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One time in a seminary class, the Prof had us go around the room and introduce ourselves. However, he did not want us to share what we do (our employment or ministry), but rather to share who we are! This reminded me of 2 posts I recently read and an excerpt from each:

Identity and Worth: It is easy for our identity to get wrapped up in what we do, or in how we perform or act, but…

My worth is totally based on God and His view of me. Because of His love and Christ’s death, I am a worthy person, a child of God, loved not based on my performance but on Christ’s work on my behalf. Nothing I do or say can change that. But early impressions often live on into adult years and I must fight against the idea that my worth and identity are wrapped up in what I do or how I act.

The Question We Should Never Let Make or Break Us. How a standard get-to-know-you question has become the definition of our worth. “What do you do?”

When did we start relying on this cycle of doing to give us meaning? In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen exhorts Christians to leave our comforts of jobs and doing, and to spend time alone in solitude. In solitude, there’s no need to wear the badge of our achievements. In solitude, we don’t need to hide behind our schedules and to-do lists. We are forced to put down the armor, and face who we actually are, without defense or pretense.

I hope you’ll check out both of the articles in their entirety, and that they give you some food for thought. On a practical and personal note, I’d suggest that when you meet a new person that you AVOID asking them about their employment or about their kids. Not everyone is employed, and not everyone has kids either! I happen to fall into that category. This has happened to me more than once: Someone I don’t know comes up to me to introduce themselves, and the first question they ask me is about my employment. I respond that I am not employed. Then they immediately assume I must have kids and ask me about my children. Uh, I don’t have kids. This is very awkward! I am usually looking at someone who now has a dumbfounded look on their face. Honestly, I find it more amusing than anything else! Yet, it can be hurtful as well. Am I subhuman because I am not presently employed and don’t have kids?

Also consider the economic struggles in our country the last several years. More people are unemployed than usual, and we also have older adults going back to college to try for a new career or to make themselves more employable. Asking a pointed question about employment could be the wrong or right question. Maybe the person will appreciate the chance to share their struggle with you, but it could also be something painful they don’t want to discuss with a brand new acquaintance.

Here are some more open ended ways to get a conversation going with a new acquaintance (These are from some of the discussion generated by the second article):

“How do you spend your time?”

“So, tell me about yourself.”

“What occupies most of your time and energy?”

Geography related questions can get a conversation going as well. In my area, many people have moved here from another area of the USA. So I might ask: “Are you a Greenville native or did you re-locate here?”

Any other ideas or comments are welcome!

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