What do you do?
“What do you do?”
We’ve all asked that question, and we’ve all been asked it. Maybe you meet someone at a party or a convention. You introduce yourself. Within our culture, we’re trained to identify ourselves with our occupation, as if it’s the most defining quality about you.
Walking around the National Youth Workers Convention this past November, I met an array of new people. Nearly every person wanted to know what I did for work. Was I a high school pastor or a middle school pastor? Was I an intern or a staff member? Was I full-time or part-time? It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with these questions. In many ways, they’re very good and serve a purpose. They represent our desire to know people more deeply.
However, our culture is obsessed with labels. I think about all the various things I could be labeled or identified as.
- I am a youth pastor.
- I am a podcaster.
- I am a husband.
- I am a father.
- I am a white male.
- I am a Prius owner.
- I am a Marvel Comics fanatic.
- I am a film buff.
- I am someone who’s been diagnosed with depression.
- I am a blogger.
- I am a (insert your political party).
The list could go on and on. And yet, even though this list of attributes paints a vague concept of who I am, none of these things truly capture the depth of my identity. However, in our flawed understanding of who we are, we grab a hold of these markers ever so tightly in our desperation to be something in this world.
As human beings, it’s completely normal for us to live with the desire to belong and to be known. Pretty much every film is centered around this very concept. The main character usually wants to achieve some form of greatness, and they go through various struggles until they finally do or become the thing they desired. They’re not satisfied with anything (including themselves) until they’ve lived out their hopes and dreams. The problem is they were already enough to begin with. We all are.
There’s not a single thing you can do or achieve in this life that makes you more valuable in the eyes of our Father. Before you were born, you were already more than enough.
Psalm 139:13-16 in The Message reads:
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.”
The Psalmist is reminding us (and himself) of where our identity truly rests. It’s not in the things we do with our lives. It’s in the very nature of how we were created. Most of us, however, seem to have forgotten that in the way we live our day to day lives.
For me, I tend to place a hefty portion of my identity in being a youth pastor. I have this desire to be the best youth pastor possible (I’m not), and because I have misplaced my self-worth in my job, I am simply setting myself up for a big letdown.
- When students don’t show up to an event I’ve worked hours on, I feel crushed.
- When my senior pastor doesn’t think I’m doing the right things, I feel worthless.
- When parents tell me they don’t want their kids in my ministry anymore, I feel depressed.
But no student, senior pastor or parent has known you before you were born. God has. And God, who has been there since the beginning, has always valued you. You’re valued not because of what you’ve done, but because you are His.
C.S. Lewis says in his masterpiece “Mere Christianity”:
“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making.”
You may be a youth pastor, an intern, a parent, a spouse or something else, but those things do not define you.
Christ has defined you. You are a treasured, beautifully made daughter or son of His whom He loves beyond words. When you fail at the things you do, remember your identity isn’t about what you do, it’s about who you are in Christ.
RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over at IAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.