What is your identity? Do you call yourself a writer? I would say that you can write, but you are loved by God first.
Your identity should never hinge on something that you have to do. Your identity should rest on what you have already been given, what no one can take away, and what is perfect and irrefutably true.
Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond:
“Your True Self is who you are, and always have been in God . . . The great surprise and irony is that ‘you,’ or who you think you are, have nothing to do with its original creation or its demise. It’s sort of disempowering and utterly empowering at the same time, isn’t it? All you can do is nurture it.”
Before you put your first word on the page, you have a very important question to answer: How do I determine my self worth?
In other words…
- Does your identity hinge on the response of others to your writing?
- Will you feel more secure about yourself if readers respond positively?
- Will you consider giving up if you don’t reach a certain goal with your writing?
So many struggle with calling themselves “writers” because it’s a murky label. Do you need to write for a certain number of people in order to call yourself a writer? Do you need to attain a certain level of success before you can claim that label? Don’t ask me if I know.
Regardless of whether you think you can call yourself a writer, I wonder if Rohr can help us move beyond these labels and consider ourselves on a deeper level. What if our primary identity is linked to what God says about us? If writing is just something we do, something important that some do more professionally than others, then the words we write or the response of readers cannot change us.
Semantically, we can still refer to ourselves as writers, but it may be helpful to remember that writing is something we do. It’s just a small piece of who we are, even if we devote significant hours to it each week. Even speaking of myself, one who pays the bills through writing each day, I have found it extremely toxic to hinge my identity on my writing.
When I centered my identity around being a writer, I endured the misery of setting goals for myself, failing to meet them, and then enduring the doubts and questions that followed. If I didn’t meet my writing goals, what kind of writer could I consider myself? And if I wasn’t much of a writer, who am I after all? Could I claim any kind of identity?
Constantly maintaining my identity as a writer drained away my joy, prompted me to spend less time with my family, and created a deep aching that drummed away in my mind. My stress and anxiety sky-rocketed.
Something had to give, and Rohr’s Immortal Diamond spoke directly to the heart of my struggle with writing: my identity was based in large part on calling myself a writer.
When I finally let go of the goals I’d attached to my identity as a writer, admitted failure in a few areas, backed off on what wasn’t working, and committed myself to what seemed more sustainable, I felt like a massive burden had been removed from my shoulders.
I had more energy to devote to my family and even to myself, to say nothing of more free time.
My identity isn’t linked to my writing—at least most days. Writing is my work, my calling, and my ministry. It’s not who I am. There are days when I still struggle to maintain those lines. When they start to blur, I can let too much rest on how others respond to my writing—even the most minuscule social media praise or criticism can swing my day one way or the other. That’s typically a sign that something is out of balance.
Rohr writes that nothing can touch you when you find your identity in God’s love. I find that both immensely appealing and extremely difficult to believe.
While I will surely feel pain, suffering, disappointment, and regret when I rest in my identity as beloved by God, the stakes attached to my writing work are now completely different. I’m still disappointed if people don’t like my work, but it’s not the same kind of dread and devastation. I don’t feel the same need to keep fighting and struggling and working.
My drive is now completely different when I get my identity sorted out before writing. I am free to work hard and to put out my best work, but there is so much less riding on the success of my work. I’m in a much better position to accept criticism and failure. Best yet, if things don’t work out, I can just try something else.
I don’t see this identity in God as a card you receive and carry with unwavering assurance every day. It’s not like you either have it or you don’t. I see it as more of a continuum. While I experienced a freeing epiphany while reading Immortal Diamond, I don’t see myself completely in the clear at this point.
As you begin writing today, this week, next month, or next year, the first thing you need to know is that you are loved by God—period. You are loved and pursued because there aren’t any footnotes, endnotes, or “syke!” comments in John 3:16. God so loved the world, and if you’re part of the world right now, then that includes you.
Jesus spoke of himself as the vine, and we’re the branches attached to that vine. So if you want to know more about who you are as a branch, the only way to look is back to the vine itself. We can’t do anything to change the vine, and so we can rest in that security and stability.
It will be an ongoing learning process. I doubt I’ll ever be done. However, the crazy thing about finding my identity in God’s love is that I’m now free to enjoy writing for what it is. It’s like writing occupies its own cozy little corner in my life. I want to excel as a writer, but my identity isn’t wrapped up in it.
I’m learning how to be free to write because I’m learning how to receive the freedom of God’s love.
About This Series
Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.
Learn More about Prayer and Writing
You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple practices you can incorporate into your day right now.