I had big plans for this summer. I planned to finish my book by the end of it (which is today). I planned to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo and conquer a staggering word count goal. I was even hoping to beef up my short story resumè and create a host of new poems. This summer, I was going to solidify the label I’d given myself: writer.
But then came that Tuesday and the strange, crippling twinge slicing through my forearm, and I quickly realized that typing was not going to be an option for who knew how long. I couldn’t even hold a pencil. I remember sitting on my bed, cradling my arm, and wondering how I was going to survive.
It sounds melodramatic, I suppose, but writing was everything to me. Well, not everything, but very close. Too close. Writing is like breathing for me—it’s involuntary, and I have to do it to live. I don’t know how to process life without writing. I connect with friends, family, and even God best through words. With the ability to write ripped away from me, I felt lost. How was I supposed to encourage and be encouraged by my friends, especially the long-distance ones? How was I supposed to unravel all the questions and problems of my life? How was I even supposed to worship God?
It was the more than that, though. Writing was not just a means to relationships and refreshment. It was my identity.
If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” deep down inside I believed, “I am a writer.” Oh, I’d say a Christian or a daughter or sister or something nobler, and it would be true, to an extent. But deep down in my heart, I found my identity in writing. Who I was, my worth, my future—all of it was wrapped up in this weaving of words.
I knew it was bad, of course. I knew it was foolish to center one’s life around something that can be torn away. I’d even warned people not to find their value in anything temporal, in anything besides God. But it’s far easier to counsel other people than to actually practice that wisdom yourself.
Besides, questions of identity, of who you consider yourself to be, are hard to answer honestly. It is hard to discern your own heart and your priorities. I thought I was putting God first, but I was wrong. I was blind to the truth of my soul.
But perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned recently is that God is good. Always, always God is good. And He was good enough to tear this writing, this idol, from me and expose the truth about where I was finding my identity.
If I had truly been finding my worth in Christ, then I shouldn’t have been bothered by losing the ability to write. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have been discouraged or upset, but I shouldn’t have been so bereft, so hopeless, so lost. But I was.
I sat on my bed and wondered if I’d ever write again. It was hard enough to watch this Mount Vesuvius of life swallow up my Pompeii of summer plans in fire and leave nothing but charred dreams. It was even worse to look ahead to the fall, to the next year, and wonder if I’d be able to write then. And if so, would I be able to write about pain? The path of my whole life took a sharp turn from sunny meadows to a perilous, shadowed mountain passage. One slip, and I’d fall into some gorge of despair.
I realized with a bleak starkness just how much stock I’d put into my writing. I was a writer. It was who I was. And then I was one no longer, and it looked like it might be that way for a long, long time, and all of a sudden, I had no idea who I was.
It was hard, for a few weeks. I cried and wrestled and ached. I was horribly bored. However, the extra time also provided plenty of time for thinking. Sometimes the exercises I was doing would seem to help, and my hopes would soar. Then I would awaken the next morning to the all-too-familiar throbs of pain in my arms. Everything inside me would fall apart, and I would realize that my focus was still not right. My hope was still in my healing and eventual return to writing.
But, like I said, God is good. He gave me friends who emailed encouragement and messages of love. My real life friends continually asked how I was doing and made sure I didn’t overexert my arms. My family gave me ideas on how to fill my time and helped me research exercises to help. Best of all, God opened my eyes to all the lies I had been believing about my identity—and where it should be.
It’s one thing to realize that your identity is in the wrong place. It’s another to try to put it in the right one. I’m not sure there was one day or moment when I finally found my worth in God. It’s a process, one that will last our whole lives and that we’ll never perfect until we ourselves are perfect. But I do remember one night, after a particularly hard day.
I sat on my bed with my Bible in hand, and I read all the verses of comfort I could. When I was younger and struggled with worry, I had a long list of encouraging passages. I don’t know when I stopped reading them, but I think it had probably made me more vulnerable to the lies I had been believing. That night, I returned to those passages, asked hard questions of myself, and reminded myself of the truth.
- The truth that I am loved unconditionally, not because of what I can do, but because of who I am.
- The truth that I am God’s child, His treasure, redeemed and beautiful in His eyes, and that this is where my worth comes from.
- The truth that any writing ability I have is from God. It’s not mine; I didn’t choose it; I didn’t do anything to get it.
- The truth that God can use my writing in whatever way He wants. He can take it away from me, and He would be just in doing so.
- The truth that He would be good in doing so, because He is always only good.
- The truth that even if I never write again, He can still use me. He still loves me. I am just as valuable—no more, no less—than I was when I could write.
Maybe all of this sounds really elementary and you can’t believe that I forgot it. But often it’s the simplest things that we forget. Back to the basics—who am I in Christ? I learned to preach and re-preach the gospel to myself, and I found that there was nothing in it about my talents or what I had to offer. It was all about God and His grace that I don’t deserve, no matter how many amazing things I create, and how I am a wretched sinner and still He loves. It was all about how God wants me to delight myself in Him, not in my writing.
I used to wonder what it meant to delight myself in God, and I think one of the keys to it is this: It means that we find our identity in Him. And that means that if He takes everything away from us and we have nothing left but Him, we are content. We are joyful. Because if we truly believe that God is all we need, then we have found our worth in Him. Recognizing our worth in God requires first that we recognize His worth.
I don’t know what it is for you, what you may be finding your identity in. Maybe it’s your job or a relationship or a loved one or a group of friends or a dream or a goal or plans or some label you’ve given yourself or even some good attribute about you—if you find your worth in how nice you are, it’s just as bad as finding your worth in your soccer skills.
But I do know that the truths above are the same for everyone. I do know that you need to preach truth to yourself. You need to preach the gospel to yourself. If you want to get your identity right, you need to get God’s identity right. Who is God? Your answer to that will determine what you think about yourself.
I’ve always had the wrong view of God. I’ve always known, in my head, that He’s good and loving and all that, but I really viewed Him as some angry dictator who looked at me with arms crossed, waiting for me to make Him happy or make amends or offer Him something of value. But as I began to realize that He is merciful and loving and wants to forgive me and has already forgiven me—once I fixed how I viewed God, I realized that I didn’t have to offer anything. My writing didn’t have to be the way I proved myself to Him.
As you know, I got better. The exercises truly helped. I have to do them daily, or the pain comes back, and even as it is, it’s still there, faintly. I haven’t dared lifting weights again, and though I’ve gone back to the gym, I’ve taken it very slowly. But still, God is so good, and I am much better.
While I’m thankful for this, I don’t want to forget. I never want to care that much about writing, or anything else, again. I want to be content with just God alone. I want Him to be everything to me. I want Him to be, as the song says, my all in all. It will take my whole life, I know, but I never want to forget so badly again.
It’s funny, because a few months before this happened, I remember distinctly praying that God would be my all in all, and that He’d do whatever it would take to make it that way. Boy, did He answer. We are so in love with the things of this world that if we truly want to love God more, those things must be torn away. Though the tearing hurts, the healing is beautiful.
So, no, my summer did not exactly turn out as planned. I have not finished my book by today (though I am only three chapters away!). I did participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, but only by achieving the lowest word count goal possible. And I did not write any short stories and completed maybe a total of five poems. However, as I’ve learned, some things are far more important than writing.
Note: I’m off on a vacation to Utah (exciting, right?), so I’ll be gone for about ten days. I have preset a poem to publish this Wednesday, however, so look forward to that. As always, I’d love to hear from you as well. Did your summer go as planned? Did you learn anything during it? And have you ever had to refocus your identity?