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Why Your Work Is Not Your Identity

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

“The Atlantic” published a fantastic article on work and identity called “Workism is Making Americans Miserable” by Derek Thompson. He writes:

The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose…

The problem with this gospel—Your dream job is out there, so never stop hustling—is that it’s a blueprint for spiritual and physical exhaustion. Long hours don’t make anybody more productive or creative; they make people stressed, tired and bitter.

“We’ve created this idea that the meaning of life should be found in work,” says Oren Cass, the author of the book “The Once and Future Worker.” “We tell young people that their work should be their passion. ‘Don’t give up until you find a job that you love!’ we say. ‘You should be changing the world!’ we tell them. That is the message in commencement addresses, in pop culture, and frankly, in media, including ‘The Atlantic.’”

But our desks were never meant to be our altars. [All of this] is a recipe for severe disappointment, if not outright misery, and it might explain why rates of depression and anxiety in the U.S. are “substantially higher” than they were in the 1980s, according to a 2014 study.

Work is a great thing, but there are some things we can ask work to do for us and some things that it can’t. Our jobs were never meant to help tell us who we are. When who we are is anchored in Christ (Galatians 2:20) rather than in what we do, then we are set free to just enjoy our work and do as much good as we can possibly do.

Here are a few things to remember, if you want to be free from the burden of making your work your identity:

  1. Remember that work is a gift from God. It was given for our joy and for the sake of others around us. Your work is one of the most important ways that you love your neighbors every day. As soon as we ask it to tell us who we are, however, we wind up making it something it was never meant to be.
  2. The Bible wants us to remember that nothing we’re doing or building right now is going to last forever (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). This is an incredibly liberating thought. Even if I do everything right, the things that I’m investing in today are one day going to wear out, fail and fall apart. Knowing this frees us from the tyranny of trying to build a legacy or a name for ourselves through our work. No work will last forever, so you might as well just enjoy it for what it is: a gift to be enjoyed today.
  3. But we work with hope, too. The fact that nothing we build or make isn’t going to last forever isn’t the whole story. Somehow, Jesus is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). His resurrection is a preview of what God is going to do someday for all of creation, including our work. Ultimately, everything we do will actually belong to him (Matthew 11:27) and he will make it what it was always meant to be.

For more on how to make your work a meaningful part of your life, without asking it to be who you are, check out “Every Good Endeavor” by Tim Keller. Just the introduction would be well worth the price of the book.

Tim Prince

Pastor of Missional Community


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