someone and to be ok. But all those questions had to dissolve. As the years passed, God gently showed me that the right questions to ask weren’t about me, but about Him.

The gospel’s greatest power doesn’t just enable me to be a good person. It shows me how much I need a savior. How much I need someone truly self-sacrificing, truly patient, truly long-suffering, truly generous to take my place, to free me from being only about me.

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So I don’t just need morality. I need a savior to save me from the depravity and selfishness and desperate need to prove that I’m somebody, that I’m better, that I’ll be ok. I don’t need a to-do list, a map or a checklist. I need a savior.

I had to see Christ. Not just know about Him intellectually, but to spiritually awaken and to see Him. To see Someone beautiful and perfect, gentle yet firm, loving and patient, kind and good. I needed to see Someone outside of myself, willing to come down from heaven and infuse me with the power to be the best version of myself possible - the version of myself that He originally designed.

Motherhood is no longer new to me. Grad school is long over. And my soul is still intact. As I look back at the past decade, I am surprised to find that God’s greatest gifts to me have not been children, academic degrees or a career.

His greatest gifts have been the ability to see Christ; to see Him, to hear His voice, to know that I am His child.

Julia Cheung Headshot Julia Cheung is a cultural analyst and journalist of relationships, always on the lookout for stories of beautiful misfits. She lives in Vancouver BC with the loveable motley crew of her pastor husband and two preteen children.  She is a bundle of antitheses, a lover of truth, a teller of tales,  a too often emotional egoist and a fervently curious anti-narcissist. You can find her online at wifeinredemption.com.