Identity is what defines you. It’s where you find your value, the very essence of your worth. It’s a concrete state of being. It is not a passing quality or characteristic, but rather, identity is who you will always be.
Growing up, I was given a false concept of my identity as a woman. I was well loved, cared for, and protected. I was taught that my responsibilities in the church and in the world were to love God, get married, have kids, and obey. Obey God, obey my father, obey my elders, and obey my husband.
For many years, I never questioned any of this. I never wondered why such an emphasis was placed on a women’s submission, but men’s call to love and respect their wives was deemphasized. I never questioned what I believed or why I believed it, because I trusted the people around me. I believed wholeheartedly that the Bible was God’s word, and that the things I was being taught were solid biblical truths.
I remember feeling at a loss, exasperated, and afraid when I noticed my father’s unfair treatment of my mother. When his actions or words hurt her, he rarely apologized and in the reverse situation, when he was the one hurt by word or action, was always slow to forgive. I felt frustrated because, I’d been told, it didn’t matter. A wife should always submit to her husband, even if he’s being unreasonable, even if he’s wrong. As long as he’s not asking her to do something sinful, she should always bend her will to his and follow him blindly. God will reward her for this. She is a good wife because she has a submissive spirit. This is where I thought a woman’s identity was supposed to come from.
Looking back, I see a mixture of truth and lies, good and bad, and an ever present misplaced identity–Identity = how well you submit and perform as a woman.
It’s been five years since I left my parents’ house. Five years of loss and joy, pain and redemption, laughter and therapy. And for the past three years, I’ve read, studied, and wrestled with Scripture. I’ve come face to face with a Jesus so unlike the one I knew as a child. And he’s transformed my understanding of identity.
He is so entirely God and yet so completely human. He is perfect, and yet he lovingly and willingly forgives the imperfect. He’s a rough, hardworking carpenter, and he gently calms the seas as easily as he created them. He heals the sick, eats with sinners, and calls both prostitute and hypocrite to step away from their sin and into his redeeming grace. The Jesus I know is the Jesus who gave up everything he had, to suffer, serve, and save. He’s the Jesus who gave up his will in order to complete the will of his Father.
Submission looks like Jesus. It’s not full of jokes about how women should wash dishes. Submission doesn’t define a woman’s worth; it’s simply a characteristic that every believer should display. Submission is not identity; it’s a result of an identity grounded in Jesus.
Today, I teach the Bible to a classroom full of both men and women. I believe that God has called me to do this. I’m passionate about loving Jesus and helping others come to love and live for him. But what I do does not define me. What Christ has done for me is the essence of who I am.
There are people who say that I cannot be who I am. Society expects me, as a single woman, to look a certain way, get married, have babies–be “successful”. Jesus tells me that I am reflection of him. Jesus tells me that marriage and kids are a gift, not a commandment for life and definitely not the solution for happiness. And finally, Jesus shows me that success is not defined by money, possessions, or great accomplishments. Success, according to the gospel, is found in walking as Jesus walked. It’s found in obedience to God, humility, sacrifice, and in possessing the greatest gift of all: love. When my identity is centered in Christ instead of society’s standards for success, I find freedom. Freedom to define femininity for myself. Freedom to sew intricate doll dresses, yet work with a power sander. Freedom to teach the Bible to men and women, yet love every minute I spend babysitting. My new identity is not a box or a jail; it’s an empty tomb that points me toward eternity and shows me that what I do was never meant to define me.
There is a disease of false identity throughout society, a disease that whispers to us that what we do or fail to do is what gives us value. We are surrounded by incomplete and limited descriptions of who women are and what they should do. These images do not define a woman, but are instead just scraping the surface of who Christ is. In Christ, women have the freedom to speak up in love, act in mercy, and give their lives sacrificially for their families, friends, and church. The argument about what women should or should not be doing in the world will likely go on, but in Christ, a woman can move beyond society’s prescription for her identity.
Identity is what defines you, not submission. True value is found in Jesus, not in how well you adhere to the social expectations of your gender. We need to stop preaching to women about what they can and cannot do, and instead teach them about who they are. Only when one’s identity is in Christ, will anyone, man or woman, find freedom, forgiveness, grace, and everlasting love.