I recently found out using Ancestry.com that I’m a quarter Irish. I had no idea. No one in my family had ever mentioned Irish ancestry, just German and British. I’d always looked down my nose at St. Patrick’s Day. So I was surprised.
I’m ridiculously happy about being a quarter Irish.
This is all silly, right?
After all, nothing about me fundamentally changed. My DNA didn’t change. My body didn’t change. My history didn’t change.
The only thing that changed was my story about myself.
That’s what identity is – our beliefs about ourselves.
Even those things about ourselves that we didn’t choose.
Some facets of our identity are simply givens. The facts that I’m a 58-year-old white brown-eyed woman, genetically predisposed to short stature and high cholesterol, are completely out of my control. Some talents and personality traits seem to be in this category, too.
Some facets of our identity are results of our history and past choices. I’m a Westerner, an adult child of alcoholics and a survivor of sexual abuse, a clergy spouse, and a mom.
These pieces of who we are – our givens and our history – aren’t the important pieces, though.
The really important components of my identity are completely within my control.
The crucial, determining components of my identity are the stories I tell about my givens and my history and my choices.
What do I believe about being 58? What do I believe about being a woman? What do I believe about the alcoholism in my family? What do I believe about being married to an Episcopal priest and mothering my kids? What do I believe about my schooling and work choices?
Do I believe I was irreparably damaged by the drinking and the abuse? Do I believe I’ve made irredeemable mistakes?
For a very long time I believed that I was broken by my history. I stayed quiet and hidden so I wouldn’t get whacked again. On a good day, I congratulated myself for persevering. I found things about me to be grateful for.
But because I didn’t really believe I was strong and good and smart and valuable, I had to keep proving those things to myself and others.
Lately, though, I’ve been listening to the wise part of me. The quiet little voice, the one muffled by my stories, has been getting louder and louder. “You’re strong,” she says. “You don’t have to prove anything.”
What changed is that I’m examining my stories.
Redefining ourselves accurately requires surfacing our stories and evaluating them, keeping the ones that empower us and challenging the ones that diminish us.
Redefining ourselves, becoming who we really are, requires mindfulness, courage, compassion, and support.
I’m choosing to believe that I really am a child of God. I’m choosing to believe that I’m an embodied bubble of Holiness. I’m choosing to believe that my soul, my true self, my “undamaged essence,” is intact and shiny. I’m choosing to see my stories as self-protective fictions that I’ve outgrown.
Because underneath the givens about ethnicity and inherited physiology and history lies a deeper truth – an identity that trumps all others:
I am a unique, irreplaceable, precious, absolutely essential child of God.
So are you.
When I look at myself, my history and choices, from this perspective, everything changes.
When I look at you from this perspective, you change, too.
The St. Patrick’s Day party’s at my house next year.
(The above image is unattributed online. I looked and looked...)