I spent the first five months of my marriage cooped up in a 750 square foot apartment watching the Food Network and HGTV all day long. I couldn’t find a job anywhere doing anything. I couldn’t remember who I was or what I was doing. Prior to the wedding, I had commenced work on a Master of Divinity degree in Texas, but when my fiancé, who lived in Mississippi, struggled to find a job anywhere near me, I took a deep breath, finished up the semester, packed my bags and moved home. It was a voluntary decision, but when I became the woman who followed her man instead of the woman who followed her dreams, I lost my identity.
I transferred schools and resumed classes just one school year after I left Texas, and soon got caught up in the busy-ness of school life. I was back on track with my calling and dreams in sight. When people asked me about myself, I had an answer: “I’m working on my Master of Divinity.” My identity as a student was restored, and I had a nametag for people to read: “Leslie Ann Jones, seminary student.”
The problem is that I graduated from seminary in December, and my nametag vanished. People give me a strange look, so I imagine, when I tell them that I’m staying at home to write. But didn’t you just finish your master’s degree? Why don’t you get a real job now that you’re through with school? their faces ask. I’m back in the same boat I jumped into four years ago, but now I don’t have the promise of returning to school to cling to.
The truth is that after spending 21 years of my life in school, I don’t know who to be when I’m not the person taking tests and writing papers. I’ve spent so many years completing assignments according to my professor’s specifications that I don’t know how to be a self-motivated, self-assigning freelance writer. Sometimes it’s easier to pull the frayed edges of my old self tightly closed around me—maybe I’ll get a PhD—than it is to try on a new self, and I’m beginning to realize how much I have to learn about who I really am.
I’m learning that I am not defined by what I do but by who God says I am. My identity does not lie in what’s written on the nametags I wear but in what’s inscribed on my heart. God’s word tells me that I am his precious child, an heir alongside Christ Jesus and a recipient of his promises. He has written his words on my heart so that I may know not only who I am but, more importantly, whose I am. I am his. He has bought me with a price and calls me by name. He was there before I was born, shaping me and weaving me together in my mother’s womb. He counts the hairs on my head and knows my thoughts, my dreams, and my deepest desires, as well as my fears, my failures, and my insecurities. He created me for the purpose of bringing glory to his name, and he has called me and gifted me so that I may lead others to his throne. My identity will never change because it has been given to me by a God who is timeless.
This lesson has been so hard for me to learn. Four years ago I thought going back to school would solve my identity crisis, but it only postponed its reappearance. I’ve always felt tremendous pressure to succeed, and for 26 years, I have gauged my success by the reaction, praise, and occasional disapproval of others, but the more I pursue this business of writing, the more I realize the danger of allowing others to give me an identity.
Not too long ago I pitched an article to a regional magazine that has previously published my work. I carefully crafted a query letter and sent it off expecting a positive reply, but the rejection letter I received threatened to do me in. Why did I think I could do this? I wondered. Who cares what I have to say anyway? Later that day I began scouring classified ads so I wouldn’t feel the failure anymore.
I almost let one little letter tell me that I am a worthless failure. I don’t know why I forget God’s timeless words of truth so easily and choose to listen to the words of a three-sentence e-mail instead, but I’m slowly learning to click delete, take a deep breath and start over with my identity as a child of the king intact.