Why do we identify so much with our jobs? Why do we even care about titles, designations, nameplates, bios, and the letters after our names? And why does it hurt so deeply when all of it gets taken away?
Whether it’s your part-time job, a side gig, an in-between sort of thing, or your life’s work—it’s like a punch in the gut when you lose your job, and it all gets taken away. And due to COVID-19 and the dismal unemployment rate, it’s happened to way too many people this past year.
If you’ve lost a loved one or experienced the end of a relationship, you might be familiar with the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But have you ever considered that these stages might also apply to you if you’ve lost your job?
The Phone Call That Changed Everything
11 years ago, I remember getting a phone call from my boss. He didn’t specify why he wanted me to come to his office, nor was it even a regularly scheduled time to connect. He just told me to be there that Wednesday afternoon. Now, if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit and all the ways that he had been nudging me that change was on the horizon, I probably would’ve died from worry while I was waiting for that meeting. Instead, I decided to turn my eyes upon Jesus, rather than my circumstances, and pray for the peace of God that transcends all understanding to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
“I am not what I do. My identity is not my job. And though others may fail me, God, I pray that you would be the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Even though I was earnestly praying such prayers, it still hit me like a ton of bricks when my boss told me that I was fired. I went from being a pastor at one of the largest churches in the world to a room in my parent’s house—only this time, I wasn’t alone. My wife and newborn child were with me.
I am not what I do. My identity is not my job. And though others may fail me, God, I pray that you would be the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Over the next several days, weeks, and months, I was a wreck as I found myself walking through the stages of grief. I would go from expectant hope that God had a plan behind all of this, to the depths of depression questioning my manhood. I knew that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NLT), but did I really believe that God was for me and not against me (Romans 8:31)?
The Lie We Believe
I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was using these circumstances to destroy the lie that I had come to believe—that I am what I do. This lie is fed to us from a young age. Here’s how I describe it in my book, You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love1:
As children, we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up. As adults, we’re asked what we do for work. And at the end of our lives, we’re measured by what we’ve done. It’s not surprising, then, that we believe the lie that we are what we do. It seems to be the primary way that we ascribe value and worth onto one another—and ourselves….
No wonder we over-identify ourselves with our jobs—we’ve been conditioned to do so, both from within and from without. So to satisfy both our internal craving for meaning and our external drive for a particular quality of life, we look for the perfect job. A job that boosts our self-image and also pays the bills. And if the latter is lacking, no worries— that’s why the gig economy exists. An extra gig here or side hustle there never hurt anyone, right?
Even though everything within me was shouting, “GO AND FIND A JOB. GO AND DO,” when I finally humbled myself, laid down my hurt ego, and came to God, I sensed him say to me, “Just be. Surrender. Trust me.”
Friends, if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I wonder if Jesus is wanting to do the same thing in you? I wonder if he’s wanting to use what you’re going through to break down the lie that you might’ve come to believe about work? That you are what you do? And to strip away the identity that you might’ve placed in your titles, designations, nameplates, bios, and the letters after your name?
Instead of striving for that promotion, that dream job, or maybe just any job, what if you took the next couple of minutes, hours, or days to respond to the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Friends, you are not what you do. You are a child of God and that’s enough.
1 Daniel Im, You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2020), 19-20.
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