Discovering My Identity Through Brokenness
By Shay S. Mason
This is the latest post in a series where guest bloggers share how God has shown up in the stories they never expected to live. May these stories stir you toward hope and give you a glimpse of God’s goodness. Read previously published stories here.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 3:11
I sat on the end of the emergency room bed, feet dangling, feeling like a wrung out washcloth. Before me, a doctor asked questions and took notes. I told him the truth, but I tried to avoid his eyes. How did this happen?
I never expected to be at Georgetown Hospital—the same place I’d delivered my daughter only weeks before—answering questions about whether I had thoughts of harming myself or my baby. It was the last place I wanted to be on that autumn night, especially as my husband held our beautiful daughter. But I knew this visit was necessary.
I hadn’t slept in weeks. My mind was a chaotic mess of despair and condemnation—and fear. So much fear. I felt like I was being ripped apart at the seams. Every part of me wanted to escape from my present situation, but there was no way out. Thankfully, I wasn’t experiencing suicidal ideation, but I desperately wanted to escape, to enter some alternate reality. My present reality was simply too painful.
After several hours, I left the hospital with an unsurprising diagnosis of postpartum depression. I was already certain of that before I entered the emergency room. The doctor also added that he suspected Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which would later be confirmed. I was to follow up on a psychiatric referral the next day.
Riding home from the hospital, the question rose again. How did this happen? How had I gone from being a capable, confident Capitol Hill professional to being a sobbing, paranoid mental patient? I didn’t want to be this way, but I couldn’t see a way out.
The clinical route to healing was at times frustrating. The first therapist I tried was not a good fit, and it took many months to find someone who truly offered me a lifeline each week. Throughout this time, obsessive thoughts related to my daughter’s health and safety began to take up more head space, leaving me unable to enjoy any part of motherhood. For several years, even after the birth of our second child, my life was a daily struggle to keep my head above the waters of panic.
Twenty years of healing and hindsight has taught me many lessons. What I understand now is that my identity as a young, successful Capitol Hill staffer was built on false ideals and worldly ambition. As those things were stripped away, I no longer knew who I was.
It didn’t help that I even felt unseen at church. My new title of “Stay-at-Home Mom” didn’t feel influential or significant. I wanted to be seen and heard, not hidden away at home where my hopes and dreams felt forgotten. Even at church, I was used to being drawn into conversations as people sought my political perspective. Suddenly, I felt I had nothing to offer. No one wanted to hear about my sleepless nights or piles of laundry.
God eventually showed me I had built my life around a counterfeit identity. My need to be noticed and respected came from an area of deep brokenness. No level of human achievement could fix that. Only God could provide the identity I lacked. This required allowing myself to encounter His heart by giving Him access to mine. It is a beautiful and humbling experience to be changed from the inside out by God’s healing touch. This process is as unique as every individual heart. There is no formula for rebuilding our foundation, but God knows what we need.
Please don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with being either a successful professional or a full-time stay-at-home mom. The problem comes when those are the things that form the foundation of our identity. And when a false identity shatters, it’s easy to fill in the cracks with diagnostic labels like depressed, anxious, and obsessive compulsive. But those don’t form our true identity either.
C.S. Lewis wrote with great insight about human identity:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Part of me needed to die in order to find myself. My old identity no longer served me. It never really had. And substituting my professional identity for a “Super Mom” identity wasn’t going to work either. The process of dying to self is ongoing. It is often painful and disorienting, but it is absolutely necessary. It is the only way to find lasting contentment and freedom.
True identity can only be found in our relationship to the One who knows us best. In Him we are seen, known, and loved. We don’t have to pretend. We don’t need to wear fig leaves to cover our failure and shame. We no longer have to strive to prove our worth. When we let Him build the foundation, we find a home in which we are free to be who He created us to be.
About the Author
Shay S. Mason is a Chicago-area native living in North Carolina. An autoimmune disease and OCD/anxiety overcomer, she is a firm believer in God’s healing love. Her particular passion is helping people go deeper into God’s heart. In addition to writing, Shay loves travel, music, coffee, quirky indie films, hiking, and the Chicago Cubs. Shay and her husband Bruce, an Anglican pastor, are the founders of Love Inside Out, Inc. in Raleigh and have spent extensive time ministering in Madagascar. They have two college-aged kids and a spoiled Goldendoodle. Her book Rest for the Weary: Finding Freedom from Fear in the Heart of the Father released in April 2021. For more information or to contact Shay, please visit her website, The Spacious Place, at www.shaysmason.com.
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