For years I told everyone who would listen, “I don’t want to marry a pastor.”
To anyone who asked why, I’d explain, “I don’t want to be known as ‘the pastor’s wife’ instead of by my name.”
I’d make a terrible Borg or Cyberman.
For years, I was defined by my relationships to people; I was one of the Edwards family, the pastor’s kid, the principal’s kid, Karissa’s sister, Krystal’s sister, etc.
In college, it finally occurred to me that I could just be “Charity Edwards.” I reveled in and flourished under that realization. I had heaps of fun finding out who I was without having to point at someone else as a reference point.
Once after I graduated college, my family and I met an old lady whom her grandson introduced to everyone as “Grandma.” He actually corrected people who tried to call her by her name. I remember thinking how awful it would be to be old and have no one left to call you by name – to only have a title that is determined by your relationship to someone else.
I so fiercely enjoy being known as my own self that I kind of secretly resent that I might have to change my name someday to my husband’s last name. Of course, my last name right now reflects my relationship to my dad, so…hmmm…maybe my future husband and I can come up with a unique last name for the two of us. (It scares me a bit that I love that idea.)
Of course, I know that I can never be entirely independent and/or undefined by other people. I’m known by the friends I have, the family I love, the coworkers I spend most of my days with. And I know I can never have complete control over outside factors that define people’s perceptions of me; that’s impossible, and I’d stress myself out by trying.
Three things underlie my desire to be identified only as “Charity Edwards” and not as “so-and-so’s something”:
- Control – in choosing what accomplishments people see, what flaws are tucked away, what cultural norms or subcultural habits I adopt or reject.
- Pride – in thinking I’m worth knowing individually, I deserve to be treated uniquely, I should be seen for who I am because I’m enough.
- Fear – of being lost in a group, overlooked in a crowd, unknown as an individual.
Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly my culture that bombards me with the idea that I should unapologetically be myself, that I’m worth the money spent on hair products, that I deserve the best phone on the market, etc. This is, of course, compounded by the fact that I was homeschooled; my mom and dad told me I was special, and there was never anyone else around to remind me that I was probably quite average.
But that’s a light-hearted, easy reason.
I – like probably everyone else ever in history – desire to be known: deeply, intimately, passionately. I desire to have someone look into my soul, know all my secrets, and still love me and want to do life with me. Not because I have a great family, or I go to a great church, or I have a couple of hotties for roommates; but because I’m me, and that’s enough. Just Charity.
And that’s part of the reason I get so impatient for my future man some days. I think that somehow, marriage will satisfy that melodramatic longing in my soul.
I know that isn’t true, though. I do. The truth, like the lie, is three-fold:
- There is someone who chose me (John 15:16); before I was even a twinkle in my earthly daddy’s eye, I was the apple of my heavenly Father’s (Zechariah 2:8).
- There is someone who has already become my identity because of my relationship to Him (Galatians 3:27), and it’s quite the most wonderful thing in the world.
- There is someone who knows me better than my sister did before she died, better than my parents with whom I share (not quite) everything, better than my roommates or the women in my Bible study (Psalm 139:1-4).
God the Father chose my identity as a daughter/follower of the King (Galatians 4:6) who paid the ultimate price to be related to me (Romans 5:8). Long before I discovered a life outside of my family, I’d already discovered a life inside God’s.
God’s son Jesus reminds me that even I were known as simply “a Christian” – if all that is written on my gravestone is “she loved Jesus” – then that is the greatest identity I could have on this earth (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
God the Holy Spirit knows me deeply, intimately, and so passionately that Jesus died to prove it (I Corinthians 3:16). He made my soul, knows my secrets before I do, and still loves me and gave Jesus’ perfect life in exchange for my wildly imperfect one (Jeremiah 1:5).
The Trinity models what it’s like to be identified by a relationship to someone else. If Jesus had refused to be known by his relationship to His Father, His life would have been pointless. If the Holy Spirit decided to “peace out,” I (and the rest of the world) would be in deep doo-doo. They each identify with each other so that I can identify with them in life and in death.
I think sometimes I see my identity as something that I’m trapped by in this lifetime; I’m trapped by people’s perceptions, mistakes I made, or bad Facebook photos. But in Jesus, I’m free to let all those things go and cling to the God who made me, loves me, and gave Himself for me.
So whether I’m forever the Blithe Bachelorette, or I take on a new last name; whether I am known by my husband’s job, or as “mom”; whether or not I am ever known completely by another person – I can live and die in the knowledge that Jesus is all the identity I need, and it’s an identity immeasurably better than I deserve.