Life Jacket Identity
When I was a little girl, I was given a bright yellow lifejacket. I loved it because it felt like a infinite hug, keeping me together. It was a constant friend and a protection from both outside and inside. It was the masthead of my identity as a little girl, the top thing on the spiraling tower of who I was. At first glance, that's what identity is. It is merely a collection of what we have done, what we have, and who we know. It is a pile--a house, full of things.
When we meet someone, we long to take them on a tour of our home. Here is the Atlas Room, full of my completed bucket lists and voyage souvenirs. Here is my stereo, with every song, random fact, and language I know. Here, notice my garage full of useful skills--my closet, my library, my garden. But, let's start here at the front with my trophy room. I keep the window open so that people can see it from the street.
We put so much thought into what color we paint the siding. Who are you? Oh, I'm the blue house with the white shutters. We put so much work into our manicured front lawn, hoping it will lure someone down our sidewalk and up onto our porch. We frame the best parts of ourselves, to the end that someone might show genuine interest in opening our door and stepping inside.
There are sacred memories, the building blocks of our identity. Remember when I saved that wounded bird in third grade? That makes me a compassionate person. Remember when I was elected class president in college? That makes me a natural born leader. Deep inside that cold foundation of specially selected memories that we polish for display are other mementos we refuse to part with yet desire to keep unseen. These experiences are cornerstones in their own right, but we would never put them up for display. They are the medals and bitterly earned trophies of regret; they are the linchpins of our guilt and self-loathing. Remember that night I considered suicide? That means I'm an unstable person. Remember how I broke that boy's heart because I was too afraid he might break mine? That means I'm a coward.
Our Atlas Room traces through all our past experiences. It records the altitude of our mountain top experiences and the countless days we spent lost in the valley. The walls are decorated with news clippings of our bravery while the drawers are stuffed full of bus tickets and gas station receipts from all the times we ran away. The stereo replays our dreams on loop, our fears echoing in the background. Our useful skills are like borrowed garden tools; depending on who we're with, the garage is stocked or empty. The closet is full of all the people we have been during our lives: the submissive daughter, the ambitious dreamer, the accommodating girlfriend. The library bears record of every word we've said and every comment and critique we've ever heard--volume upon volume piled up in that room, defining and redefining who we are based on what we have said of others and what they have said of us. The garden is full of thoughts we planted and continued to water, yet when those carefully fostered plants took over, we sprang back, surprised Anxiety had found a way into our lives. And, most importantly, we return to the best part of the house--the trophy room, the display of all our accomplishments, desperately collected from failure and fear.
But we don't really live in those rooms, not when we're all alone late at night. We live within the confining four walls of the master bedroom. We are contained between the oppressive posts of our bed, limited by the carpet's edge, weighed down by the low ceiling. There are no windows. All we see is the daunting allurements of the future, the golden faults of the past, and the shackle-like circumstances of the presence. The very center of our identity is desolate. Our interests, our skins, our ambitions--they can't penetrate this far. Deep, deep down, we are completely alone.
In that room, I'm not wearing my lifejacket. That room is the purpose for it. I wear that yellow preserver because the isolated center of my empty house makes me feel so alone. From that perspective, every other aspect of my personality is a tearful cry from that lonely little girl. The house is blue, to catch your eye. The trophy room is sparse but artistically decorated to make my achievements seem more appealing. Don't mind the barbwire along the back. It's meant to keep the Anxiety at bay, but I've noticed its good at keeping new people away too. The lonely little girl inside can't decide if that's good or not. I might feel better if other people appreciated my household, but I would only feel worse if they saw the way I was living.
To everyone else, I'm content to be the quirky little girl in the lifejacket, but to myself, I'm unconsciously the dying girl, numbly drowning in things out of my control.
I can't base my identity on the objects I have hoarded inside the four walls of my prison. I can't found my identity on my future dreams, constantly falling through, or my past nightmares, always replaying in my mind. I can't plant my identity with the weather constantly changing outside.
I am resolved: there is no safe place.
There is no place safe enough for me to unpack everything I feel and think about myself. There is no place quiet and clean enough for me to sort through all my intricate pieces. I can't take myself apart here. If I did, integral pieces would be stolen away, essential parts would slip through my fingers, and individualized facets would degrade and rust in this gelid atmosphere.
But I remember a place. That little girl, deep inside, knows how to find her way home.
In secret, she can search out the hidden parts of her mind and soul, following in the light of a flawless Guide. Pavilioned in complete safety, she bares herself to the process of deconstruction and redesign. Founded on bedrock, she releases the expectations and appraisals of her entire world, realizing she never needed them for stability.
This place has all the same maps but drawn from an entirely different perspective, His perspective. The stereo replays sweet moments from every thread of her life--my life, infinite in both directions. The garage is full of gifts He has given me--peace, joy, prayer, complete forgiveness. Golds and silks fill the closet, beautiful aspects of my personality only He fully appreciates. The library is a record of His unchanging and immeasurable Love, volume upon volume, chapter after chapter, line into line. Set specifically for me, a feast waits in the garden to the purpose that I might eat and rest even amidst the anxious hedges. And as for the trophies, they are hidden all around the house like little reminders and tributes to little deeds and undeniable truths.
Nothing there is on display. Is opinion is all that matters, and He built the house--He bought it back.
I am not defined by what I say, or what I do, or what I wear on the outside. I am bigger than my worst mistake and far more valuable than my highest aspiration. My value does not grow or depreciate based on current events or popular opinion. It isn't based on my relationship with you, or even my relationship with Him.
My identity is He.
I am His, and He is mine. Therefore, I am never without Him, never alone. I am never invisible, never purposeless, never irredeemable or undesirable. I am everything He says I am. I am everything He sees in me. I am everything He has ever loved or accomplished. Possessor of the sky and sea, I am as expansive as the universe and yet as infinitesimal as any other mortal. I am simultaneously the seed and the flower. I am dust and immortality. I am forgiven, chosen, desired, and redeemed. One birth and one death--yet I am a boundless eternity.
I will never leave this place. I am no longer confined to my cell; I am enthroned in His splendor, and if His then also mine. What do I care for house colors? What do I care for clocks and calendars? What do the meteorologic changes of personal belief and public opinion have to do with someone like me, someone so fundamentally rooted in the unchangeable nature of Almighty God.
I am so much more than the girl in the lifejacket.
I am finally content.