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Identity Issues Can Wreak Havoc on a Marriage

In the past, if you ask me, “what do you do for a living?” as most men will ask one another, you would have heard me say “I work as an auto mechanic.” But you would have never heard me say, “I am an auto mechanic.” Because what I do to make a living is not the sum total of who I am.

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I am many things, I am complex.

First and most important, I am a child of God. Second, I am Janet’s husband. After that, I am Dad, father to my three children.

But I also see myself as many other things. I am an ordained minister who has been called into the ministry for more than thirty years now. I am an ordained elder of a very large church with responsibilities to serve the people of our church as a lay pastor. I am, along with my wife, the leaders of a marriage ministry at our church called, “Marriage Builders.” I am also a writer. I’ve learned to allow myself to say that this past year from Jeff Goins.

So those are the “I am” statements that I will allow myself to make. But, I refuse to say “I am a mechanic.” Although there is nothing wrong with working as an auto mechanic and I believe in the importance of having godly people in all trades and professions.

But for some reason this has been an identity issue for me and the fact of the matter is I have struggled all of my adult life with accepting and approving of myself for what I do to make a living. And I know my marriage has suffered a great deal because of this struggle.

There have been many times this issue has caused me to be obsessed with “what do I want to be when I grow up?” kind of thinking, to the point that it would be all I want to talk about, think about, and pray about. And so very often I would put my issue above my relationship with God, my wife, and my children.

In our home we had the problem of “if Dad’s not happy, nobody will be happy.” So if I wasn’t venting about my daily struggles with work I was turning on a ballgame or some other TV program so I could drown out my stress while dreading having to face the same issue the next day.

This issue has caused me to lack vision for myself and vision for my family. It has crippled me as a leader in my own home. It has caused us financial problems. It has even caused us to lose our own business because the whole time we had our own shop from 2008 to 2011, my heart was never fully in it. I was constantly in a battle between where my career could take me and where I wanted my ministry calling to take me.

So now after all these years I feel I have finally got a grip on this thing. I have finally found an “I am” term that I can be satisfied with. And because of this one term I can feel hopeful about our future no matter what it is that I do for a living. This term is simply this, “I am an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.”

Why does this subtle shift in my identity have such huge potential for my life, my marriage, and our future?

It’s all in the word “kingdom.” All these years of my struggle I have been trying to build my own kingdom and it has brought me a lot of misery and confusion. But once I accept my role in the Kingdom of God I get to benefit in two ways.

First, the pressure is finally off of me. I don’t have to worry about accomplishments, under-achievements, regrets, status, or any other form of personal success in my own kingdom. I don’t have to worry about measuring up to other people’s expectations of me. And I get to enjoy being the person God has created me to be. I get to like me for who “I am.”

Secondly, I don’t have to live with the battle of constantly doing one thing while being separated from the things I really want to do. As an “ambassador of the Kingdom of God” I get to live out this identity full-time no matter where I go, who I’m with, or what I’m doing. As an ambassador I get to represent the Lord in the way I repair someone’s vehicle, in the way I love my wife and children, or in the way I minister to couples in our class.

Why am I saying all this?

I know from our experience that identity issues can be huge and all-consuming and this type of self-absorbed issue can be very destructive to a marriage. So I hope my own confession here helps bring this issue into the light and encourages others to resolve this issue even if it means reaching out for third part help.

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Thanks for reading. You are more than welcome to share your thoughts on this. We love to hear from you.

4 Comments

  1. 25 January, 2014    

    Jack and Janet, thank you for this post. I relate in SO MANY WAYS!!! I lived for more than 50 years with a sack over my head, wearing so many masks that I had no idea who “I” was. My inner drive to sort out the complexities of my divided identities also wreaked havoc upon those I loved.

    I worked at AT&T for more than 40 years, but my true passion was the church.
    At times, even above my family.

    I’ve served in every capacity in the churches we’ve attended except that of Pastor, from maintenance man to Sunday school superintendent to board member and elder. I was even picked as “Man of the year” in 1998. But it was never enough.
    Your phrase, “If Dad’s not happy…” hit right between the eyes of my ego… again!

    “I” was trying to build God’s Kingdom! Yeah, ME. It was up to ME!

    I, too, recently admitted to being a writer, also after being prompted to do so by Jeff Goins. Maybe we read the same article. Or…, maybe all three of us listen to the same God. Jeff said: “You become a writer when you decide you’re a writer. You’re a writer because you HAVE to write.”

    I’ve written and journaled off and on (mostly off, I’m afraid) for 30 years. I wrote mainly to resolve the struggles I was going through. As I would find a measure of peace because of my writing and searching, I would stop writing until the next time I had to struggle for answers. I’d stop writing because I’d get busy, again… Fortunately, I’ve kept my journals and most of my scribblings.

    A little over 5 years ago, I reached the end of “me”. I wrote about it here:

    http://itreallyisjustthatsimple.com/my-heart-attack/

    I was 63 years old and was desperately tired of the searching and struggling. I now call that point my “Gift of Desperation”. God began His Miracle in me. The Process began a long time before that, though. The fact I had finally gotten desperate enough to surrender was part of the Process He was working.

    Three years ago this weekend, I wrote “Discovering the Real Me”. You can read it on my blog here:

    http://itreallyisjustthatsimple.com/discovering-the-real-me/

    Part of the Process God has worked in me has been to heal me from so many regrets of my yesterdays. I spent 50 years trying to improve the outside of me so I would feel better on the inside. When I finally surrendered, God showed me it was an inside job that only He could accomplish. That inside work changes what people see on the outside of me.

    Jack, you mentioned how much you’ve struggled with the many different roles you’ve had. Me too. Six months ago, God said:

    “Jim, you’re doing so many things, trying to make sure I’m pleased with you.
    Then you wonder why it never works the way you expect it to, why it seems to
    be so stressful. I never intended for you to do all those things. Sure, I’ve helped
    you and taught you and touched other’s lives through you, for that’s what I do.
    But – that was not my ultimate plan for you.”

    “I MADE YOU A WRITER! SO WRITE! Let ME take care of that other stuff!”

    And.He.Does. In ways that continue to absolutely amaze me.

    On this third anniversary weekend of writing Discovering the Real Me, I am more content with who I am and more comfortable in my skin than I’ve been since before I became a teenager. God has taught me how much He Loves Me – “Just as I AM” He’s now in the process of restoring the years I “wasted” trying to do His work in my own way, trying to make sure He was pleased with me. Our marriage of 47 years is better than ever. My wife likes living with the new, Real Me.

    God continues to answer my prayer of desperation in so many incredible ways;

    This morning I was supposed to get up at 5:15 to drive 98 miles (one-way) to Roseville, CA to attend the One Day Summit of Celebrate Recovery. Yesterday I caught a cold and this morning was unable to go with the group. It was at the summit 3 years ago I penned the above article.

    Once again God works in His undeniably mysterious ways. I was not supposed to be at the summit. I’m supposed to be here, at ElFaro, reading your post, eating Huevos Rancheros for lunch and writing. Because God made me a writer and He intends for me to write.

    “I AM” a Writer! God likes for me to write. It pleases Him for me to write.
    Saying “I AM a Writer” has solved my identity crisis – most days!

    Seven months ago, I wrote this: I’m reminded of it now, and I think it applies -

    1)… God has designed each of us specifically for His Purpose.
    ….Let Him reveal His design in you!

    2)… Do ONE thing that fits your God-given gifts and abilities.

    3)… Do it, striving for excellence.

    4)… Do other things, but only as time allows.

    5)… If these other things interfere with the excellence of your God-designed Prime
    Purpose, those other things, no matter how good, are not God’s will for you.

    6)… Somehow, (I’m still figuring out this part of it), “People” and “Others” are the
    Ultimate Purpose for the work God does in, for, and through us.

    “It REALLY is all about THEM, not ME!”

    • jackandjanet's Gravatar jackandjanet
      26 January, 2014    

      Thank you Jim. I appreciate you sharing this comment and I appreciate your connection.
      Blessings!
      Jack

  2. 26 January, 2014    

    This was great, thank you for your openness. We can’t grow if we don’t ask these questions of ourselves.

    • jackandjanet's Gravatar jackandjanet
      26 January, 2014    

      Thank you Robyn. Openness is very important to us. Also we appreciate the opportunity to connect our fellow bloggers.
      Blessings!
      Jack

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