If you hang around here often, you know that one of my big passions, the thing I talk about all the time, is calling. I am such a believer in Christians using their gifts for the Kingdom of God, and I’ve given a lot of my attention toward women in particular. It’s what I wrote my PhD on, for Pete’s sake! I have a deep, deep conviction that who we are, and what God put into us, is meant to be stewarded to the utmost, up until the day we die. I believe that.
I say all of that with one, huge qualification: your calling is not who you are.
If I’m being honest, I forget this a lot. In my zeal to help people identify their gifts and use them for the glory of God, I overemphasize the importance of calling, and the value of being who you were created to be.
In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable about two men, one who built his house on rock, and the other who built his house on sand. Jesus explains that when “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew,” the first house didn’t fall, ‘because it had been founded on the rock.” (v. 25) But when the rain and the wind beat against the second house, the one built on sand, “it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (v. 27)
This parable is about what you build your life on–your identity, your foundation, your hope–with a particular emphasis on sturdiness. That is to say, this parable is not necessarily about the value of your foundation, since most of us found our lives on worthy and excellent things (calling, marriage, parenting). Instead, this parable is about whether our foundation is built to last, and the hard truth is, calling and family have a sandy quality to them. They are not permanent things.
The obvious implication of this parable is that we must stand our lives on something fixed, which is Christ, but the older I get, the more I realize how difficult this really is. The life of the Christian is revelation after revelation of how deeply our lives are founded on sand. Over and over, God reveals more layers inside us which are standing on something other than Him.
But what makes it ever harder is that we can miss a lot these revelations. Whenever we experience a loss of identity, or a lack of fulfillment, we tend to lay blame. We look for solutions. We figure out how to better self-actualize. And there is a place for that. But quite often, God also uses these experiences to lay waste to our sandy foundations. The athlete who suffers a career-ending injury. The businesswoman who has a baby, and puts her professional life on hold. The businessman who spends 30 years with a company, only to be laid off. The grad school applicant who isn’t accepted anywhere. The parents of teenagers who become empty nesters. These are hard, even devastating experiences, but they also raise the question: who are you, really?
I once heard Tim Keller refer to these identities as “false identities,” and life is a journey of having our false identities stripped and exposed. But what I have also learned over the years is that this process goes much deeper than our belongings and life circumstances. Our interests, our abilities, even our personalities, can all be taken away. Depression can take our passion. A head injury, or dementia, can take our most basic temperaments. Not all of us will experience these losses, but it’s wise to remember that every bit of it is sand. It can all go away. All of it.
And what if it did? What if, like Job, you lost it all, everything that is quintessentially YOU. What would be left?
The answer to that question has one of two options:
Throughout our lives, God exposes those parts of ourselves that are standing on sand, and it’s always an opportunity to rebuild on rock. But if you’re like me, you usually fight Him on it. You try to hold onto your false identity because you believe it’s who you are. And Keller says this is the nature of false identities–we constantly feel the need to defend them.
That’s why, for all my talk about calling, and discerning gifts, and understanding who God created us to be, I want you to remember this: it can all go away. Even the good things that God gives us, He can take them away. It’s sand–sand that He repurposes for His Kingdom–but sand nonetheless. Because it’s not the rock.
Yes, get to know yourself. Understand who God made you to be, and what He created you to do. Yes and amen. But, don’t make that the main thing. Your calling, your gifts, your roles, even your personality, it’s all perishable. The only thing on earth that cannot be stripped away is your identity in Christ. It’s the only thing that lasts, and the sooner you embrace this identity and reject all the false ones, the freer you will be, because you will have absolutely nothing left to lose. Or rather, nothing that can be lost.