You Are Not What You Think You Are

In prepping for a teaching series at TNL Church called How We Work, I heard the cliché, “You are not what you do” recited several times.  Honestly, I struggle with this idea.

On the one hand, I agree  I am not the job I do or the the work I perform. I am so much more than any occupation.

But on the other hand, I do what I do for work (pastor) because of who I am, or more accurately who God has called me to be. For me my occupation and vocation are aligned. They are the same thing.  In some way I feel I would be less of “me” if I did not do the work I do.

Maybe this is only a display of my misunderstanding of my identity and my work. I am aware that my struggle with this cliche may be a display of my own immaturity. So, could I be something other than what I do?  I want the answer to be Yes.

If we are not what we do, we should be able to remove all that we do and still find who are.
We should be able to strip away all the things that inform us of our identity to discover who we really are.
We have to be able to cut out all the pieces that create our self perceived identify and yet, still find our identity fully intact.

Some of these will be easy to abandon because we have already exchanged or removed some of these identity contributing pieces. Lets start cutting.

Am I me if?:

  • I was not a pastor…yes.
  • I was not a husband…yes.
  • I was not a father…yes.
  • I was not a bother, son or friend…yes.
  • I did not drive a 1966 Mustang…yes.
  • I did not live in Colorado…yes.
  • I lose a leg or arm…yes.
  • I was not educated like I am (for better or worse)…yes.
  • I did not have the income that I do (more or less)…yes.
  • I was not healthy…yes.
  • I did not practice Karate…yes.
  • I was not 6’2 and 175lbs…yes.
  • I did not love pizza, dislike celery…yes.
  • I was not stubborn, independent and stoic…yes.

All of these things, and more, can be removed without affecting the core of who I am.  How do I know this? Becomes at some point in my life I have not been these things. There was a time when I was not a pastor, when I did not live in Colorado, when I was not 6’2 and most likely I will not be some of these things in the future either. Yet I will not cease to exist. The above list can all cut out and stripped away without dismantling who I am at my most basic self. Yes, even to the point of still being me after having part of my body amputated!

All of the things that inform us about who we are like apps, add-on or plug-ins.  We are who we are at our core long before we do anything or become anything.  We are a base or stock self. The best example of this I can think of is a baby. A newborn has done nothing except grown and it still has a self and an identity. The most fundamental aspect of who we are in related to our make up: our parents and our God.

Could I be me without my parents? No. This is really a silly questions when you think about it. My biological parents set me on an unalterable course of life. I have never been without my DNA, my chromosomal make up and the brain functions I was given at birth. As an example, I have no point of reference for being anything else other than male, dyslexic or born in New Jersey.

Could I be me without faith, religion or spirituality? No. I can’t even ask this question without having some sense of faith, spiritually or hint that there is something beyond the physical. If I am only the complication of tangible parts, like a Lego set, I can’t know about love, have the ability to think about me thinking (self reflection) or grasp anything beyond my own needs and primative drives. (And I believe Christianity present me with the best answers to my questions of self and identity.)

Now, being a pastor, husband, father and the like have only added to who I am, they have not created who I am. Oh yes, they have shaped and molded me.  These plug-ins are enhancements of my most foundational self.  Even though I would still be me if I was born into a family composed of my biological parents and not an adoptive family, but my adoptive family has unquestionability impacted who I have grown to me. Even losing a couple toes in a tragic gardening accident certainly changed my life (a ballet career is out!), but it did not changed me.

You and I are not what we do, what we see or the titles we wear. We are irreducibly complex to the level of self and some would say soul. Therefore our identity and self worth is not a what-we-do question, but a who-we-are question.

Who are you?


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