“What would you know about a healthy soul?” my inner critic hisses as I sit in front of a blinking cursor.
I hesitate. Tune in. And I hear the usual discordant notes.
You yelled at your son this morning, remember? You snapped at your husband. You made your niece feel bad when she asked for a snack. You don’t have a healthy soul…why would you even try to write about one?
For a moment, I sit slumped in my chair, deflated like one of those latex balloons six days after the birthday party.
It’s all true. I did do all those things—just today. My mind wanders across the borders of the past twenty-four hours and explores the days and weeks that have come before. Memories of impatient moments, begrudging service, harsh words, and discontented thoughts sweep through my imagination like a foul wind bearing the stench of so many dirty diapers.
Frustrated, I push back from the desk and brush hair-needing-a-wash off my forehead. I give up on trying to define ‘soul,’ because ‘that invisible inner person’ is the best I can do. My mind takes off on a fly-over of my motherhood.
Examining patterns and perusing the everyday, I notice that more often than not, my inner person feels stretched out, tired out, and emptied out. I often heft along a load of guilt, insufficiency, crankiness, and even boredom. One of these alone doesn’t exactly make for a definition of health, but all of them together? I ought to be in soul-ICU. The critic, whom I’ve named Gladys—like a stray cat who has come around too often; she seemed entitled to a name—is right. My soul isn’t healthy.
As if the weight of my shortcomings was not already enough, shame rises up like a river after rain. I hear the sound of the heating unit kick on through the walls, and rehearse the state of gratefulness I ought to live in. Idle scroll on social media points out the daily pain other mothers live with as their children battle chronic sickness or difficult diagnoses. Despair, Gladys’s favorite friend, twirls into the hallway of my heart, ready to waltz me through a choreographed dance of defeatism.
I sigh, exhaling an air that feels stale and familiar. This is the moment of sinking down into a colorless sea of painful introspection and self-flagellation, from which I may not emerge for days. Guilt is the disease that pervades my soul.
But then I recall something. Ann Voskamp has said remembering re-members us…it’s how all the broken pieces can be put back together again. I sit up a little, recognizing a thought that can only be described as a lifeline. I grab onto it. No, I don’t want to drown today.
This is the thought: the things that I do are not my identity. No more than the dirty diapers that my son produces are his.
I stare at the computer screen, chewing on my lip. Gladys’s yammering fades into the background as I sink into this truth, letting it settle over me.
I tend to believe that my behavior is indeed my identity. Our society measures worth by the ability to perform. Most of us grow up in communities, churches, religions, schools, and even families that honor or shame us based on our behavior. I’ve done it with my own child.
But it’s indefensible: if our behavior could define our worth, then our worth as a person would fluctuate on a daily basis. If my behavior doesn’t define me, what does?
Gently, like morning sunshine melting through the trees and coming to rest on my crumb-crusted kitchen table, truth shows up, points me in the way, and resurrects life in my soul.
For I remember my identity is defined by Christ himself. Speaking to his disciples, he said, “You will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20) Our inheritance and our belonging through Jesus are written all over the New Testament, not in the future tense, but also here and now.
The health of my soul is not defined by how well I am performing at motherhood or how thoroughly I am failing at it. The health of my soul is defined by my relationship with Jesus. And that does not mean how well I’m keeping up with a Bible reading plan, if I remember to pray over the food before snacktime, or if I’m sitting through a church service every single week. It means simply that I belong to him, the way my kid belongs to me.
My shoulders relax a bit. Absently, I pick at the crumbs stuck to my pants, memorials to a little person who has long believed the reason I wear clothes is so he can wipe his face on them. I keep mulling this over.
I believe I am God’s child through Jesus and this is a fact, not a changeable circumstance. If this is the definition of my soul’s health, it follows that my soul’s health is not in a state of flux because my relationship itself is not and never has been dependent on me, but on him.
Why then do I act—and feel—so unhealthy?
I tend to believe that I can only identify myself with Jesus when I’m doing everything right. Yet I am told, over and over, by both scripture and my daily lack of success, this is an unattainable goal.
Maybe it’s not about getting it right, I hear whispered within. Maybe it’s about believing that being right or wrong is secondary to what I believe about belonging to Christ.
My little one is stirring in the next room, and I need to start thinking about dinner prep. But I keep sitting, fascinated by the gospel unfolding before me.
When I am parenting at my best, I do not define my child by the less-than-ideal behaviors he exhibits, or the poor choices he makes. All of those remain peripheral to his identity as my cherished, beloved son. How much more does a good and beautiful Father respond that way to me?
Just grabbing hold of that rope of hope can make all the difference to my sinking mom-heart about to disappear into a sea of guilt.
I shut my eyes and drink in truth, quenching a thirst I didn’t know I had. I cannot measure the health of my soul primarily by the sweetness of my disposition, the generosity of my actions, or the success I experience while navigating my relationships. Instead, I can gauge the health of my soul by how fully I am embracing my identity in Christ.
Gladys is all about my actions, and failures. But Grace is all about my identity, and my Friend, Jesus.
I think there’s something to write now.
Featured image by Hill Smiley Photography
Amanda Dzimianski is a Christ-follower who is passionate about living into her identity in Jesus and helping others to do the same. Her roles include being a wife, a mom, a writer, a question-ask-er, a convalescing productivity addict, and a recovering Pharisee. Life today is one big experiment, as she embraces community centered around God, guesses her way through parenting, and creates as an act of worship. She and her husband and two-year-old son live in northeast Georgia, where she writes during nap time, stays up too late reading, and is trying to learn to like cold coffee. You can visit with her via Facebook, Instagram or occasional newsletters.
Our community is embarking on a challenge we hope will bring some peace to your busy-mama life! Join us for the Peaceful Home Challenge. Want in? Sign up to take the challenge here!