I am one of 14.6 million unemployed people in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (July 2010).
Looking for work in a depressed economy can be, well, depressing. But even more difficult than finding a suitable job has been fighting off feelings of worthlessness, purposelessness, and unimportance—especially when someone asks me, “So, what do you do for a living?”
With extra time to reflect recently, I’ve come to the tough realization that I’ve so often found my identity in my current life situation, such as being a student or an athlete or a girlfriend or a musician. How temporal, fleeting, and unsatisfying! Likewise, I know that whatever job title I do attain will ultimately be just as empty, if that is where I hope to find security and direction in life.
Yet I’m also starting to realize that while my former labels are things of the past and my future labels will not satisfy, I can still have a truly fulfilling purpose, mission, and identity—in who I am in Christ.
The question “Who am I?” is best answered by the simple eloquence of Galatians 3:26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
It’s so easy to forget the amazing grace God has shown to believers in calling us his children and adopting us into his family. We tend to become calloused to the immensity of this reality—at least I know I do.
But I’ve found great joy and astounding peace in knowing that the God of the universe, who spoke creation into being and rules over all of human history, knows my name and calls me his own. I am a daughter of God, dearly loved and deeply known, and that ultimate truth is the cornerstone of my identity.
The words of the Heidelberg Catechism seem more relevant than ever before. The fact that “I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ” truly is my only comfort.
My soul-searching identity quest came as a direct result of my being unemployed. Like many North Americans, I had found my sense of identity in my daily responsibilities. The physical and emotional demands of jobs can so often distract us from seeing what’s truly important and embracing our identity in Christ.
Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, in their book Live Your Calling, write about this societal trend: “Work has become how we define ourselves. It is now answering the traditional religious questions: Who am I? How do I find meaning and purpose? Work is no longer just about economics; it’s about identity.”
Today’s record-high unemployment rates mean that thousands of people are jobless and perhaps also hopeless and struggling to find their mission and purpose. Now, more than ever, when so many may be reevaluating their identity, they need to hear the life-giving news of their invitation to join God’s family.
As followers of Christ, it’s important to remember our primary calling in which we find our mission, purpose, and identity. Simply put, “Before being called to something, we are called to Someone. Before we are called to do, we are called to be. Our primary calling is to be in a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ . . . he calls us to belong to him” (Live Your Calling).
Whether you are employed or unemployed, I challenge you to reflect on what factors determine your own identity and sense of security. Beyond that, let’s all resist stereotyping people based on what they do for a living and instead get to know the deeper, more important aspects of their character. And let’s seize opportunities to speak hope and meaning into the life of someone who is unemployed and looking for identity in all the wrong places.