Let me paint a picture you probably know a little too well. You are going on day three in the same pajamas. You have spit-up in your hair and oatmeal dried to your shirt. Your alarm clock is a crying baby. Your meals are half-eaten chicken nuggets and opened bags of fruit snacks. You move like a robot in response to the needs of these little kids who insist on calling you “Mommy” and then you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Whoa. Where did I go?
Like most mothers, I brought my firstborn home in a lovesick haze. It’s still nearly impossible to describe the wonder and awe rolled into that feeling of holding your baby in your arms as a new mom. My entire world was overflowing with a love I had never known—so much so that the incessant crying hardly even fazed me. My husband and I experienced that most dreaded of all words in baby vocabulary: colic. For five months the baby cried and so for five months I swaddled and bounced and tried every trick in the book. But even amidst the crying I stayed in that shocked stage of amazement at the fact that he was mine. I remember thinking, “I wonder if anyone sees how crazy this is. I. Have. A. Child.” I wanted someone to appreciate the gloriousness and the absurdity of it all with me. Like, HELLO. People…six months ago I didn’t know a diaper from a burp cloth. Six months ago I was sleeping til nine. NINE!!! This is insane, I tell you.
Those were the beginnings for me of a real detachment I was experiencing from my own sense of self. I felt like I had moved into a new body and was trying to figure out how to get around in it. As a non-mom, I had gotten really accustomed to having my alone time—writing, playing music, praying. We all have those things that make us feel like ourselves again, those outlets that are restorative and refreshing. But alone time was non-existent for a little while after having kids and those outlets were not as readily available to me. Our son was almost two years old when we had our daughter. Every waking and sleeping moment of my life was spent in the trenches of taking care of babies. I learned that you lose yourself a little bit, or a lot of a bit, when you’re in the trenches. I felt like I no longer knew myself.
It sounds silly, but I remember experiencing this fashion conundrum in my loss of identity like I wanted to consult a department store sales lady: Excuse me, ma’am, what do moms wear? I no longer knew how to have a conversation with adults. What was I supposed to talk about aside from breastfeeding and Blue’s Clues? Even in the times when I did get out by myself, I felt like I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I couldn’t enjoy the much-needed alone time because it was so unsettling to be without my kids in spite of the fact that I was desperate for solitude.
I think the most difficult part of this crisis of self was in this idea of being seen. I couldn’t describe what I was experiencing to my husband because I didn’t understand it myself. It was isolating to feel myself kind of silently and helplessly drifting away from him. He married this carefree, fun-loving, happy, rested person in real clothes and all of the sudden he was coming home to spit-up/oatmeal-encrusted zombie girl. I knew the person I used to be and I kind-of-sort-of knew who I was supposed to be now. But I was stuck somewhere in between, suspended in space, uncertain of where I would land. Even though I had love and support in my life, I just felt so unseen.
The fact of the matter is that when you become a mother, there is no crack or crevice of your life that remains untouched.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.”
-2 Corinthians 5:17
As I flesh all this out for myself, I feel like saying to me: Remember that part when you stood up on the altar and promised to be true to your spouse and promised to accept children lovingly and willingly, entering into the Sacrament of Marriage and all that good stuff? You answered yes to a few things there, and at the heart of each one of those things, you were saying yes to Christ. You signed up for this vocation and tied yourself to this life in Christ. You signed up to be made new. Before I had kids, I was a little confused about this idea—like maybe God would just snap His fingers over me one day and I would be holier and shiny and new. And maybe sometimes He does that. But I think it is more likely that being made into a new creation in Christ is a process, one that takes time.
I had to lose my sense of self for a little while as a new mom because I had to let some of those old things pass away. When I think about it now, it was like being baptized in a river. You go down under the water and for a little bit you feel like you might drown, but when you come up, you are something altogether different. Life in Christ is a perpetual cycle of dying and a rising and I’m coming to see both as experiences that can linger.
In that season of detachment from my sense of self, I grew a real affection for the woman at the well in the gospel of John. I related to her sense of isolation as she went out to draw water alone. I loved thinking about the fact that Jesus set out on a mission that day to find her. I love thinking about all the ways that He has set out to find me. And when he asks her about her husband and reveals to her that He already knows her story, I don’t imagine that He was scolding her or seeking to prove anything. I imagine that He was looking at her with love, saying, I see you. I know who you are. You can’t hide yourself from me.
And there it is: the transforming power in simply allowing yourself to be seen by God. It’s the only place we can ever really know ourselves. I see, looking back, all the little threads that God was weaving through my days, threads that were holding me to Him; His ways of showing me that He did indeed see me where I was. One thread, for instance, was a beautiful song with one line that resonated in my soul:
I don’t even know myself, nothing but these cries for help, outside of You.
It stayed on repeat because it made so much sense to me. The truth of the gospel tells me that my entire identity rests in God alone Who knows exactly who I am even when I don’t. I kept trying to get back in touch with some semblance of self I had known before my life was so radically altered by these little dimples and blue eyes following me around. But, there was never any true or real identity for me outside of the love of God to begin with.“Whoever drinks of the water I shall give will never thirst again. The water that I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) Jesus chased that woman down to tell her that He had what she was so desperately searching for. I was searching, too, for someone to see into my life, to look at me and tell me exactly who I was. “I am He,” said Jesus, “You don’t have to look any further.” (John 4:26)
I recently heard a priest say that it took him a full five years to settle into his new assignment as pastor of a large parish. It felt like water to my soul because it reminded me that it just takes time to settle into something new.
Do you feel unsure of who you are and what you are doing sometimes? If so, don’t be afraid. You’re just under the water right now. And you might be there for a while, so hold your breath as best you can. But know that you are going to come up new. I had this deep, burning question in my soul: who am I? And the answer was there where it had always been—in the gaze of the Lord Jesus, hidden in the Eucharist, waiting in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, finding me where I was, meeting me at the well.
Copyright 2015 Kelly Pease
Photo: mistaken identity by Chloe Lorena(2009) via Flickr, CC.