This is the fourth in a series of five themes on dynamics that facilitate ill health and ineffectiveness amongst global workers. Here is the original list and links to read on the first three themes:
1. Spiritual Anemia (read hear)
2. Holistic Exhaustion (read here)
3. Relationships in Crisis (read here)
4. Identity Attached to Role and Performance
5. Lack of Permission for Self-development and Self-care
I was sitting with a younger man who had until recently been an internationally-based field leader for an organization. Due to various organizational changes, his role was terminated. He was lost, disoriented. These are normal symptoms of transition. However, a deeper element surfaced when he blurted out, “Now that I am not working overseas, I do not know who I am.”
I have heard similar statements numerous times. Stripped of roles and responsibilities people express a deep loss of identity. Explored a little further, there is more than change and transition taking place. There is a revealing of misplaced identity. This is an extremely normal dynamic. People are labeled by such exterior elements as roles, possessions, accomplishments, and looks. Performance based recognition. We do it to one another and we do it to ourselves. It’s so natural it might seem odd to point it out.
How does this effect our efforts? Well, we spend so much of our emotional energies trying to prove ourselves to ourselves and others that we lose sight of greater purposes. When someone takes “my role and responsibilities”, I get possessive. We can tend to not share resources. We often do not work well together. Its about me, my organization, and my strategies. Of course, it requires a very high self-awareness to see this about ourselves. For most it is a blindspot – not seen by us, but clearly experienced by others.
Our identity is easily misplaced. And as long as we are seeking to bolster a misplaced identity, we will continue to look for it in the wrong places. It seems that there is an inordinate amount of people in full-time Christian ministry for too many of the wrong reasons. Many of these reasons are simply over-spiritualized and remain highly unhealthy.
There is a simple and profound reality for those who have trusted Christ. Adoption is the core of our identity. This is not mere spiritualizing on the subject. This is the ultimate of realities. Until we see ourselves fundamentally, first and foremost, as an adopted son or daughter, we will struggle with this dynamic of identity.
J. I. Packer argues, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father (Knowing God, p. 201).”
God is our Father. We are his sons and daughters. This truth is fraught with mounds of theological and practical implications. Often the New Testament authors speak of believers as sons – not mentioning daughters. This is not first century gender indifference. The word “son” is intentionally used to convey significant theological truth. As a son, we have all that the Son has. The Father loves each of us with the same love as an adopted “son” that he extends to the Son (John 17:26). We are adopted, thus heirs. We are his, thus possessed and protected. How much do you make of being God’s child?
The deeper our hearts open up to this reality, the more we see our self-absorbed demand for others’ validation melting away. It simply does not matter anymore. Yes, we can take our current roles and responsibilities seriously. Yet, as we mature, we will not be so white-knuckled with them. We can be much more open-handed, not worrying what others think of us. If we are removed from our current position, we can remind ourself that the position was given to us from a caring Father in the fist place. We can look to him to provide whatever will be needed next. There is no need for clamoring or demanding. Yes, there is a season of disorienting change. But in the end, he will provide all for his children.
In what ways do you see your identity misplaced? Are you able to put words to or even name those false sources of identity? This is a crucial area of self-awareness. Write them out. God already knows. He wants us to see them as well, that he may set each of us free.
Take some time and read through the Gospel of John carefully. Take note of how Jesus describes his relationship with the Father. It is mentioned in nearly every chapter of the book – repeatedly. Being the Son of God is a big deal to Jesus. Indeed, it is his core identity. He is not Savior of the world first. He is the beloved Son of the Father first. Then compare how Jesus describes the Father and Son’s relationship to us. Amazing! I am now a beloved son – first and foremost. Everything else falls into place.
May you be encouraged over the coming months (and years!) to ask God to help you grasp the truth of your own adoption. Ask him to make it the most important reality in your life. Ask him to teach you how to commune with him. You are much more than what you do. You are how God sees you. You are His own child.
Shepherds: This is our core message as we shepherd others. Again and again we have the opportunity to bring the central truth of adoption to those we care for. We are a forgetful lot. We need reminding constantly. As Jerry Bridges of Navs reminds us, preach the gospel every where you go – especially to believers!
Gospel of John
Life in the Trinity Donald Fairbairn
Delighting in the Trinity Micheal Reeves
The above quote from J. I. Packer was taken from Knowing God