I have always been a hard worker.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve composed lists upon lists, detailing urgent tasks and important projects. I’ve never known when to quit, it seems. “You can’t stop until the job is done,” I often tell myself.
Let me insert a quick sidebar here because . . . well . . . #ADD, am I right? I remember one summer, just a few weeks before the start of school, I spent the majority of my beach vacation writing a brief paper on each of the presidents . . . “just for fun.” Pretty certain my teacher deemed me CRAZY when I handed her that project (my pride and joy at the time, though, let me tell ya) the first day of school. Yeah, guys. I was THAT kid.
Now, please don’t misinterpret me, here.
I’m not telling you this from a heart of pride (although, if I’m fully transparent, I can grow prideful in my work ethic). I’m telling you this from a heart of pure gratitude. I am thankful for the passion that God has given me—truly thankful.
But, can I be honest with you?
There are times in which I have sorely misused this gift, wrongfully believing that with each job, each task, and each assignment, I am proving myself.
There are times in which I have allowed my work to define my identity.
Over the years, I’ve placed a debilitating amount of pressure upon myself. In fact, sometimes, it seems as if I just might crumble under the heavy burden of personal expectation
. . . and sometimes, I do.
Sometimes, I just break down.
Sometimes, I just cry tears of frustration.
Sometimes, I just sit, emotionally paralyzed by my fear of failure—depleted and drained.
. . . And when this happens, my identity is crushed.
Sometimes, I work myself so hard that I have nothing left to give.
Sometimes, I spread myself so thin that I neglect what matters most.
Sometimes, I allow my plans to usurp my priorities.
. . . And when this happens, my identity is zapped.
(One more sidebar: every time I hear the term “zap,” my memories instantly transport me to warm, summer nights spent outside. Ah, yes. The melodious tune of chirping crickets, the glimmery twinkle of a starry sky . . . and the ZAP of each unfortunate bug stumbling upon those (apparently, rather enticing) LED death traps. Completely off topic? Oh, you bet. But absolutely essential to share? Without a doubt. Sorry, let’s get the train back on the tracks, here.)
When I allow my work to define me, I place my sense of self upon the most-precarious of foundations.
Yet, when I allow my Jesus to define me, He IS my foundation. You get the picture?
I was talking to a close friend just the other day about this very topic. We discussed that, oftentimes, we play the “woe-is-me” card.
Y’all know what I’m talking about, right?
We stain our schedules with endless to-do’s and constant assignments yet incessantly complain that “we just need a break.” We perpetually place ourselves in demanding predicaments yet wonder why we feel weary and burned out.
We place our identities in personal performance yet marvel when our foundations self-destruct.
When we seek identity in anything (or anyone) other than Jesus Christ, our identities will be nothing more than shallow skeletons of worthlessness—empty, futile, and oh-so-fragile.
Identity has been a big word for me lately, and though I’ve already written on this topic before, I wanted to share with you:
Your work ethic does not define who you are.
Your popularity does not define who you are.
Your schedule does not define who you are.
Jesus Christ is the only One who can authentically define who you are.
Is there anything inherently wrong in a strong work ethic, decent popularity, and a busy schedule? Absolutely, not.
But, if you’re anything like me, you may have the propensity to idolize those things, and that, my friends, is wrong. Very wrong, indeed.
There is so much more I wish to say here—so much more I want to discuss. This topic is unbelievably heavy on my heart, and I wish that I could express my thoughts more succinctly, more eloquently.
But, let me close with this:
Working hard as a means of serving God is a good thing (see verses below).
Working hard as a quest for identity is a bad thing.
We need to learn to rest in God’s goodness, honestly.
While He does expect us to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), He does not expect us to ruthlessly work ourselves on a futile quest for identity. In fact, in regards to identity, we must look no further than the Cross.
Work hard, but don’t work so hard that you neglect the people God has given you. I’ll never forget something my professor once said, and I want to share it with you. He said, “You can paint a beautiful picture, but if you’re wrecking your relationships to finish your painting, you’re failing.”
“Ouch” but also sorta “wow.” I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be known as an empathetic encourager instead of a harsh task-master . . . a caring friend instead of a workaholic.
Type A-s, I get it. Trust me. We like to get things done, and we like to get things done efficiently, effectively, and effortlessly, if I might add. However, our quest for perfection can metamorphosis itself into an idol, separating us from the Savior and the sweet companions God has given us.
God is so good. Once redeemed, our identities are found in Him and Him alone.
Let’s rest in that.
Hard work is a blessing, not an identity crisis.
Verses: (Col. 3:23, Pro. 12:11, Pro. 13:14, Pro. 12:24, 2 Tim. 2:15).