Who are we? Well, for starters, we are not our jobs.
Go to any party or get into any conversation with a stranger, and it is not long before someone will ask you, ‘What do you do?’
Now, the correct answer to this question is another question: ‘What do I do, when?’ I mean, I do many things. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I eat. I drink coffee, lie on the sofa watching the football, ride my bike, drink more coffee…
But we don’t mean that. We mean, ‘What do you do for a living?’ To which you reply, ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a software engineer’, ‘I am a teacher.’
You see what happened? When asked what we do, we reply with what our job is. We have to let go of the idea that we are what we do. It skews so many facets of our lives. For many, the ‘What do you do?’ question is often an attempt to place a new acquaintance on the organisation chart of life, to work out their standing in the herd. Is this someone I should be anxious about? Is this someone who could help me? Is this someone I should pay attention to?
The ‘What do you do?’ question has some of its roots in our need for status, but we are not our jobs. Nor are we our activities. Rather, we fill our lives with busyness: meetings, appointments, conferences, business trips. Such is the importance of our work lives and our sense of who we are, that it can completely define us. But I am not my job. That is something that I do to earn money. It’s a very important something, it matters a lot to me and I really enjoy it, but it could go away, and I would still be here.
We are not what we own.
We’ve been sold this idea of ‘lifestyle’, as if our possessions can shape our entire existence. We buy into this – in all senses of that phrase. Adverts sell us products by manipulating our emotions and feelings, but in some sense that also sell us identity. I am an Apple user, which for years enabled me to look with withering scorn on all those poor PC users. They didn’t ‘think different’, as Apple ads so ungrammatically put it. Our purchases might make us feel temporarily better about ourselves. But Jesus himself warned against identifying what we own with who we are: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12:15). You are not what you own.
Also, we are not what we look like. One of George Orwell’s last notes in his notebook was, ‘At 50, everyone has the face he deserves’. Orwell’s face certainly bore the impression of a hard life. But increasingly, we all want to cheat. We are not the hours in the gym, or the Greacian 2000 in our hair, or the six-pack. Nor, indeed, are we the baldness, the beer gut or the much loves shabby shapeless cardigan.
Finally, and most importantly we are not our failures.
Why is it we find it so hard to remember the good times, and so east to remember the bad one? It’s amazing how much my past failings clutter my memory. The good things – the acts of kindness, the fun, the moments I’m actually quite nice – all those are fleeting. Instead, what clings to my memory are the times when I did or said something wrong, or those moments of acute shame and embarrassment. I am covered with the scar tissue of my failings. I carry them around with me, ‘The Worst Hits of ______’ in 3D and full surround sound, and in the dark night it is those which replay in my head: the words I can never unsay, the deeds I can never undo.
But the Bible says that our failure is not permanent. It does not have to define us. Christianity agrees that we are all failures, but then tells us that those failures do not have to stay around forever. No one is free from sin, but no one is beyond forgiveness or the grace and love of God either. This is the radical message at the heart of Christianity: on one is denied a new start. No one.
ou are not your job, your possessions, your appearance or your failures. You are a beloved child of God. As the darkness of winter has given way to the warmth of Spring and Summer, today is an opportunity for a fresh start. Each day is a gift, take it, embrace it, breathe deeply, and know that you are loved, know that this is your true identity, this is who you are and once experienced and understood it makes all the difference.
Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to helping you explore and experience the forgiveness, grace and love of God, please check out bgbc.co.uk for details of our activities or get in touch via email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace and peace,
Rev Charlie Ingram
Bessels Green Baptist Church
(adapted from ‘The Dark Night of the Shed’ by Nick Page, Hodder 2016)