Where do you find your identity?
I was talking with a neighbour recently whose car I had noticed sitting in his driveway more frequently than usual. I asked him, “Did you retire?”
He said, “Yeah, I got a bullet put through my head.”
Thinking that an odd turn of phrase referring to retirement, and noticing that his head was not wrapped in a big gauze bandage, I asked what he meant. As it turns out, he was given, shall we say, an incentive to retire. He was bought out and sent home. Now, he’s working on some home renovation projects, but doesn’t seem all that happy about it.
Most of us, when we engage in conversation with another person for the first time, ask one common question after learning the person’s name. We ask what the person does for a living. It’s a natural question, because in our society, we tend to find our identity in what we do. And other people create their picture of us based on that information. (This is why I often tell people I’m in insurance, and if pressed, fire insurance. It doesn’t shut down the conversation as fast as when I say, “I’m a pastor.”)
Here’s a radical thought: what if we were intentional about shaping our identity not around what we do but who we are? For many of us, that is difficult, because what we do shapes who we are, whether we are farmers, fire fighters, homemakers, business owners, massage therapists or aestheticians. What we do becomes who we are.
That probably works pretty well for many people until they retire, or lose their jobs. Then they sink into a funk for a while because their identity has been stolen, signed away on a pink slip or on a pension cheque.
There must be a different way to find our identity.
How about this: to find out who we are, think about whose we are. Instead of being Jane the Dentist, or Bob the Painter, what if we chose to think of ourselves as ________, the follower of Jesus?
Don’t think for a moment that it’s too easy to do that. It involves reorienting our thinking around our walk with God instead of our source of income. That doesn’t mean we should walk away from our source of income – far from it! Being a follower of Jesus first moves our locus of authority from our job to our faith – a faith that calls us to do our jobs well, as if we were doing them for the Lord himself (see Colossians 3.23). Being a follower of Jesus first shifts our ethics toward a conscious decision to please God first. Being a follower of Jesus first stirs our thinking in the direction of living out our faith 24/7. It’s challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
If we will form our identity around Whose we are, we can come to the point of retirement and not find ourselves idle, but find ourselves in the sovereign care of the God who is not finished with us yet! We can be finished with our workaday world and begin a new life of service using our spiritual gifts, and our passions, full-time!
Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love” (John 15.5, 8-9, NLT).
When we see ourselves as branches of Jesus, the True Vine, we will grow in him and bear fruit. We are his, and he is ours. That’s an identity worth having.