photography by Carolyn Bennett Fraiser
When you meet someone new, what’s one of the first questions you ask? “So, what do you do?” Right? It’s a popular conversation starter. But have you ever noticed some of the reactions it prompts? There might be squirming, chin lifting, eye contact dodging, leg shifting, and often some type of lengthy rambling session following the disclosure.
I find it fascinating . . . until I’m the one on the other side of the conversation.
Because here’s the thing: That simple question cuts straight through layers we probably don’t fully know exist and pricks the nerve ending of one of our most intimate concerns.
What’s my calling? Purpose? Vocation? Regardless of how we phrase it, we tend to connect our sense of identity with the answer to the question, what do you do?
But many times the answer we have to give leaves us a little shaken with disappointment.
There was one time in my life when I knew for sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I totally owned it. As the Sunday school teacher went around the room, listening to each seven-year-old’s self-professed dream, I sat in my chair, arm ready to bolt to the ceiling:
“I want to be a punk rocker!”
Yes. Yes, I did. Hey, don’t laugh. You didn’t get to carry around my purple lunchbox with an imaginary girl band on the front, complete with glittery electric guitars and eighties’ crimped hair twice the size of their heads. It was very cool; trust me.
Sometimes (thankfully), dreams change. Pursuits shift. Seasons in life transition. Multiple responsibilities blur the lines between clear roles. Student. Wife. Mother. Entrepreneur. Artist. Multi-Tasker of the Year. These are all important dimensions of who we are. And just as God celebrates how each sunrise touches the sky differently, I believe He celebrates the way our gifts touch the world uniquely. But I think the source of our identity runs even deeper.
I’ll never forget how my understanding of identity collided with God’s truth in a Guatemalan orphanage years ago. On her knees, heart exposed, a teenage girl wept. Tears of longing for her absentee parents’ embrace collected on the bottom of her chin.
Did she wonder what her purpose was and where her life would be heading once she aged out of the orphanage? Most likely. Did grappling with her parents’ rejection continually wage war against her sense of self worth? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. She wasn’t desensitized to the conditions of her life. But something in her eyes got me—something she understood that I didn’t.
Where we’d see life marked by the reality of impoverished dreams, she saw life marked by the hope of not being forgotten. Because a tangible encounter with God’s love for her had displaced her identity as an orphan with a fresh identity as a child of God.
See, it’s not so much a question of who we are as it is whose we are. Our roles will inevitably change. New seasons will come and go. But regardless of how we answer the question, “What do you do,” there’s one truth that cannot be shaken. We are His. And that is enough.
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