From the title, you might be a little uneasy. It doesn't sound like a nice, warm and fuzzy topic. After all, as Christians we like the word "ministry" and it sounds very biblical and devoted to say that our identity is found within the particular ministry we serve in. In this same vein of thinking we call leaders by their roles within the church "Pastor Joe, Pastor Mark, etc." Even those who do not have the title in their direct address, we often still label as if that is their claim to fame. "John Doe, missionary to Chad," "James Johnson, evangelist and author," even "Sally Jameson, church pianist" or "Jenny Jackson, VBS teacher, nursery worker, alto in choir, casserole maker, etc." The list could go on and on. We constantly label people based on what they accomplish or how they contribute to the cause of Christianity. We are not alone in this--the secular world does the same thing. People are frequently identified by their contributions to the world at large, or their talent in a particular field.
When you are enveloped in a culture that treats identity this way, it's very difficult to see reality any other way. Perhaps it's true, perhaps your identity is tied integrally to what you do. This has been perpetuated, particularly for women in the church. You are what you do (a trendy spin-off of you are what you eat, I guess.) But is this true?
This question does not seem like a big deal to people who are easily capable of meeting the expectations of those around them and themselves. It doesn't bother people to tie their identity to something they excel at. It is appealing, is it not? Do we not all want to be defined by something that makes us look good? Do we not all want to find acceptance and appreciation from others based on our own works? It makes us feel good and accomplished. As Americans especially we are trained to "carry our own weight" and "judge people based on their actions, not the stereotype of their people group." This sounds good, right?
This question becomes a big deal when you are chronically ill. Suddenly, no matter how much you want to, you cannot fill the roles you used to. You may be unable to teach that class or sing in church or bring a covered dish to an activity. You might find that eventually you lose claim to every shred of "identity" you once had in the church.
Regardless of whether you're a pastor's wife, the children's Sunday School teacher, a long-standing member of the choir, or simply a faithful church member there is a sense of identity tied to your role. It may be small or it may be significant, but it exists. There can be a profound sense of loss when separated from your typical areas of service. What does a teacher feel when they cannot teach? Or a pastor who can no longer preach? A die-hard choir member whose voice is taken by circumstances beyond their control? What do you do when every area of service seems stripped away? What is left of your "identity"? Are you still valuable to God? Is it possible or even a good thing to find your identity outside of the ministry God gives to/takes away from you?
How can we know? Is my identity found in what I do? Should I define myself by the job I have or the volunteer services I provide whether in church or in the community at large? How does God define me?
The Bible is clear in its teaching that our identity is found in Christ and in him alone. We are not brought into the Body of Christ based on our actions, why should we start defining ourselves by them once we are in it?
It is very difficult to separate oneself from the ideas we grow up with and are taught from a young age. It is also difficult to define yourself one way when it seems everyone around you defines you by different criteria, but let me explain why I feel it is crucial to do just that.
If we allow ourselves to be defined by what we do instead of who we are in Christ, we are no longer standing in the grace of God that brings salvation. We have become children of works, trying to earn our position and keep our position through our own efforts. Unless we allow Christ to redefine us with his shared identity, we will continually fall short of our own internal expectations (as well as others) and when chronic illness interferes with fulfilling the roles we once held, we will face a spiritual identity crisis.
So what's the point of all this? Are we not supposed to serve and enjoy it? Here's the point:
Whether chronically ill or not, we must NEVER define ourselves by our skills, talents, accomplishments, or even (dare I say it?) our service in ministry. No matter how good it sounds it is a vicious lie to say that we can be defined by our particular ministry. Say it again: We are NOT defined by the ministry or ministries we serve in.
Therefore, we must refuse to be defined by anything outside of Christ. Christ is our identity. Christ is our head. Christ is now how we see ourselves. Christ is how God sees us. No matter how sick you are, how ineffective you feel, or how downright useless your life seems--Christ is your identity. If anyone has an issue with your physical weaknesses, they can take it up with your Head who is Christ. If you have an issue with your own weakness--take it up with your Head. He has a purpose in how He has made you, and your worth to Him has nothing to do with you getting the job done.
How do we serve? We serve where we can, and we don't feel like failures for not serving where we can't. We follow Jesus, and let Him show us where to get involved, how much we should be involved, and what we should be doing. We do not let feelings of inadequacy and others' opinions determine how we serve God. We serve where we are, and trust our Father to give us His best.
[Consider this rant officially completed. :)]