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All the wrong places

Seeking your ‘primary identity’ in an idol will never fulfill you

All the wrong places

Several weeks ago, the journal Marie Claire took us “Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids.” Did you know that was a “movement”? Apparently, women all over the world are daring to come forward and speak the unspeakable. “I realized that this was my life now—and it was unbearable.” “I know my life would have been much happier and more fulfilled without children.” “I wonder if my accomplishments would have been more spectacular [if I hadn’t had kids].”

According to Marie Claire, motherhood has been sold—or rather, oversold—as the ultimate female fulfillment. If that’s the case, no wonder some new mothers are feeling life has passed them by. Ultimate fulfillment seems elusive when you’re changing diapers and weathering tantrums. But the problem is not motherhood and the disappointments thereof—it’s disappointment, plain and simple.

I don’t mean clinical depression, chronic illness, or trauma. Disappointment is a state of no recognizable color—not the red of anger, or the green of envy, or the black of despair. It’s like the glass you swirl a paintbrush in after watercolor class: a washed-out, sulky gray. Disappointment strikes everyone from time to time, such as a vacation spoiled or a tryout flubbed. But sometimes it rolls in like a fog, when a marriage goes sour, or a promising career shuttles to a sidetrack of monotony, or that child in whom you invested so much effort and hope seems to be throwing his life away. It may be one big thing, or an accumulation of smaller things. In either case, disappointment sighs of opportunities missed and roads not taken: This is your life now.

Disappointment is a state of no recognizable color—not the red of anger, or the green of envy, or the black of despair.

To some degree it’s the lot of man: As our mothers told us, we can’t expect things to go our way all the time. Small disappointments, as we learn after surviving a lot of them, make us stronger. The other kind, that damp, persistent fog, just make us cranky and querulous. How could life become such a slog? Whom can we blame for letting us down? Why so downcast, O my soul? (Psalm 42:5).

Some philosophers, like the Stoics, recognized this a long time ago: Life disappoints; therefore, don’t expect much. Certain passages in Ecclesiastes seem to echo that sentiment: What is ambition, but striving after wind?

But elsewhere in Scripture we catch another vision: of a sky full of angels praising God in the highest; of infinite glory wrapped in swaddling cloth; of a blazing, resurrected body striding out of a tomb. That story, and every story since, suggests to us that we are made for celebration, joy, and awe. The glitter and anticipation that attaches itself to Christmas hint that we’re not wrong to expect these things. But the letdown after Christmas is also a clue that we’re looking for them in the wrong place. Searching for fulfillment, satisfaction, or purpose anywhere but in God Himself is the definition of idolatry.

The first step in dealing with long-term disappointment is identifying your idols. Marie Claire is right about this: The idea that “motherhood should be your primary identity above all others” is false. Motherhood is many good things, but “primary identity” it is not, nor was ever meant to be. Such idols are everywhere, and the most excellent are also the most deceptive: sound health, happy marriage, fulfilling career, godly family life. If our failure to achieve them (or someone else’s failure to cooperate) results in settled disappointment, chances are we’ve allowed our worthy goals to steal our satisfaction in Christ alone.

That leads to step two: Behold your God! He shouldered a life of highs and lows, of heady triumphs and crushing betrayal, but never took His eyes off His Father. This was so you might never take your eyes off Him. He will surprise you, challenge you, test you, delight you—This is my life now! It is secured with Him, and it matters thrillingly; go with Him and you will not be disappointed.


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  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Fri, 12/30/2016 01:23 pm

    Uh... the article doesn't mention Trump, but when I share it on Facebook, that's the image that pops up.  Do you guys have a bug?

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Fri, 12/30/2016 02:01 pm

    We're sorry you're having trouble sharing this article on Facebook. If you use the Facebook button to the left or below (depending on your browser window size), it should work correctly.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Fri, 12/30/2016 11:36 pm

    Janie hits another home run!  Our identity needs to be in Christ first and foremost, and then the other things will fall into place as we seek to honor God in all things - like raising our kids.  There are no guarantees that life will be easy for us so we need to live faithfully no matter what comes our way.  Sometimes we experience great disappointment but during those times our faith is tested and great rewards will await us as we faithfully continue on (Mt. 25:34, Eph. 3:17-19). Always we must remember that our God is perfectly good!  

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Sat, 12/31/2016 12:21 pm

    Thank you - a much needed reminder heading into the new year.  If our identity is in Christ, then all else pales in comparison.  

  • sonjakpcooper
    Posted: Sat, 12/31/2016 01:20 pm

    Amen and amen!

  • JB
    Posted: Sat, 12/31/2016 04:57 pm

    Thank you for writing this article!

  • SarahElisabeth
    Posted: Tue, 01/03/2017 02:27 pm

    I have long told my children, "Your imagination was made for heaven so this world is sure to disappoint."  Everything is fallen.  Everything.  This realization and the acceptance of such should only serve to make us even more eager for heaven -- and unwilling to place any blame on our gracious Heavenly Father as satan would have us do when this world disappoints.