My first job was a bag boy at Albertson’s. I remember how excited I was for my first day of work. I remember being so proud of wearing the starch white shirt, black pants, and blue apron. I even got a name tag with my actual name printed on the front. It seems silly now, but the whole experience was thrilling. It brought me joy and life.
Boy, how things have changed.
If someone wants to know who I am, they usually start with asking, “What do you do?” Our vocation is intimately tied to our identity. I remember when our church closed and I was no longer a pastor, I went through a profound identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. It took awhile to discover how unhealthy this really was.
Lately, it seems we’ve begun to identify ourselves by what we consume. I define myself by being a Seahawks fan or buying a t-shirt with an obscure reference to the Netflix show Stranger Things. (I’m kinda of a nerd). For others, a Pinterest page or certain neighborhood where they live or being vegan is how they would define themselves. However, this isn’t actually living, it’s consuming. We inevitably commodify the world around us and become self-centered. The most important question about life is no longer “Who am I?” but, “What can you do for me?”
I’m really starting to believe God is in the business of showing us how to be human. We have so much trouble at it. Both of the above ideas stem from the a belief we are not enough. We feel this incessant need to add to our identity. Imagine being at a party and answering the question, “Who are you?” with, “I am loved and imperfect and enough and scared and hopeful. Nice to meet you!”
But that is much closer to the truth.
We all have a lot of growing to do in this area. How do we get closer to a healthy identity in our work? How do I get back to that sixteen year old boy who couldn’t wait to dawn his navy blue apron and name tag?
“I Have To Do This”
It’s what we say about our job when we don’t see any other option. Living for the weekend and racing the sunset. This is not work, it’s become enslavement. Believe me, life is too short and precious for this kind of sentiment.
“Only I Can Do This”
These are the words we say when our career has taken over our identity. When we’ve taken on an unhealthy amount of responsibility. It’s what we think when the demands of the urgent have outweighed the wisdom to empower others. It’s the road to narcism and an inevitable dead end. Trust me, I’ve been down this road.
“I Need To Do This”
It’s what we think when our insecurities have had their way. With this thinking, we’ll use people. We’ll feed off the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. Similar to saying, “I need a beer.” Work has become an escape. This is the beginning of workaholism. I can tell you from experience, it will only leave you hollow and numb.
“I Get To Do This”
Selling beds for six months was the best thing I ever did for my soul. God and I would meet in this little Starbucks in the corner of a Safeway most mornings before work. I was still mourning the closure of our church. The loss of a dream. The end of a career. It was especially hard when the phone stopped ringing and the emails stopped coming. I was no longer needed. I was wondering who I was and trying to figure out if God still liked me. In the corner of that coffeeshop, I’d let surface an embarrassing amount of insecurity, narcism, and enslavement. Who am I, if I’m no longer a pastor?
And God didn’t give a shit.
I’m serious, he just enjoyed my company and couldn’t care less about what I did for him. I became sufficiently confident in God being just as pleased with me selling beds as delivering a sermon. He was more interested in who I am, then what I do.
I learned a tremendous amount of joy from an attitude of “I get to do this.” I started laughing hard with the other employees. We developed all sorts of inside jokes and encouraged each other when we missed a sale. We sharpened each other and learned together. There were hard days and things would go wrong but I found my attitude changing anytime I took on a “I get to” kind of mindset. “I get to work with Tim.” or “I get to learn from Chris.” or “I get to help this couple find a better bed.” I started releasing my grip on what I do, and began allowing God to heal who I am. This open handed approach to work gave a new joy each day. I started feeling like that sixteen year old boy again.
Since then, I started back up a career in ministry but things are different. Sometimes, I get asked to speak places and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes a lot of people read what I write and other times, very few do. And either is okay. I’m proud of the work I do at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission but I don’t have to do it. I’m not the only one who can do it and I could do something else someday, who knows? For now, I get to do this and I want to be faithful with what God’s given.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, -Col. 3:23
I am enough.
And so are you.
Release your grip.
You are loved.
Remember, when Monday morning arrives, you get to do this.
I promise, there is joy on the other side.