Theme #4: Identity Attached to Role and Performance

(This is one of a five part series on responding to thematic issues affecting member care providers and cross-cultural worker’s health and effectiveness. You can read the intro.)

My False Identity Revealed to Me
A little over 10 years ago I was recovering from a nasty bout of hemorrhagic dengue fever. Up until then my medical history was, in a word, boring. That all changed with this tropical fever. Even months later, I was recovering very slowly . Eventually, I had to make the hard call of canceling a commitment that I really, really wanted to fulfill.  After I finally made myself make the call, I literally fell to my knees and out from my mouth blurted the words, “Lord, I don’t even know who I am anymore!”

Every now and then something comes out of mouth that stops me in my tracks. In those moments I know I’ve just been given a glimpse into my inner reality. Jesus said that what comes out of our mouths reveals our hearts (see Matthew chapters 12 and 15). My heart had just been revealed to me by my own mouth.

With ministry roles stripped away, I was wrestling with my identity. This was a legit identity crisis. For my identity was misplaced and God was kindly, if not tumultuously, revealing that to me.

Common Ground
Morris Dirks writes, “Often, the at-risk nature of ministry is increased by the leader’s failure to develop a strong sense of self in his or her early years. I have observed that a particularly high number of people who enter the ministry remain oblivious to unresolved issues surrounding their identity— issues that frequently are connected to their family of origin….One of the ways our false self tries to compensate is to find our identity in performance. Hence, the motives driving the ministry are tainted…..”*

God has created each of us with an innate need to have an identity. However, in our brokenness we seek our identity in many wrong places.

“One of the ways our false self tries to compensate is to find our identity in performance.” We all do this. How aware are you of your performance-based compensations?

Jesus Knew the Source of His Identity
God addressed identity with Jesus at various times in his earthly life such as at his baptism and his transfiguration on the mountain. The Father’s voice would thunder declaring that Jesus is his “beloved Son with whom he is well pleased.” It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t flinch at these words. He knows them well. He knows he is the beloved Son of the Father. He did not scramble for a sense of identity and thus he was free to offer his life to others.

Do you know that you are a beloved son or daughter of the Father?

This is Mission Critical
To the degree our identity is misplaced is to the degree we will hurt others relationally even as we go about missional work. This begins with our relationship with God and oozes in every direction.

Our unhealthy ways of relating can be overt or exceptionally subtle. What’s more, they are likely a blind spot. For those of us in the care giving vocation, we are on dangerous ground. If we need to be needed and are blind to that, then the very care we offer to others is ultimately for our own end. That is manipulative. It is also, sadly, exceptionally common.

Identity Healing
It behooves all of us to lean into God regarding this area of our redemption. A lack of maturity is undermining our ability to love and serve others.

What are some indicators  we are growing in our identity?

  • Others’ opinions have less importance to us.
  • We learn to seek affirmation, approval or value from what we do less and less.
  • We do not turn conversations onto ourselves, rather focus on others.
  • When appropriate, we can say no to another’s request without creating waves of internal distress within us.
  • We willingly live within our own limitations and capacities.
  • Fear is decreasingly a driving force within.
  • We increasingly become comfortable in our own skin.
  • Our resistance to God’s and others’ love lessens. We drop our guard and receive.


God is constantly offering healing and orientation in this area of our lives.

How do you deflect or otherwise block God’s love and affirmation?

How is God seeking to heal unhealthy identity sources in your life?

If it is true that we all have blind spots in our emotional world, who do you rely upon for objective counsel?

As always, any comments are helpful for all reading. If you find this helpful, please feel free to forward it to others. Thank you!

*Dirks, Morris in Forming The Leader’s Soul: An Invitation To Spiritual Direction

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