How do you define yourself? Maybe this isn’t something you normally think about. Or you think about it all the time. If asked, you might give what you think is the right answer, such as “Child of God.” But really—who do you think you are?
Would you agree that most people define themselves like this: “I am a student”; “I am a carpenter”; “I am a stay-at-home mom”; “I am unemployed”? Yet we know we are much more than our occupations or lack thereof. At the same time, I don’t think we should be too quick to unidentify ourselves with our activities. After all, even though we are called human beings and not human doings, it isn’t possible to be without doing unless you are sleeping or unconscious.
We have been placed on earth by God to do, not simply to be. Our first parents were mandated to do things, including have lots of kids, rule over the animals, and cultivate the earth under God’s oversight. Every legitimate activity since then is an extension of these. Yeshua had no issue about doing. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, these words of his sound as if they were spoken by a workaholic: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Not only did he take his doings seriously, he had to be pretty obsessed with them to call them “food.”
However, I am not trying to say that we should find our identity in what we do. It’s only that it is pretty clear to me that we aren’t going to discover who we really are by downplaying the role our activities have in our lives. Since doing is an essential part of being human, disassociating ourselves from our activities is impossible. Once we accept that our doing is an essential part of who we are, we still face the problem of over identifying with our activities. But instead of attempting the unhelpful tactic of trying to detach ourselves from our doing, let me suggest another solution.
God mandated human beings to serve his purposes on earth. Each one of us has a part to play in the fulfillment of God’s plans. The things each of us does should contribute to God’s overall purpose. Therefore what we do is not, or at least should not, be about us, but about God. Therefore, we should be able to take our doing seriously without our taking it overly personally. My work is something I do because of who I am, but my work is not me. We should be able to step back from our work as God did with his upon the completion of creation and say, “It is very good” (see Genesis 1:31).
It seems to me that a healthy understanding of the relationship of what we do to who we are is essential to how we relate our work to others. A parent who takes his or her parenting personally will tend to mold their child rearing according to the latest trends or the expectations of others. Retailers who are too concerned about the impression of others over and above the quality of their products and services won’t stay in business for long. Medical professionals who lose their objectivity when treating patients will find themselves overwhelmed with fear and depression. People who in charitable work who cannot separate their identity from their activities will mistakenly think that donations are personal gifts rather than the funding of their work.
Being in charitable work myself, I have a feeling that I am not the only one who struggles with this. The size and structure of the organization we are affiliated with plays a part as well. If the organization requires personal promotion and personal contact with donors, as mine does, it’s easy to confuse our work with ourselves. If this is the case, we might have to more intentionally clarify to ourselves and others that the funding of our work is just that, funding the work in order to provide the necessary resources to accomplish it.
Whatever the work we do, we may all need to take a step back and remind ourselves that we aren’t what we do, but we do what we do as an expression of who we are in God and our calling in him, whatever that may be. We are not called to simply be, but also to do in serving his purposes in this world.