Have you ever been asked, “What do you do?” Usually people answer it with, “I’m an engineer,” or “I’m a teacher,” or “I’m a full-time dad.” Most people assume you are asking about their vocation, and in most places I think you’d receive a response in kind.
Not where I live. When you enter Summit County, Colorado (Breckenridge, Keystone area) from any direction you are greeted with a sign that reads, “Welcome to Colorado’s Playground!” And there couldn’t be a more accurate description. People come from all over the world to play here, whether it’s camping for a weekend, snow boarding for a week, working on a ski resort for a winter, or “taking a sabbatical from real life” [literally a phrase I’ve heard repeated on multiple occasions] for a few years before reality sets in and you move back closer to home or get a real job. If you ask someone in Summit County what they do, they will likely give you a response like, “I’m a mountain biker! Oh wait, as a job? Oh, I serve tables, own a few rental properties, and work ski patrol part-time in the winter. But really that’s just to support what I really do: MOUNTAIN BIKE!” It took us awhile to identify this mindset, but now we see it everywhere. People here identify with their recreation rather than their vocation…but still with what they do.
It seems that, no matter what kind of culture we find ourselves in, we human beings will always be tempted to identify ourselves as what we do.
One question is, “What do I do?” But there is a second question, and it’s a doozy.
Who am I?
I’m a pastor.
I’m a mother.
I’m a wife.
I’m a friend.
I’m a teacher.
I’m a blogger.
I’m a preacher.
These are normal responses, but that doesn’t mean they are correct. These are not things I AM, these are things I DO. (I know the structure of the English language is problematic here, but stick with me.)
If I identify myself as a pastor, what if God calls me to step back from that? What happens if, for my own benefit or that of my church or His mission on earth, He gives me a new assignment? If I have made that part of my identity, I will be in crisis. We can see this clearly in Saul’s life—he had no identity other than being king, because I’m honestly not sure he ever knew God. HE WAS KING. So he felt threatened by God’s choice, and tried to hold onto something that was no longer his until his dying breath. How many leaders have struggled with this throughout the ages? Whether it’s on a global stage with the world watching or in a tiny church in the middle of nowhere, it’s not a pretty picture.
But what about something much more intimate, like being a mother? I acknowledge it is a huge part of what I do, to steward these wonderful little monsters God has entrusted to Eric and me. But it is not who I am. If it is, what happens if—God forbid—something happens to them and I am no longer in that role? My identity crumbles. The same can be said about just about anything else with which we can fill in that blank.
I have learned, in life and in leadership, that no matter what I happen to be doing at the time, I need to know who I am aside from that.
I am a daughter of God.
I am a disciple of Christ.
I am Leila.
I am not what I do.
And that doesn’t change no matter where I find myself—on top of the world, or in a valley. Looking like a church planting rock star, or plowing away at hard ground that no one but Jesus understands. In vocational ministry, or completely hidden.
I love what I do. I love it.
But it is not who I am.
So remember, there are two questions. And the more important is, who are you? Who would you be if your entire world shifted and you found yourself somewhere else, doing something else, in a completely different way than you are now? Would your identity be shaken, or would you dust yourself off, look around, and get to work?
Because the beautiful thing is that God doesn’t see us as anything but His child, and a powerful representative of His Kingdom. No matter what we do.