Identity is defined as the condition of being oneself and not another. Who I am comes from several factors: our childhood, to include our gender and genetic inheritance, our present condition, to include our marital status and family, and our future goals. Certain things about our identity can never be changed: our chromosomes, our fingerprints, but the Good News is the Real You, the inner man, can be changed—we do not have to be the same person tomorrow that we were yesterday.
I heard Dr. Laura discuss her book: Bad Childhood, Good Life. The pattern for those who have had a bad childhood is to repeat the cycle that we learned—though we may hate our parents for what they did, the natural tendency is to repeat it, because it is the pattern we know. We tend to parent like our parents did. However, the good news is we can have hope. If we had a bad childhood, we can choose to relate to our spouse and children differently. She added that success is especially possible if we choose a faith and experience a personal relationship with God, Who enables us to change.
My mother had an alcoholiproblem. My personal faith journey began because my roommate in college took me to a church that welcomed students into their homes. I saw for the first time families that truly enjoyed one each other, loving and affirming one another. I decided I wanted a family like those families! When Joe and I came together spiritually, we prayed: “God, put the axe to the root of our family patterns. We do not want to parent like our families of origin. Help us to relate to one another and to our children in a way that pleases You.” It was kind of cool, because we deliberately threw away our patterns, and searched the Scriptures and prayed to do it the right way. Sometimes he had to tell me I sounded like my mother and sometimes I had to tell him he was acting like his dad. We made mistakes and didn’t do it perfectly, but we managed to do a lot better than we had been taught.
This personal glimpse should encourage you not to recreate bad patterns. Despite your childhood, you can choose to have a good life. Dr. Laura says you can check those automatic responses that come bubbling out of your past and “manually over-ride” them.
To some extent your identity springs from your past. You cannot change that you were poor, or you may have some genetic givens that you will learn to use in a more positive manner, channeling high energy into sports or another positive behavior, taking medication to balance chemical disorders, or controlling a bad temper. My father used to say to me: some peoples excuses are other people’s reasons—don’t use your past as an excuse for having a good life. You can overcome a bad beginning, choosing to make it a reason to do better for your kids, or you can make excuses for the rest of your life and be a victim.
Gender we cannot do much about. Despite the fact that today some people choose to mutilate themselves to change their physical appearance, they will always have (or not have) the Y chromosome. Studies indicate no matter how the genders plan equal parenting, the mother inevitably ends up doing the vast majority of the nurturing and childcare; she likes it better and she is better at it. Once again, you can choose how you adapt to what you were given. You can grumble and can wallow in resentment, or you can learn how to do this mother-wife thing well.
Much of our identity stems from how we choose to use the time we have been given by modern labor-saving devices. The Scripture says “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he,” and guarding our heart is something that challenges us in the age of R-rated movies and sex-saturated women’s magazines—the magazines on our grocery store shelves would make our grandmothers cringe. What do you meditate on—sexy soap operas, trashy books, or excellent literature, historical fiction, or autobiographies that challenge you to a better life. Another Scripture cautions us about our associations—who do you hang out with: gossips who are super critical of their friends and families and speak critically of their husbands, or those who speak positively about others and believe the best of their friends. Are you associating with those who make you better?
If you are in the season of babies and your children are consuming, but that time goes quickly. (Although it seems endless now!) Think about your future choices: will you go back to school? Will you work? Will you be a leader in a charitable organization or community group? Too many mothers make their children their whole identity, and then they don’t adjust well when their children move into independence. The time will come when you are not changing diapers, wiping noses and settling squabbles all day. This is the future aspect of our identity, our plans and goals.
You are your parents’ child, your kids’ mom, your husband’s wife, but you also are who you choose. I did not choose to have an alcoholic mother, but I could understand with compassion and forgive, instead of being angry and bitter. You can complain and whine about your dirty rotten start in life and be stuck in that life, or you can choose another life: apply yourself to what you enjoy, and set goals. You develop and shape your life, choosing your friends, what you learn, and how you will respond to life’s givens. Life does not end with babies, and if you grasp that, you will enjoy them much more. Knowing this is a time-limited season of life relaxes you. One day the house will be clean—and empty. You can go to work or school and develop your talents and skills. The One Who has endowed you with them wants to walk with you throughout your life, maximizing your potential and guiding you for this life and for eternity. You will never know who you are fully meant to be until you walk with the One Who made you for particular purposes in life. I hope each one of you comes to know the love, the self-awareness, the unique purpose that only comes from knowing God.
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