Bailey Edwards Nelson: Identity Crisis

 I can own the fact that I am one of those “I am what I do” kinds of people. Unhealthy? Perhaps. Many have tried to make that argument, particularly while sitting in CPE group sessions. Still, that’s me. It’s hard for a first-born, over-achiever, OCD, Type A personality not to get completely caught up in what you are able to “do”. Every day is a new opportunity to produce or create. It’s another chance to be reminded of your purpose and to achieve something great- or die trying.

I have had many titles- pastor, minister, chaplain, resident (just to name a few). Different periods of my life brought with them different titles and job descriptions. Honestly, it never really mattered what they were, as long as there was something. As long as I was able to call myself something, have somewhere to be and something to do, I was alright. You see, all of these things may read as nothing more than a great professional resume to some people. For me, they read as a resume for my life.

Eleven months ago I lost my job. Eleven months ago I lost my title. Eleven months ago I lost my identity. These days I wake with no sermons to write, no meetings to attend, no lessons to prepare, no parishioners to visit, and no emails or calls to return. I wake up with no requirement of showering and putting on one of those “business casual” outfits that have overtaken my closet. I wake up with no clue when all of this will change, when it will all go back to the way it used to be, or that it ever will.

Seven months ago, I took my (then) three year old son out of school. It’s hard to financially justify daycare when a parent isn’t working anymore. And with that, came a new title, “stay-at-home mom.” Shudder.

I love my son. I love his humor, intelligence, creativity, wild spirit, and even his over-talkative, OCD quirks. He is a lot like me- poor kid. Was it part of my plan to stay at home with him? No. Was it part of my plan to ever be called “stay-at-home mom”? No. And yet, here I am. This job is ten times harder than most would imagine (unless you’ve done it, in which case you know exactly how hard it is). I thought demands were high in the office: semi-sane parishioners calling every second while trying to be everything to everyone at every moment of every day. Forget that! At least those people didn’t follow me into the bathroom!

Now I am in demand ALL THE TIME. I am talked to incessantly and asked to play ridiculous games over and over again. I’m questioned about every smell and sound that enters our house and I’m screamed at when meals do not arrive on time and in proper condition. I’m hugged and kissed and punched and kicked.

I am mom and I am never alone. For an extreme extrovert, like me, that can be a very wonderful thing–unless you’ve lost your identity. Non-stop attention is tough when you don’t know who you are anymore.

You see, I am a good mom. I work hard to make sure that my son feels loved, accepted and supported. We play those silly games and we laugh at the bodily functions that boys love best. I turn food into kid-friendly works of art and I wrestle until my body is black and blue. I read and sing and put on dinosaur puppet shows. I correct and redirect when he goes too far. I listen to screams from the time-out chair one room over. I forgive and hug and move on. I fix boo-boos and fret over head injuries (of which there are many). I do it for hours until even the moon is weary in the sky. And then I get up and do it all again.

When it comes to this job, I am far from the over-achieving picture of perceived perfection that can be seen in the workplace. Rarely do I get it right and I often go to bed feeling like a complete and utter failure. The moments that I lost my temper or used the television to get just a moments peace or went with that sugary snack because I was tired of listening to him beg…well, they happen on almost a daily basis.

But do you want to know a deeper, darker secret? This is the best I can do right now. These mistake-riddled, temper-losing sugar-pushing days are often the only thing I can muster when I wake up and roll out of the bed in the mornings. Why? I don’t know who I am anymore.

OK, yes, I can hear fellow mothers screaming, “But you have an identity! You’re a mom! There is no shame in that!” I agree. I am a mom and that is a title I would never want to lose. Heck, that’s a job description I would never want to lose.

But…dare I say…sometimes being “Mom” just isn’t enough. There are days when I want to curl up in the corner and cry (sometimes I do). There are mornings when the sound of my son’s voice screaming me to rise to duty makes me want to bash my head against the wall. There are nights when I finally sit in silence and wish I were somewhere else entirely.

Depression, anxiety, stress…most ministers are familiar. We scream about our schedules and the demands our congregations place on our time and sanity. Often, we scream the loudest about the lack of time with our families, especially our children. I know that ten hour days at church that left with me a whopping half hour to spend with my son were torture. Ironically, my biggest complaint used to be not having enough time at home with him. Now, I wait and watch for the moment I can go back to work, back to ministry.

Now, are you ready for another confession? My son can smell it. Yep, he can smell the fear, anxiety, stress, pain, grief and longing on me just as strongly as the perfume I put on every morning. He sees in my eyes a lackluster glow where fire used to be. He hears in my voice a quick snap or depressive tone where excitement and joy used to be. He notices my preference of sitting down and being quiet over my once music to the max, swinging from the chandelier approach to life.

But here is the kicker…my son has become my minister. I joked over four years ago now that he also became a “reverend” the night that I was ordained, since he was furiously kicking inside me throughout the service! He seems to be living into that prophecy. When he senses my pain, he offers compassion. Many a morning has he wiped a tear from my cheek saying, “Everything’s gonna be OK mommy!” He can tell when I start sorting through all those bills, to him just a bunch of envelopes and papers, and the stress and worry builds in my body until I snap at his requests for my attention. He moves to another room gifting me with the space he can sense that I need. And when I do return to him hating myself for what I didn’t do for him, he forgives. I get a big smile and, usually, an “I’m so glad you’re here, Mommy!” Or the days when my heart is so heavy with the grief of past hurts and losses and holds little hope for a future, there is my boy ready to heal me. He runs for his plastic doctor kit and begins a thorough check-up, promising to make me feel all better.

My son is my minister. My son is as Christ to me: loving, healing and forgiving when I need it most. My son holds my hand as I walk through this dark valley and I know that when we spot the mountaintop he will look at me and say, “There it is, Mommy! I told you we could do it!”

 

Bailey Headshot

Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson has served on the pastoral staff of congregations throughout the southeast, most recently as Senior Pastor of congregation in North Carolina. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology and Furman University. Bailey holds a deep love for preaching and the creative arts.

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