Tuesday, May 18, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (4) identity

January 2008. It's our summer holidays. I'm writing in my journal, reflecting on the year ahead. A kind friend has told me I should develop my "gift for writing". I ask myself, "Do I want to be a writer?" I tell myself that it's not worth pursuing if it's not my passion, my calling. Gift. Passion. Calling. Writer. I'm starting to think of myself with capital letters.

I get too busy when ... I get my identity from what I do.

What I was thinking. "I need to develop the gifts God has given me. I need to follow my passions. I need to realize my potential. I want to be ..."

What I'm learning.
I'm not a _____er, I'm a child of God who _____s.
You could fill the gaps with anything (writer, doctor, teacher, mother ...) and it would still be true. The world tells me that I am what I do, and I believe the lie. But Jesus says "do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). My significance doesn't come from what I do, or even what God does through me. My significance comes from the fact that I'm a child of God.

My life is not about me and my glory: it's about God and his glory.
I have a dream. At times it seems selfless: it's about encouraging women, teaching them from God's word, helping them to grow. At times, the spotlight slips sideways onto me: there I am, respected, admired and beloved. I can take a good dream and twist it so easily. If I seek glory or respect through work or ministry, I'll be driven to over-work to achieve it. But life isn't about my renown: it's about making God's name known.

My passions are not the same as God's purposes.*
My friends will tell you that I love the word "passion". Often, the things I'm passionate about are good things. But when the focus is on me, my gifts, my passions, I've got a problem! What if I can't use my gifts because of a season of life, an illness, or because my they're not needed? I don't have to discover my gifts. I don't have to realise my dreams. Life isn't about me pursuing my passions: it's about glorifying God, and I can do that whatever I do.

Work is about serving others not finding myself.
If you're a stay-at-home mum, you know what it's like to be asked, "What do you do?" If you're like me, your heart sinks into the ground and you wonder what on earth you can say! The world tells me that work defines my identity. It tells me that I'm nothing if I'm not using my degree, using my skills, and pursuing a career, preferably one which fulfils and energises me. But God tells me to use all my energies to love and serve others. I find myself in him, not in my work.

God wants faithfulness, not success.
It's right to work hard to build God's kingdom, but success isn't in my hands. What matters is my faithfulness to the work God has given me to do. I plant and water, but it's God who makes things grow (1 Cor 3:5-15). I don't need to race around, working harder and harder, to build a successful ministry or massage my career. I can be faithful to God in the situation he's put me in, serve the people he's given me to love, and trust him to help them grow in his own timing and his own way.

I can rest, because Jesus has finished his work.
I don't need to do some great thing to give my life meaning: Jesus has done it all. I don't need to prove myself through what I do: I am justified in God's eyes because Jesus died for me. I can rest, because Jesus finished the work that God gave him to do: the work of making us right with God (Matt 11:28-30, Heb 4:9-10). It's right to work hard in response to God's salvation, but I don't have to work harder than I can in order to prove myself or give my life meaning. Jesus has done it all.

* I was struck by this while listening to Allison Street's talk God's Princesses.

images are from Kat.B.Photography, ninavizz and Search Engine People Blog at flickr


Jennie Pakula said...

Love these comments, Jean. Like you, I love the writings of John Piper and his biographical talks about the great saints. But for a while, I started to find them profoundly discouraging, for I started to think that my husband & I would be failures for not finding that 'great cause' for which God has equipped us. I don't think, btw, that JP is saying that, but it was something I picked up.

How true the catechism is when it tells us that 'our purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever'. How we do that is so subject to change. God is so good to give us many seasons and many ways in which to do this, even if it's simply waiting in faith.

Meredith said...

This is so liberating. And so hard to remember!! Thanks for reminding us again.

Narelle Nettelbeck said...

This is so very hard for me to live but I agree with everything you have said and I am encouraged.

Thanks again

mattnbec said...

"I get too busy when ... I get my identity from what I do." That's so helpful - never thought of it like that. There's some great stuff here, Jean. Worthy of much reflection. Thanks.

Jean said...

I am so pleased you were all encouraged by this post. As always, I was so sick of my voice by the time I posted it that I couldn't quite believe it would encourage anyone! So I'm glad it was fresh and helpful for you.

In Christ,