On what do you base your identity?
Most often, these days, our identity is associated with our work. An article in the Chicago Tribune (“Just can’t escape the daily grind” by Charles McNulty, February 21, 2016) argues that even today’s movies are all about our jobs. Spotlight, this year’s winner of the Oscar for best picture, is a prominent example of this trend. McNulty puts it this way:
Taken collectively, the somber message of these movies…is that we have become our jobs. “I think, therefore I am” has been updated to “I work, therefore I exist.”
Have we become our jobs?
Technology has made employees accessible around the clock. Workplace settings are increasingly open and they encourage community, which is great, but this might also mean a narrowing of the worker’s life to fellow workers. Money and status are seen as the marks of success, so we work harder, smarter, and longer.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have a job in the traditional sense that this unsettles me. I know better, but there are days when I feel like a nobody. There are also many people who are looking for work or who are grossly underemployed. What does a society that values work as identity communicate to them? And as for the retired, they are what they used to do.
Following are three truths for a more accurate view of ourselves and our work.
Truth #1: Your job is not central to your identity.
Christians have one, and only one, marker that is central to their identity: We are children of God. That’s it. Everything else is peripheral.
Through what Jesus did on this earth, by living a perfect life and dying for the imperfections of everyone else, those who receive his offer of salvation are given the privilege of living as children of God. We can take no credit for that fact; we can only be eternally grateful that Jesus did the work and we get the reward. That is an astonishing reality.
Paul, a key figure in the early church and author of much of the New Testament, had been a diligent and zealous Pharisee until he met Jesus. He was intelligent, well-schooled, and had respectable status as a first century Pharisee.
Jesus changed all of that. Paul resigned from his post as a Pharisee and became an Apostle for Jesus. Paul is known worldwide as a pastor, a church planter, a writer, an evangelist, a brilliant theologian, and by the way, he supported himself by making tents.
Paul saw himself first as a chosen and adopted son of God; not as an Apostle or a theologian or a tent maker. He couldn’t get over it. One of Paul’s masterpieces is the eighth chapter of Romans, and in it he gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a child of God:
…but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ… (Romans 8:15-17)
Our work in this frustrating and flawed world cannot be compared to our future as a child of God, a fellow heir with Christ. Imagination fails us when we think about what we will inherit, but trust me, it will be far better than any job.
How will your friends and family remember you? I hope they know that you are first a child of God.
Truth #2: God’s design for your work is perfect.
Your work will probably change several times throughout your life. My job in my twenties was different from what I did in my forties, and that was different from what I do now. I am learning that God has designed every step along the way. I have yet to figure out how it will all fit together, but I believe it will.
Moses, who by God’s design was raised in Pharaoh’s house, left Egypt at the age of 40 after having murdered an Egyptian, and he settled in Midian for forty years. Then, after Moses surely thought he was done, God called him to go back to Egypt to release the Hebrews. Moses was reluctant, to say the least. Only after God refused Moses’ resistance, offered proof, and secured the help of his brother Aaron did Moses take the job.
Moses was eighty years old when he went to Egypt and spoke to Pharaoh, and God used another forty years or so to work him into the tremendous leader that he became.
Don’t be discouraged if you are unsure of your calling at any point along the way. Imagine how Moses felt at age seventy-nine.
Truth #3: Your work is important.
Once we’re sure of our identity as God’s child, and we’re confident of his oversight, then we can concentrate on the work that God has put before us.
Jesus was a carpenter until age thirty. Can you imagine his work? If the Son of God benefited from working as a carpenter before he did what he had entered the world to do, his work was important.
Your work is important to God and to the world around you.
Too often I get these three truths backwards.
When I place my identity in my work, God gently reminds me of my identity: Through Jesus Christ I am a child of God. That’s all that matters in the end.
When I am frustrated with finding my calling, it helps me to remember that God is orchestrating my experiences according to his purpose. Rest in that truth.
And when I am tempted to give up, I remember that my work is important.
Only from a clear identity as God’s child and a perfect trust in his oversight can I get up every day and work to the best of my ability.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)