Identity – “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.” (Oxford dictionary definition).
If you had to answer the question what is your identity I wonder what you would say? I am guessing that for most of us the answer would be a mixture of family, relationships, faith, beliefs, values, experiences, careers, callings and the list goes on and on.
We build up a structure around us of different things, marriage, kids, work, friendships, sport and those structures define us. We are marked and can be described by the things that we do, the things that we like, the people in our lives – so I am an Appleby, a lawyer, Lucy Forder’s mum, I have awful taste in music (apparently!), I run, I love people, I am over emotional etc. etc. – these things make me who I am.
What happens when those things are taken away, when those structures come tumbling down – who are we then? When the things that we put so much faith and importance in let us down? When we are made redundant or a relationship breaks down? When illness comes? I know when those things have been taken away from me, when my marriage disappeared overnight, when my career suddenly and unexpectedly took a different turn I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.
The last few months have been a really significant time for me, in a really positive way, in a way that I cannot fully articulate and in ways that feel too personal to share, even for me, but as I reflect back three particular things stand out all around the subject of identity.
- I work for a Christian charity, which works with the vulnerable and marginalised throughout the British Isles. Every day at midday we meet to pray for half an hour, for the world, for those who are unwell, for those we work with, for each other – normally it is just a small group of around 6 people and those times have been incredibly precious to me over the last few months. About 6 weeks ago we were chatting and we were talking about positive thinking and how we handle the harder times in life. One of my lovely and incredibly wise colleagues made a comment about how sometimes we can stay in the valley of death too long because it becomes a safe place, it feels easier to stay there even though it is a place of pain because actually it becomes familiar. Now that comment was not directed at me, as I am not sure he even knew my story, it wasn’t directed at anyone in particular but it was like God himself had come into the room and spoken those words directly to my heart. Something pretty massive shifted in my heart at that moment as I realised that that was me, that I had stayed in that valley of death, and that John’s death and to some extent my dad’s death, had become my identity. It was like a light had gone on and I knew that that was not what I wanted my identity to be any longer – it was like after nearly 9 years a weight had been lifted and a freedom had come. It was incredibly significant for me.
- A few weeks ago I was in the pub catching up with a friend. Across the room I spied a senior partner from the firm I used to work for with another person from that same firm. All the familiar feelings of anxiety filled my heart but I manage to talk myself down thinking I could avoid them seeing me and I went on chatting to my friend. A bit later on I went to the bar to get some drinks and they walked past me. They stopped, started looking at me and were clearly talking about me – the senior of the two came over to me. He asked me what I was doing work wise now and as I explained his whole tone and attitude towards me changed and I felt like I was being sneered at. All those feelings of failure filled my heart so I just, in my head, started to remind myself I was God’s daughter, that my identity was in him, not rooted in what I did or how much I earned or who I worked for and a peace returned.
- I have always been a daddy’s girl – my dad was one of my favourite people. He was far perfect and in fact a lot of the time could be a pain in the arse but he was a lovely, kind man and a good dad. I used to look forward to seeing him and chatting with him. My dad always had my back, always loved me and was always proud of me, when my heart broke his heart broke too, no one could have loved my child more – he was a good man. He was also a fundamental part of who I am – parents good or bad have a massive impact on who we become in life and the paths we take. So when that parent is suddenly no longer there it does change you – it shifts the world in ways that are hard to explain. I have realised during the last few months that actually because my earthly father is no longer here I am relating to God, my heavenly father, much more as my daddy, I find myself referring to him as daddy and talking to him in a different way – almost like because my dad is no longer here to talk to, to support me and to love me, I have allowed God to fill that space more.
As I sit back and reflect on the last few months and the last year, which has been a crazy, amazing year of massive change I have realised that as tough as the journey has been it has bought me to a point where my confidence in my identity as a child of God is greater than it has ever been. I don’t want my identity to be in anything but Jesus, that actually it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Maybe and probably, well actually definitely, I have had to be broken to get to that point, but I am so thankful for the freedom and hope that has come from that brokenness and for those wise angels that helped me along the way!