We human beings are an active bunch, and we tend to define ourselves by the things we do. Isn’t that the first question/answer exchange that goes on between strangers? Name, occupation. Check, check. In fact, I find I’m a little put off when people don’t ask me what I do on first meeting. “What?” I huff to myself, “do they not care to know who I am and what I’m about?” People who don’t like their jobs may hedge on the occupation self-descriptor and tell you instead about the things they like to do, but it boils down to the same thing: regardless of how much we argue that a person’s value lies in his very being above all else, we feel more worthwhile ourselves when we can do things, and do them well.
I say this because changing jobs has thrown my happy, smug, satisfied self-definition of the past several years into a terrifying tailspin.
Some afternoons I stop in the middle of my work and close my eyes and try to remember that confident, capable person I’m pretty sure I was only two months ago. Did she actually exist? As I bumble from one idiotic mistake to another, feeling my way through daily encounters with fellow employees, with writers, with the fascinating individuals who make it their daily task to call newspapers and tell whoever they manage to reach about the impending doom of the whole world…I sometimes wonder if I really even know who I am anymore.
Only today did it hit me I never really did know. Who does? I just got comfortable in one safe corner, I got good at one particular function, and I let that take over my entire perception of myself.
I think sometimes, especially as single people, we allow what we do (whether that be our actual 9 – 5 job, our coursework, our ballroom dancing hobby, rec league softball team, on-the-side music gigs, dance classes, even our social lives if we’re especially outgoing, or our ministry) to determine our value – or even, whether or not we have value. Sure, mom thinks I’m great no matter what I do, or don’t do. But mothers are special cases.
We need to know we’re worthy. We ‘re constantly trying to live up to our own self-love, and to be worthy of love from others. So often we grasp at what we do well, and how well we do it as our best measure of how good we are as persons.
Striving after your personal best is all well and good, of course. It builds character, develops virtue, makes us stronger. Still, that striving has to start from the right base point. Do I push myself to do better because I want to prove to myself that I am, in fact, good? Or do I allow myself to rest in the knowledge that I have been created good, and then strive to do well to give further glory to God in his work of creation? In other words, being always comes first, and we don’t get any credit for that. Doing comes second. (Or, in philosophical terms, agere sequitur esse: to act follows to be.) In fact, we couldn’t “do” if God hadn’t brought us into being in the first place, and if he didn’t keep us there every nano-second. I guess recognizing this is ultimately what humility is all about.
I’ll be reciting this to myself over and over in the coming weeks and even months, every time I feel the tears coming on because I’ve just received another “Just So You Know…” memo and I feel like I can’t do anything right and therefore I must actually be a pathetic, stupid, useless slob. I’m fallen and flawed and I’m going to mess up at everything I do for the rest of my life. But I’m also fearfully, wonderfully made…and I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.
Thankfully, on those days when my pride is still too much for me, there’s always red wine. And chocolate.