The first time we bought an SUV (or, if you want to be technical, a crossover), the strangest thing happened. When I drove it I began feeling like “a real mom.”
I don’t know. I don’t know what A REAL MOM is, you guys. But when I drove my mom car? I felt like one.
We bought it not long before I quit my full-time job to stay home with our oldest daughter. My identity was all up in the air during that season, and in hindsight I realize I was grasping at every straw that might put my new existence into words I could understand. Wearing T-shirts instead of button-ups? Running errands instead of PowerPoint presentations? Planning play dates instead of staff meetings? It all added up to stay-at-home mom and yet it wasn’t something I could reconcile with my own life, with my own reality.
For some reason, though, driving my preschooler around in that car did the trick. Behind that wheel, I knew who I was, who I’d become.
Do NOT get me wrong. Every mom is a “real” mom, and no car or wardrobe or employment status changes that one way or another. I was no more a real mom when I stayed home than when I worked full-time. And I was no more a real mom when I drove a small SUV than when I drove a sporty sedan. But for a while, I was so unsure of who I was that I looked everywhere for explanations and validation.
I’m seven years into my life-after-office and quasi-comfortable in my current arrangement as part-time work-from-home mom and part-time stay-at-home mom. It does, as you can see, involve a lot of hyphens and in-between, but I’ve had time to adjust to the messiness this set-up brings. However, that doesn’t stop me from occasionally searching for ways to feel more comfortable and confident in my skin or from focusing on the outward appearance of other roles I want to play and the identity I want to own.
I’m a little bit like Spider-Man that way.
The most recent reboot of the Spider-Man story skips straight past the superhero’s origins and settles into the time this teenaged boy needs to get used to his new powers — and, of course, the responsibility that comes with them. In a misguided attempt to be just like his hero, Iron Man, he causes some major damage and gets, basically, called on the carpet by Tony Stark himself. Tony had engineered Peter’s fancy Spidey suit and, like a parent doling out consequences to his son who wrecked the family car, he says he’s going to need the suit back. Peter is crushed, crying, “But I’m nothing without this suit!” Tony is not having it.
If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”
I saw this movie last summer and haven’t been able to shake that line in the months since. Tony’s point was that the person you are under all the parts of a superhero persona is infinitely more important than superpowers and a super suit, than accolades and celebrity. Who you are is more important than what you wear, what you drive, or even what you do.
I come back to this scene frequently and think about how often I’ve felt like a fraud. How often I’ve feared that, any moment now, someone is surely going to reveal me — as less-than, as not-good-enough, as an impostor. And how often, then, have I sought assurance from the suits and tools and labels and stereotypes that I think turn a person into something special? Often.
When I feel insecure about who I am, about where I belong, I so often reach for the trappings of a role rather than the Truth of God’s word. I feel like a failure as a parent, so I tell myself I’ll be a “real” mom by reading one more bedtime story, by sticking a love note in a lunch bag, by taking a trip to the park or the zoo or the moon. I doubt my skills and my calling as a writer, so I buy another journal, another set of jewel-toned gel pens, another course on headlines or storytelling or branding. I stumble and sin, again, and wish I could be “a good Christian,” so I sign up for another Bible study, join another committee at church, and change all my presets to the Christian radio station.
As I dive deeper into stereotypes and further away from Scripture, where God tells me exactly who I am and where I belong, I start to spiral. Because if being “real” requires me to check a bunch of boxes, to meet a list of criteria? I am out of luck. I will never be able to do everything the world demands of any role. I will never live up to those expectations.
But it’s not about what we do, what we drive, or what we wear. It’s not about the suit.
Messy buns and Target runs don’t make me a “real” mom.
Coffee mugs and a MacBook don’t make me a “real” writer.
And there’s nothing I can do or buy or build or wear that will make me more holy or a more “real” Christian.
Jesus already did that for me. And He already did that for you. By taking on our sin and the consequences that came with it, He checked all the boxes, met all the requirements, and destroyed every single stereotype and assumption of what could possibly make a person holy, what could make a believer real. Only one thing is necessary for us to be real, and that is being known and loved and forgiven by God.
We don’t have to work harder to be “real” moms or writers or runners or bakers or artists or wives or believers. We don’t have to hide behind a mask or a suit or sleight of hand, behind tasks and to-do lists and titles and trophies. We don’t need accessories or embellishments; we don’t need anything to be real. We simply need to rest in the knowledge that who we are is what matters, that what’s underneath is where our value is found.
And who we are? What’s underneath? Well, friends, we are beloved daughters of the most high King, paid for by the blood of Jesus. We are perfect and holy, through our salvation, and not lacking anything at all. This work of becoming real? It is, as Jesus said, finished. We are loved. We are forgiven. We are His.
And that’s as real as it gets.