The Death of My Identities

by | May 26, 2018

I don’t have any respect for laziness.

In fact, I think it’s one of the most unattractive and least respectable qualities one can possess. I am a teacher and it frustrates me to no end when my students can affectively make it through an entire year barely lifting a finger to get any work done. Ask any of my past students what is the worst thing you can do in my class, and they’d answer: “Take the easy way out.” Taking the easy way out doesn’t grow us. We weren’t created in the image of God with God-given gifts to cut corners and find the easiest way to get things done. We should do nothing half-heartedly. Life is meant to be an adventurous engagement with people whom we love and experiences that are worth remembering. This doesn’t mean that the mundane becomes something to avoid or something to deem as worthless, it just means that laziness should never be glorified and even the mundane is something to be enjoyed and fully-engaged in.

The funny thing is, I write this from my phone, laying on the couch because I’m tired and it’s exhausting even to be sitting up right now. No, I haven’t just run a few miles or spent the day on some grand adventure. It hasn’t been a lazy day for me and that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to leave the couch.

Right now, I’m dealing with an invisible and unknown illness and it’s slowly, but obviously changed things. I hesitate to even use the word “illness” because I feel that I don’t have the right. I can’t name it. Doctors haven’t figured it out. And there are people dealing with way worse illnesses that they can name. But I’ve learned that I don’t need a name to recognize that I am no longer healthy. I have lost my health. I have lost my energy. I have lost some of the things I love. I don’t know if I have lost these things forever, but I can say this is the death of the life I wanted to live.

I love to run, though it has always been difficult to do so. I love playing with my students. I love taking them up on racing challenges or games of knock-out. I love long hikes in beautiful places. I love kayaking and canoeing. I love working out. I love being outside and being active. I don’t like wasting the day away sleeping in or sitting on the couch staring at my phone for hours.

It started with the death of being a runner. On May of 2017 I was starting to hit mile times of 8:45. I hadn’t run that fast since middle school. I felt accomplished and excited to shave even more time off my next half marathon. The end of June came and I couldn’t make it a mile without having trouble breathing. I figured it was some sort of asthma or breathing issue that could be easily fixed and I’d be running again in a month or so. I haven’t run more than two miles since.

Then came the death of an energetic and competitive teacher. I eventually had to confess to my students why I had been gone so much. I told them that I had unknown breathing issues and confessed that I wasn’t the teacher I usually am because I was having days where I wasn’t feeling well at all. I had days where I had to put my head on the desk and virtually ignore my students. It’s still hard to not think about the fact that I totally failed this year’s students when I compare it to my first two years of teaching. I remember having special recess where we played soccer with each other. I raced whoever challenged me at field day. This year I barely engaged with my students and reacted out of frustration and exhaustion most days.

Then came the death of feeling like a good friend. I became consumed with thoughts about what might be going on with my health. I wanted to process the tests, the doctors appointments, the possible diagnosis. I stopped asking questions of my friends and my prayer life was centered on myself—clinging to God, praying for answers, asking for strength.

Then came the death of an active life. Getting out of bed was hard because I woke up exhausted and fatigued. Simple tasks of showering and getting dressed sometimes warranted a nap. I had no energy to engage in evening activities that most twenty-year-olds love to enjoy. Making it to the couch felt like the best I could do some days.

As I mourned the death of these things and wrestled with a lot of lies that never came from the mouth of God, I came to realize that all of my identities died.

It was the death of my identities, but not my true identity.

I had put my identity into being an active and energetic 25 year-old who loved to run and work out and go on outdoor adventures. I wanted to be the teacher that kids talked about for years because I wasn’t afraid to get on their level and play with them and compete with them. I wanted to be the loyal friend who faithfully loved my friends and always knew how to meet their needs. I didn’t want to be overcome by laziness or apathy. I wanted to be fully engaged and fully living this life that I’d been given while I was young enough to have the energy to do it all.

But none of those things matter.

I’m still trying to convince myself of that. And you know what else I’m trying to convince myself of? That I don’t need to be known as someone who is strong and inspiring through suffering.

I’ve seen friends walk through suffering and heard stories from afar and I’ve noticed that people are strong and courageous through suffering. They fight for the things they love and they don’t let their suffering define them or stop them. Those are the stories we love to talk about and love to share. So where does that leave me?

Do I suck it up, put on some running clothes and get out there? I’ve tried that. And it sucks. I can do it I guess. But it sucks.

Do I set an alarm and make myself get out of bed and out of the house and ignore the fatigue and pain and the fact that I’m still trying to catch my breath?

Do I keep going as if I feel nothing and experience nothing? I don’t diminish the strength of those who have been able to do that, but sometimes just sitting up instead of lying down is a victory for me. Does that make me wrong in how I deal with suffering?

How do I glorify God in the midst of battling an invisible and unknown illness?

It starts with letting my created identities die and praising God for my true identity. My true identity is a loved Child of God created to bring him glory and grow his Kingdom. I was not brought into his Kingdom because I ran a certain amount of miles, aspired to be a crossfitter, hiked beautiful mountains or hoped to one day own my own kayaks. God did not enjoy the fact that I was good at my job or good at loving people and decide to invite me into his Kingdom. I was deep in the darkness when Christ died for me and he redeemed me from clinging on to my man-made idols of what a life should be.

I am weak. I am tired. I don’t want to do much of anything because it often feels like a defeat. 99% of my prayers are just me begging God to show up in strength and energy and answers. I go to a lot of doctor’s appointments and spend a day or two mourning the news that another test was normal. I’m quieter than I used to be. I’m less engaged. I listen less than I used to because I’m distracted by how I feel. I sleep a lot. I cry a lot. I battle apathy. I fear an illness that I cannot overcome and will make me feel worse every day. I fear not being able to be active with my children one day.

That’s what suffering looks like for me right now and I’m going to learn how to deal with it one day at a time. I can’t pretend it’s any different and I won’t tell you that I’m feeling fine. I trust God, but I have no idea what that means right now and I’m trying to be ok with that.

I share this because I don’t think I’m alone and I think God made it very clear that it’s time I start to write. I often shy away from writing—something I love—because I’m afraid what I have to say doesn’t matter or isn’t worth it. But I found out the hard way that it does us no good to suffer alone.

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