Wrestling with Identity

Stepping stiffly into the bathroom, turning on the light. Confronted by the wall-to-wall mirror. Having to look at my reflection whether I want to or not—disheveled hair, droopy eyes, rumpled pajamas and all.

And yet it’s not so bad. Here, at least, my hair is mostly brown, with a light dusting of gray. Some people seem to think that I’ve intentionally had it streaked, rather than assuming that I simply look my age.

I’m one of those odd-ball women who has never—never in my life—colored my hair. I didn’t want to spend the time and energy and money. My hair grows really fast; I didn’t want the hassle of having to touch up my roots every few days. I didn’t want to have to make the decision regarding when to let it grow out after going completely gray. How old would be too old to maintain a youthful color without having people laughing at me behind my back?

But now I’m facing a different, unexpected dilemma.
In my bathroom, with its old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, I don’t see a lot of gray. The wrinkles in my face don’t show up too much, either.

But every so often I go to the beauty salon. In the beauty salon, any beauty salon (I’ve been shopping around since my greatest-in-the-world hair dresser died last year), my hair looks mostly gray with a hint of brown. My face has more wrinkles, too. Must be the fluorescent lighting. The dilemma? I don’t know what I look like. As a result, I don’t know who I am.

I know how I look in exactly two locations—my bathroom at home and the hair salon. Rather limited geography. It raises the question: How do I look everywhere else? Outdoors, at church, at the grocery store? Am I grayer or more brunette? More or less wrinkled? Older or younger? Who am I?
We all have a mental image of ourselves, an internal idea of our appearance. It affects everything we do or say or think. We’re not aware of it most of the time, but it has an impact on every aspect of our lives.
When I see myself as younger, I walk more briskly, I feel more alert, I make more plans for the future. But as my view of myself ages I slow down a bit. I’m more hesitant about trying new things or going new places. I’m more aware of the hard work that it takes to remember a word or name. That’s what old people do.

Wrestling with my identity eventually leads to thinking about how I see myself versus how God sees me, and I realize that my physical appearance isn’t so important after all.

How do I see myself? I’ve got some strengths, but many weaknesses. I’ve grown in Christ over forty-plus years, but the more I mature in Him, the more I realize how far I am from being what He wants me to be. I struggle with my thought life, with my use of time, with my inability to love others as He loves them. I’m old and gray and limping along.

But how does God see me? In His eyes, I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 61:10, 2 Corinthians 5:21). He delights in my relationship with Him (Isaiah 62:5). He loves me deeply, no matter what, for all eternity (Romans 8:38-39). I am young and pure and clean.
Lord, help me to get my thoughts and self-image away from the physical, away from the temporal, away from that which drags me down and discourages me. Help me to fix my eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV). Help me to place my identity on the firm foundation of Christ, not on the shifting uncertainty of my aging appearance

Ann O’Malley is the pseudonym of a new author seeking a publisher for her memoir of suicidal depression. Her pen name comes from “anomaly,” that feeling of being different, of not really belonging, which plagues so many of those who suffer from depression. For more of her writing, check out her blog, “Those Who Weep: Not-Quite-Evangelically-Correct Thoughts on Suffering,” at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com.

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