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"What do you do?" Cooperating with God

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“What do you do?”

It’s a simple question—one of the first we ask when we meet someone new. I never gave this question much thought until my late 30s, when I stepped out of a professional publishing career and a leadership role in a Christian ministry to take care of house, home and kids. Then I discovered just how loaded this question can be.
In our culture, our identities often form around what we do for a living. “As human beings, we are quick to identify ourselves using our circumstances, how others perceive us, our behaviors, or our positions in life,” says Dr. Matthew B. James in “Who are you?” at Psychology Today. “It’s somehow comforting to clothe ourselves in these identities. But none of those are really who we are. And the problem with latching onto these identities is, in addition to limiting our growth, it leaves us lost and confused when they are stripped from us.”

I didn’t realize how much I was clothing my own identity in my career until I didn’t have it anymore.
Suddenly, that simple question became an existential one: If I'm not a leader, editor or writer, I thought, who am I? A mother? A wife? But even those identities could be taken away. What if my husband died? I would no longer be a wife. And my children will grow up some day and I will no longer have the same role I do now. So, who am I?

My transition from a professional working woman to stay-at-home mom confronted me with how much I’d wrapped up my identity in the respect of a professional career, the fulfillment of serving in a Christian ministry, the ability to make a public and marked difference in the world, and even the sense of accomplishment in bringing home a salary. While these aren’t bad things, I’d allowed them to take up too much space in my heart.

But as I cleared out some room, the truth of who I am started to become clear.  

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard reminds us that we are “never-ceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny.” At our core, we are eternal and beloved creations of God. And, Willard points out, it is from Jesus that we learn how best to live out these eternal identities—“how to lead my life as he would lead my life if he were I.”
While I knew this intellectually, I began to embrace it more deeply.  As I settled into that never-changing identity as a beloved child of God and apprentice of Jesus, I began to change and grow. My ever-changing roles in life no longer defined who I am. Instead, my life in Jesus began to root me to an eternal kingdom where my shifting roles and circumstances flowed with and participated in God’s restoring and redeeming work in the world.
But the temptation is always great to find some other identity to wrap my fingers around. Even though I know who I am, I get distracted. Instead of resting in God, I begin to chase after or long for things I think will satisfy my desires, assuage my fears or comfort my insecurities.
We must continually cooperate with God in forming firm roots in who we are and where we find our identity, rest, strength and purpose. Meditating on the Word, talking with God, confessing our fears and ways we give into the bents inside us, confessing our need for God, practicing his presence, paying attention and countless other actions—all those spiritual disciplines are ways we cooperate with God as he changes and transforms us into who we are designed to be: his children in his Kingdom.

It is easy to let what we do inform our identity, value and place in the world. But when we do that, we limit our potential to grow and participate with God in his redeeming and restoring work.  Our jobs, careers, circumstances and roles in life are seasonal, even those to which we feel God calls us. Our identities, however, are rooted in something much deeper and Someone eternal and unchanging. 

This article originally ran in the May 2014 issue of Purpose: Stories of Faith and Promise