Friday, December 07, 2007

Identity Crisis

Our family sends a letter with our Christmas cards every year. Al, the published author, writes the letter and I, the stamping enthusiast, hand make the cards. We address the envelopes together. It's a nice system. This year, however, reading the first draft created a minor personal crisis for me. Here is my internal dialogue as I read the letter:

Here's a paragraph about our anniversary trip. Al picked a nice photo. Here's a nice paragraph about Josiah and another about Elijah. Al did a nice job giving them equal space in the letter. Here's another paragraph about Al and me. OK, here's the paragraph about what I did this year. And now there's a long paragraph about all of Al's accomplishments. I'm really proud of Al. I'm glad he put this in the letter. Wait... Only two sentences of "my" paragraph are actually about me. The rest is about "us" again.

Hmmm. That kind-of stinks. I need to ask Al to fill out my paragraph a little. OK, so what did I do this year that other people will actually care about? [long moment of thinking] Hmmmm.... Well, I, that's not important enough to tell everyone about. And I don't think they really care about all of the housecleaning, laundry, therapy and medical stuff I handled this year.
Didn't I do anything significant this year?!

For a brief time, I felt really insignificant. I was tying my self-worth to my personal accomplishments. I didn't do anything particularly exciting this year. But my value and my significance does not come from what I do. My value lies in my identity as a child of God. My significance come from God working within me, even if that work is often done in small, routine things that don't seem all that exciting.

Many things I do may not be exciting enough to mention in our Christmas letter, but that does not mean that I am insignificant. I may not have many accomplishments to report, but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything important. Faithfulness is not always flashy. In fact, faithfulness often requires commitment to tedious, daily tasks that no one cares about unless they are not done (like doing laundry, making meals and, dare I say it, praying). And in the end, I want to be faithful more than I want to be accomplished.

After a little thought and discussion we came up with a few things to add to the letter. They may not seem very exciting, but in one way or another, they are important. I'm still tempted to base my identity on my accomplishments (the things I do), but am trying to remember that God loves me and can do significant things in and through me even if those things are not exciting enough to include in our letter.


Sherri said...

Hi Ellen,

I've been reading your blog for some time, but I just wanted to delurk and say how much I appreciate this post. I, also, am the mommy of two little boys, and the doer of many quotidian tasks. Thanks so much for your remarks about faithfulness. Good for you! That is the attitude I know I should have and try (and fail, most of the time) to live up to.

I don't know if you remember me; we met one time at a Vine conference; Josiah was just a baby and we sat at the same table for a meal. It's nice to see you're doing well.

Ellen said...

Thanks, Sherri. It's good to hear from you!

Part of the reason this issue came up for me is that I recently completed a questionnaire for an acquaintance, Caryn Rivadeneira, who is writing a book on motherhood and identity. So I was already thinking about the subject when I read our Christmas letter.

On My Mind said...

Great thoughts... I have felt that way many times, and reminded myself of the same. I'm enjoying your blog. Thanks for being so real.