The Identity Property of Addition, Multiplication, and Me!


“The idea behind the identity property, regardless of whether you’re adding or multiplying, is that you can do something to a number and its value won’t change.”  So say the authorities on  And so say the elementary teachers at my kids’ school!  I have a child in sixth grade, one in fourth, and one in second…and I know at least one of them, quite possibly two, and maybe even all three(!), have learned about the Identity Property of both addition and multiplication.  We’ve been at this elementary thing for so long now that I really have no idea which of them has learned it for sure, or in what grade it is taught, but I know that at some point in the past seven years I’ve helped with homework problems that required an awareness of the Identity Property!  If you have not been exposed to it recently, by the way, in “elementary terms,” it simply states that any number plus zero still equals that number (x + 0 = x), or that any number times one still equals that number (n x 1 = n).  Or as stated above, “you can do something to a number and its value won’t change.”

That seems straightforward enough, doesn’t it?  Even rather obvious, to those of us who know any math beyond the most basic.  You can do something (i.e., add 0 or multiply by 1) to a number, and it will not change its intrinsic value.  The Identity Property of Addition, and of Multiplication.

But what about me?  Do I have an “Identity Property”?  Is there an “Identity Property of Deb?”  I’m thinking there just might be….

That may seem like a strange question to ask–and I suppose it is!–but I know that part of what I have struggled with throughout this experience with fatigue is my identity.**  And somehow, I stumbled across the above definition of the Identity property…and I was struck by a hidden (or maybe just unintended?!) depth and unexpected relevance to my experience….  Bear with me.  🙂

**It is not uncommon, I know, to deal with issues of identity in the face of a significant life event, whether good or bad, temporary or permanent, individual or communal, and my experience, in this respect, has not been unique by any measure.  But it has been mine…and only from that experience do I write.

Identity.  As I look back on my life prior to this experience, I am struck by how much fulfillment I have found in “being helpful.”  I would be inclined to say, in fact, that that has been one of the foundations of my identity for much of my life.  [Perhaps “being helpful” has been the more socially acceptable outward manifestation of my more secret and socially presumptuous(??) desire to “be a hero,” as I wrote about in an earlier post….?]  I can see it in my desire to be a teacher, my 2-year stint as a missionary after college, my work with hospice, my decision to attend seminary, and my subsequent decision to seek ordination, not to mention how hard I’ve tried over the years to be helpful to my family, my friends, and, well, practically anyone who crossed my path!  And if I may say so, I was pretty darn successful at being helpful.  🙂  And I loved it!  Boy, did it feel good….  It feels good to be helpful!  Whoever is helped is better off in some way, presumably, which is a good feeling, and oftentimes he/she/they are grateful for the help, which is also a good feeling.  Not to mention, helping people is what Jesus did, right? Isn’t that part of what we are called to do as his followers–help those who are less fortunate? give a cup of water to those who are thirsty? ease one another’s burdens?…. Those were the kinds of things I was wanting, and trying, to do.  For many, many years.  I wanted to be helpful.  It feels good.  It does good.  It’s good stuff.  And for a long time, it was a big, big part of how I saw myself and understood my place in the world.  It’s clear to me that being helpful was a foundational piece of my identity.

…Until now.  Until this experience with fatigue.  Until I became no longer physically able to be helpful!  It was worse in the beginning, when I could hardly get out of bed, of course, and even when I “progressed” from spending the day in bed to spending it on the couch.  Clearly, in those first few weeks, I could barely take care of myself, let alone be helpful to anyone else!  Instead, in a grand turning of the tables by the Universe, everyone was being helpful to me!  I was the one being helped, I was the one who was “better off” because of someone’s help, I was the one who was so, so grateful….

And I gratefully accepted the help.  I even was so bold as to ask for help when needed!  But I kept assuming that this was a short-term thing, that soon enough I would be back to being my helpful self, able to help others rather than needing to be helped.  I could accept the fact that I was giving other people a chance to “be helpful,” for a little while….

But then that “little while” turned into a month…then two months…then four months…and now seven months!  And I’m still not able to be very helpful to very many.  I have progressed to the point of being able to do a few things for (i.e., be helpful to!) my family–I’m chauffeuring my kids around, doing the grocery shopping and the laundry, cooking supper, and a few other miscellaneous things around here–but that’s about the extent of it.  I’m no longer “being helpful” at the school, at the church, at the soup kitchen.  I’m no longer “being helpful” to my nearby friends when they need help with their kids, or to my more faraway friends, when they are going through a hard time and just need to talk.  I’m just not very much help to very many people any more.  And that has been hard.

Who am I, then?  What value do I have if I’m not being helpful??  Will people still want me around, I’ve wondered, if I can’t be helpful?  At church?  At the school?  Will I be judged–and found lacking–because I’m not being helpful?  Will my friends still want to be my friends if I continue to be unable to help them when they need help?  And what about God?….How does God feel about me, in my current state of “not-being-helpful-ness”??  Can I still claim to be a committed follower of Jesus when my ability to be helpful is so doggone limited??

And here is where the Identity Property of Deb comes in.  🙂  Remember the definition?  Probably not–that was quite a while ago….  🙂  “You can do something to a number and its value won’t change.”  Or in my case, “you can do something to Deb, and her value won’t change.”  My value, I am learning more and more deeply, is not dependent on whether I am being helpful or not.  My worth, I continue to be reminded, time and time again, does not depend on how much I can do–or how much is done to me!  My identity cannot be found in either my being helpful or being helped.  Those things come and go.  I do them, I don’t do them.  The sun shines, the storm rages.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  But none of it changes my intrinsic value.  None of that changes my inborn worth.  None of that, nor anything else, changes my identity, who I am at my very core…

…which is truly and deeply and solely to be found in being a beloved child of God.  That is who I am, whether I am being helpful or not.  That is who I am, fatigue or no fatigue.  That is who I am, whom I always have been, and whom I will forever be.

Something can be done to me–anything–good, bad, large, small, cause for celebration or heartache–and it won’t change my value.  Ever.

God is forever whispering in my soul, “You are my Beloved, no matter what you do or don’t do, no matter how many people you help or don’t help, no matter whether you succeed or fail in the eyes of the world.  No matter what, your value won’t change.  No matter what, you are my Beloved!”   

That is my identity.

Thanks be to God!  🙂





5 thoughts on “The Identity Property of Addition, Multiplication, and Me!

  1. patslentz

    This is a lesson I still struggle with, primarily because I had a much less supportive husband in 1998. Primarily because I was taught to value myself based on what I could do and give. I’m so proud of you! 🙂

    • Thanks, Pat. I suspect that many–if not most–people in our country struggle with this idea…. To have an intrinsic worth that is not based on what we can do or make or give or produce? That’s practically un-American! 🙂 It’s not an easy truth to grasp…and even once grasped, it’s not easy to hang on to! But we keep trying….yes? Thanks for reading my posts, Pat. 🙂

  2. hbonaviahbonavia

    I am truly enjoying reading your posts, Deb, having received the information and “clearance” to do so from your mom recently. All you express in this one rings true but one other aspect of this paradox strikes me. Because of your current health problems, you are offering others the opportunity to help and give to you. As I know you recognize, it is actually more difficult and more humbling to be the recipient rather than the provider of that help. Perhaps that is the role God has chosen for you now, because He knows you are strong enough to be that person.

    • Hi, Mrs. Bonavia!! So good to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to read my posts–that’s no small commitment! 🙂 And I appreciate you lifting up the idea that I am “being helpful” by needing to be helped! That’s not exactly what you said, but it seems like that’s the idea…. I do believe in, and trust in, the “give and take” of the Universe, that there is a time for both, and a balance to be found if we allow it to happen as and when it needs to. Perhaps, in fact, giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin–in receiving support and help from others, I am giving them the opportunity to be helpful; while they, in giving me assistance, are being receptive to an opportunity to be generous with some part of themselves……??? 🙂 See, I can’t even be brief in a reply to a comment!! 🙂 Please tell Jenny hello for me! And thank you again for your interest in my blog, and my well-being!

      • hbonaviahbonavia

        Actually, Deb, that is exactly what I meant to say (whether I was clear about it or not!). I am sure that Jenny will be interested in your comments when I let her know how to access them. Of course, we all hope for the improvement in your health that you are waiting for.

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