The following story was written by Ann Swindell, author of Still Waiting. It was originally posted on A Holy Experience.
By the time I was twenty years old, I had struggled with trichotillomania—a hair-pulling condition—for nearly a decade.
I pulled my eyelashes and eyebrows out every day, even though I hated it and even though I was desperate to quit.
There’s no cure for trichotillomania — and I had no end in sight.
Instead, I found myself waiting—waiting for God to heal me when I couldn’t heal myself.
If you’ve ever waited for something you’ve dearly wanted—healing, a relationship, emotional breakthrough, financial security—you know the vulnerability and tenderness that waiting brings.
And if you live in the waiting long enough, you also know how waiting can impact your identity.
I began to label myself as someone who was immensely broken. Because not only did I lack eyelashes and eyebrows, I also lacked the ability to fix myself.
I defined myself by what I lacked.
It may sound strange to define yourself by what you lack — rather than by what you have.
But the woman who shuts her jaws against food because she lacks the number she wants on the scale will understand.
The woman who looks longingly at the children on the playground when her own womb lacks a baby—she will understand.
The single woman who feels pangs of envy and regret every time she sees another friend announce an engagement will understand.
It doesn’t matter how big or small our lack seems to others—in our own hearts, that lack can loom large.
We all have lenses of lack that we see ourselves through.
I saw myself through the lens of trichotillomania, through the lens of lacking both control and beauty. Maybe you see yourself through the lens of some perceived failure—of not being smart enough, rich enough, good enough, happy enough, funny enough, or ________ enough.
When we start defining ourselves by what we lack, we obsess about it. We yearn for it, desire it above everything else.
We play the mental game:
What would I give in return for a better job?
What would I give in return for a size-four waist?
What would I give in return for financial security?
For a prettier face? For a husband? For a happy marriage? For an easier life?
What would I give in return for _______?
I once found myself incredulous that Esau would exchange his birthright for a mere bowl of stew. But I don’t judge him so harshly anymore. When we experience that ravenous hunger for the one thing we so deeply desire, we all find ourselves tempted to give anything in exchange for it, because we hate being less than whole.
We all know, in these shattered places of our souls, that we are made for wholeness and perfection. And those places where we find ourselves lacking remind us of how weak we really are.
They remind us of our neediness.
But the gentle truth is that if there’s one identifying mark of the Christian, it is the mark of neediness.
As followers of Jesus, we have already acknowledged our lack and our neediness in the deepest of ways—our need for a Savior, our need for salvation.
We can’t make up what we lack: we can’t help ourselves, fix ourselves, save ourselves. Only in Christ are we made whole.
And while Christ has given us wholeness and redemption, the tension is that we don’t live into it fully, at least not yet. We still feel what we lack acutely, and many of us let our lack identify us—name us, mark us, brand us, slither into our worth and value.
When that happens, we can fall prey to lies about who we are. These lies say we are worthless, less than, unlovable. They empty us of hope.
But here is the best news for us lacking, weak, needy souls: Jesus has already given us our true identity, and it is not based in what we lack. It is based in who He is.
We are His beloved. We are loved.
He doesn’t name me by my weakness, my sin, my lack.
He doesn’t name you by your weakness, your sin, your lack.
Instead, He names us by what He has done for us. He names us by how He sees and knows us. He calls us His masterpiece; He calls us His children; He calls us friends; He calls us accepted.
The truth is that trichotillomania has never defined me before God. No matter how much it felt like it did, my lack didn’t consume my identity.
It’s the same for you, for all of us, for every single one of us.
The sin and suffering that you struggle with today—your lack and neediness—they don’t define you or consume your identity either.
God doesn’t look at you and see what you lack.
He looks at you and sees His child who has been loved, accepted, and redeemed.
He looks at you and sees you whole —
though the eyes of His unchanging and perfect love.
Ann Swindell is an author and speaker who lives in the flat plains of the Midwest with her husband and daughter. She shares her words and life at www.annswindell.com.