A Controlling Definition.
Last night at my church, my pastor was talking about ways in which we define ourselves. He shared an anecdote about how, when speaking to a group of students, a boy asks, “Since you’re from Dallas, are you a Rangers fan or a Yankees fan?” My pastor responds, “I’m a Christian! But I root for the Mets” as a way to convey that he doesn’t define himself by the “typical” identifiers, but by something far more spiritual than a sports team.
I was intrigued because for most of my time as a diabetes advocate, there has always been a bit of heckling done between those who choose to use diabetes as an characteristic that defines them (the so-called “diabetic vs. PWD” debate).
My pastor said that people have a “controlling” definition that drives their life, their actions and their sense of self. Sometimes it isn’t even something they actually are, but something they want to be: I want to be rich, I want to be thinner, I want to be an astronaut.
You may not actually be these things yet but they drive so much of your thinking every day.
I have never had a problem defining myself as being a diabetic. I am a diabetic, just as I am a woman, a brunette and a fiancee. But I know that there are many people who do not identify themselves as being such. I am more intrigued by how people self-define in certain situations. Some people don’t define themselves by how much money they make or what they look like. Other people do. When I was growing up, it seemed like definitions were such an important part of figuring out “who you are.” There were the band kids, the athletes, the goth kids, the nerds. None of these definitions were probably chosen by any of these folks, but yet that’s how they were come to be known. Even know, I wonder why kind of definitions people would use to describe me.
How do you define yourself? I know that I have control over how I self-identify. I think many of us are preoccupied with focusing on things that are superficial. In New York City, this is ever-present. What we wear, where we work, what we do in our free time, even where we go for dinner is all wrapped up in this “presentation” of sorts, as if we’re on display for people to watch and judge just like celebrities. I’ll be the first one to say that I have no interest in the celebrity life, and the fact that I am even for a nano-second caught up in whether or not someone will judge me poorly for working a 9-5 job instead of being a free-spirited twentysomething really irks me! What I do for a living does not define me any more than whether or not my pancreas functions properly or if I fit into size 6 pants. All of these things are so transient and limited to a certain time and place that if you spent your life identifying yourself with things that don’t last, well, what happens when they don’t exist anymore? What happens when diabetes doesn’t exist anymore? Who are you without these things?
At the end of the day, my pastor’s talk reinforced that there really is only one definition that I should ever be concerned about, only one word that I should place higher than the rest, and that is “Christian.” Even though I have a chronic illness, and even though I know my hair looks best as a shade of brown, and even though I may be engaged or living in New York City or weight a certain amount weight, none of those shape the kind of person I want to be. I may not always live in New York, and I may not always have diabetes, and I may not always work in public relations, and I may not always be married. None of those things have the kind of eternal impact that being a daughter of God has.
So if someone asks me, “Allison, are you a type 1 diabetic or a type 2 diabetic?” I will say, “I am a Christian! But I have type 1 diabetes.”