A year ago, about six months after our move to Connecticut, loneliness pressed down on my torso as if I had donned a vest padded with weights. It came as a result of a series of conversations in which every person I talked to referred to me as a wife or a mother. I am both a wife and a mother, but I am also a writer and a thinker and someone who loves to discuss ideas and take walks with friends and read novels. Being known only as a wife and a mother felt like a straitjacket, immobilizing me. Being known by everyone only in part made me feel unknown altogether.
I wonder if transitions always bring up this sense of constrained loneliness—moving to a new community, starting a new school or a new job, starting a new phase of life. Going from being pregnant to being a mother, or from married to divorced, or becoming an empty nester. Or maybe it even feels this way when life looks the same as it always has but everyone else seems to have moved on.
The thought that came to mind for me that day was, "Wait a second, my identity isn't in my kids or in my husband. But it's not in my writing or reading novels or taking walks either. It's in Christ. Or at least it's supposed to be in Christ. Whatever that means."
But honestly, as much as I have tossed around that phrase—"my identity is in Christ"—for years, the reminder that my identity is in Christ didn't help me get out of feeling lost or lonely at all.
In the same time frame, I spoke with a friend who was diligently working, day after day, in a job she really didn't like. She said, "I know my identity is in Christ and it's not in what I do, but I still feel pretty despondent most of the time."
I knew what she meant. And I said, "Perhaps it is because your identity is in Christ that you are feeling so despondent." Perhaps when we are in jobs that don't use our gifts, when we aren't known by anyone around us in the fullness of our being, perhaps our sense of loneliness or despondency arises from that very same identity that can offer us comfort and hope and peace.
So what does it mean that my identity is in Christ? I'm starting to think it means that because Jesus is my source of meaning and purpose I can discover my true identity. My true identity begins and ends as God's beloved one. But from there, I live as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a writer.
My identity in Christ frees me from needing to prove anything through work. But it also frees me to get to work, to serve and love others out of the gifts God has given me. To feel a holy despondency when I can't serve and love others out of those gifts. To feel a holy loneliness when few others know me fully. And somehow, to learn contentment even in the midst of those seasons, trusting that the one who knows me fully will be with me always.