Every day can be Independence Day

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

open shackles in snow with footsteps walking away
Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

I was 22 years old, newly divorced, and drowning in a swamp of self-condemnation, failure, shame, and heartache of the worst kind when my mom called with some of the best advice I've ever gotten.

She told me never to think of myself as a "divorced woman" because by putting my divorced status first, that limited everything else about the way I would think about myself. Rather, she claimed that I was a woman who was divorced because there was so much more to me than just that divorce, and she wanted to make sure I never lost sight of that fact.

In the midst of my suffering at that moment, I must admit that her words struck me at the time as nothing more than semantics. Wording it in one way or the other didn't change the fact that I was divorced, something I had sworn over and over again that I would never be. All I could see was that immensity of that failure.

And yet, her words stuck with me, long after the intensity of that experience eased.

Like most things, though, I wound up learning it the hard way.

While that divorce was hardly my first experience with failure or heartache, it was one of such life-changing intensity that it deeply affected my view of myself.

Not only did "divorced" become a prominent label I attached to myself, but I also allowed that label to define who I was. It became as much a limitation I placed on my future self as a statement about my history.

As failures, heartaches, betrayals, bad decisions, and painful mistakes piled up over the years, I continued along the same pathway, piling labels and limitations on myself at every turn.

At some point, I looked around and realized that I had built myself a prison, with these negative labels and self-condemnations and self-imposed limitations being the bars of my cage.

Surrounded by these self-definitions that kept me mired in past failures and hurts allowed no room for growth or healing or new opportunities because (just as my mom had predicted) letting those failures become part of "who I was" limited how I could see myself.

As I began to see more clearly just how small and cramped my prison was and how entirely self-imposed those limits were, my mom's words of so many years before came back to me.

I finally realized that no matter how broken I may ever feel, brokenness is not who I am. Ever.

No matter how badly I screw up (or how often), those mistakes are not who I am.

No matter how often I fail, those failures are not who I am.

No matter how much pain I am in, that pain is not who I am.

No matter what happens to me, those events do not define who I am.

Who I am is and always will be greater than any brokenness, mistakes, failures, pain, trauma, shame, betrayal, or heartache I ever experience.

Those things can only limit my future if I choose to allow them to do so.

This awareness has helped me pay more attention to how I talk to myself about myself because hidden in what seems like nothing more than trivial semantic choices are powerful seeds of future prison bars I may be building for myself.

So now when I catch myself in the wake of an unpleasant encounter saying "I am an unkind person," I've learned to stop and reword. Claiming "unkind person" as my identity is limiting. Acknowledging that I did something unkind opens the doorway for learning and growth and doing better next time.

Likewise, "I am broken" limits me permanently, but "my life feels broken right now" acknowledges a temporary truth with room for healing and wholeness.

"I am a failure" keeps me stuck, but "that thing I tried didn't succeed" leaves room to learn from whatever didn't work and come back stronger.

It still sounds like nothing more than semantics, but it reminds me that every day and every moment can be a self-declared Independence Day as I drop the shackles of using labels from my past experiences to keep them from limiting my future.

The same can be true for you.

What labels from your past experiences have you hung on yourself? Do you call yourself broken? A loser? Defective? Too much? Not enough? A failure?

How are those labels limiting your present and future? How have they become prison bars that keep you from healing and growth?

What would it look like for you to claim today (and every day) as your Independence Day from these labels that keep you hemmed in?

You are more than any brokenness, pain, trauma, shame, or failure you have ever experienced! My wish for you on this Independence Day is that you never lose sight of that fact.

Happy Independence Day!

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