We all struggle with identity—who we are, why we are, and what we have to offer. About the time we start to feel good about ourselves, something happens to leave us fully aware of what we lack. A harsh word. A wounded relationship. A mistake, misstep or failure. Then, in spite of our best efforts to get over it and move on, we end up ‘hoarding’ people and stuff at an effort to make ourselves feel more secure.
When it comes to this epidemic of misplaced identity, few people have earned the right to be heard like my friend Michele Cushatt. Michele knows what it’s like to lose her footing and wonder who she is. But she also know what it’s like to push through the darkness, to cry out to God for mercy, and to discover the miracle of a God who delivers exactly what she needs most of all.
I’m a hoarder. Not in the sense of the reality television show, thank heavens. I can’t watch that horror for even five minutes without developing hives.
No, you will not find piles of junk or garbage or trinkets clogging my house from floor to ceiling. I’m quite the opposite. A neat freak to the core. I like it that way.
But when it comes to food, I tend to stockpile. Perhaps it’s because I’m a foodie at heart. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I am the primary chef for a large and chronically hungry family. That means planning and preparing meals takes up a large chunk of each day. Not to mention multiple two-shopping-cart trips to the grocery store.
Helloooooooo, second mortgage.
Or maybe my food hoarding has nothing to do with those things at all. Perhaps, at root, it’s more about fear.
When it comes to food, I like the safety of stocking up. Not that I eat it; I simply need it nearby. Just in case. This urge to guard against hunger only increased after multiple surgeries that compromised my ability to eat normally. I’m afraid of starving without the resources to be fed. Feeding tubes and no food by mouth for months at a time will do that to a girl.
My chronic hunger goes beyond food, however. There’s a soul hunger I find myself equally compulsive to satisfy.
A hunger for approval from those I love.
A longing for meaningful relationships.
A need to know I’m doing a good job and pleasing those I most respect.
A desire for my life to count and to capture the attention of the Creator.
Although the cure for this hunger may not be as obvious as grocery store runs and cooking marathons, the fallout can be far more dangerous.
John 4 tells of a woman who understood starvation of the soul. A Samaritan with a sordid history, she met the Savior one day while drawing water from the community well. What began as a daily chore turned into a life-changing encounter.
“Will you give me a drink?” This was the first thing Jesus said to the woman (John 4:7).
She hesitated, confused by His crossing of gender and racial barriers by speaking to her. He was a Jew, she a Samaritan. Two cultures that mixed as well as oil and water. And yet He had spoken to her, had asked her for a drink. She questioned why:
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (v. 9).
He responded in riddle, encouraging her to think beyond the physical well and physical water:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water . . . Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 13–14).
His riddle must have perplexed her as it perplexes me. Living water? Water that never needs to be replenished? Thirst that never comes back? That’s quite a promise.
And yet promise it He did. According to John, the woman had five husbands and was living with a man she wasn’t married to. We don’t know much about her story, but it’s safe to assume she’d been “hoarding” relationships because her heart was desperate to be fed.
I don’t have a history of five husbands, but I know what it’s like to find my filling in lesser places. In my hunger of heart and soul, I’ve been known to compromise what is right and good to find a scrap of attention I desperately needed. The problem is the things I thought would satisfy made me even thirstier than before.
Have you ever been there? Do you know the desperation that can lead you to find satisfaction in a temporary well? And it’s not always other people that pull us from the living water. At times it’s money. Or food. Or success. Or awards. Or the next promotion. Or the drive to be perfect.
We’ve become experts at quenching our thirst with lesser loves. But like addicts who always need a bigger hit, we find nothing ever satisfies.
We need a different kind of well with a different kind of water.
And, thank the Lord in heaven, we have one.
He offers to quench our every thirst and feed our hungry souls, day after day. He is not turned off by our need, nor annoyed by our regular walks to the well of His presence. He knows before we do exactly what our souls crave.
And He promises to dish out a feast that can’t possibly compare to any other fare.
Pulling from her experiences of raising children from trauma, a personal life-threatening illness, and the devastating identity crises that came to her family as a result, Michele creates safe spaces for honest conversations around the tensions between real faith and real life.
The words of Michele’s most recent book—I Am: A 60-day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is—were penned during her long and grueling recovery from a third diagnosis of cancer during which she was permanently altered physically, emotionally and spiritually. In it, she speaks with raw honesty and hard-earned insight about our current identity epidemic and the reasons why our best self-help and self-esteem tools aren’t enough to heal our deepest wounds.
Michele and the love of her life, Troy, live in the mountains of Colorado with their six children, ages 9 to 24. She enjoys a good novel, a long run, and a kitchen table filled with people. Learn more about Michele at michelecushatt.com.
Description of I Am
From the moment a woman wakes until she falls, exhausted, on her pillow, one question plagues her at every turn:
Am I enough?
The pressure to do more, be more has never been more intense. Online marketing. Self-help books. Movies, magazines and gym memberships. Even church attendance and social media streams have become a means of comparing ourselves to impossible standards. Am I pretty enough? Hip enough? Spiritual enough?
We fear the answer is “No.”
When a brutal bout with cancer changed how she looked, talked, and lived, Michele Cushatt embarked on a soul-deep journey to rediscover herself. The typical self-esteem strategies and positivity plans weren’t enough. Instead, she needed a new foundation, one that wouldn’t prove flimsy when faced with the onslaught of day-to-day life.
With raw personal stories, rock-solid biblical teaching, and radical truths on which to rebuild your life, I Am will help you:
- End the barrage of negative self-talk with an empowering new narrative.
- Refuse to ride the rollercoaster of others’ opinions and start believing what God’s says about you.
- Stop agonizing over past regrets and failures and make peace with God’s sovereign plan for your life.
- Leave insecurity behind as you exchange temporary fixes for an identity established on God’s unchanging affection.
I Am reminds us that our value isn’t found in our talents, achievements, relationships, or appearance. It is instead found in a God who chose us, sent us, and promised to be with us—forever.