A comment left after my last post (thanks Laura Drodge) made me decide to dust off an old post from 2012 and update it. That post was entitled: “Identity and Self Worth – Who are You?”
One time in a seminary class, the professor 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! Who are you?
It is easy for our identity to get wrapped up in what we do – particularly employment or parenthood. These things can become idols in our life. What about when the kids are grown up? Or when you retire?
Some individuals do not have children. Some are not employed. Are they non-persons? And what about certain disabled people whose limitations may hinder employment or child-bearing? Do they lack worth?
We can indeed make people feel like they are worthless. As Christians we believe in the Imago Dei, that each person has value and worth, created in the image or likeness of God. As Christians, our identity should ultimately be in Christ.
How can we inadvertently make people feel worthless? The questions we ask. Standard questions when we meet someone are: What do you do? Do you have kids?
I’d encourage you to think more about the implications of these direct questions.
If someone is employed or has kids, we are reinforcing the idea that worth and identity lies in these things. And if they are not employed or are not parents, the questions will receive a no. Awkward. Dead end questions.
Yet that person could be able to engage you in fascinating conversation! But you’ll never know it.
You could have even caused someone pain. Perhaps the person has been struggling with unemployment or infertility, and your direct questions give them no way to evade it. It is an issue they’d rather not talk about with a new acquaintance, or they are just not in the mood to discuss it.
Perhaps you think this is a bit ridiculous?
“C’mon, many people do work or have kids.” – True enough.
But why do we even see the need to ask these questions?
These questions are actually redundant because employment or children will usually come up naturally! And if they don’t, the person evidently does not want to talk about it.
May I suggest different questions to ask, that will let the individual decide what they want to share with you. It will also help the conversation develop naturally. Take a more open ended approach:
Tell me about yourself. How do you spend your time? What do you do for fun? What are you passionate about? Lived in this area long?
In case you are still not convinced, here are two articles to give further perspective.
⇒ 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.
⇒ And I so loved this article from the Storyline blog: A Better Way to Introduce Your Friends at Parties. *link no longer active.
Instead of introducing a friend based on what they do (“Bill is a policeman”) introduce them by opening a window to who they are and why they are a special friend to you.
“Bill is the most thoughtful person I know. He was the first friend I made when I moved to town, and he helped me get settled. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles.
It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments…
Let’s stop introducing the people we love based solely on what they do, who they cash their checks from…Let’s instead start reminding them of who they are. Let’s start conversations that don’t begin and end with who has the most interesting job in the room.
Since it is so standard to define or introduce ourselves by employment or parenthood status, perhaps you are not even sure how to define yourself otherwise? While I have not been employed since 2009, I often feel the need to say “but I was a nurse for 18 years.” – Phew. See I have worth, or at least I did in the past.
The next time I am asked “what do you do?” I may answer “Well, I do all kinds of things in life!” and then bring up something of my choice to help the conversation develop.
As Christians, should not our definition of self involve Christ? I’ve been studying Colossians, and this letter emphasizes the supremacy of Christ. As believers, we are complete in Christ. Jesus is your life. (Colossians 3:4)
And what about other things about you? For example, I love to learn. I could describe myself as a life-long learner. I did not put down books after I graduated from school, and I enjoy expanding my knowledge on a variety of subjects.
If you are not sure who you are, it is never too late to discover it!