I have lots of these and my favorites are based on my identity in relationships – daughter. sister. aunt. mom. friend. wife. When I am introduced to someone often the labels I am asked for are not the ones based on relationship (perhaps it is too intimate), but rather the identifiers are based on what I do, my tangible roles: Pastor. teacher. writer. office worker.
This is a tragic flaw in our communal identity as it minimizes our identity to roles alone rather than embrace more of our humanity. What it means to be a human being is very different than the questions of what we do for a living. For example, my dad is an engineer (role) but who he is is an intelligent problem solver who loved his wife and family well. His quiet strength and his dry wit are better ways to describe my dad than what He did for a living. My mom is a nurse (label) but who she is is a compassionate care giver who can’t stop serving others and is the most faithful friend anyone could ever have.
Labels can be confining and limiting because they are external tangible identifiers and not the internal characteristics of who we really are. Roles represent what we do and not who we are. I know this but I often succumb to the doing part of humanity as well. I am determining today to build identity based on how I see myself and others and not based on performance, actions or roles.
Another way to think about this is one’s legacy or how we want to be remembered. The things we do are based on who we are of course but they are secondary; they are the outward actions usually based on internal qualities of character. The step in changing emphasis is learning to focus on a person’s attitude, naming how they function in relationships and noticing what makes them uniquely and authentically beautiful. We all can choose to be positive, treat each other with honor and respect, behave kindly and appreciate one another’s uniqueness, qualities and personal strengths.
Who am I? How do I want to be known and remembered? I want people to see my heart before my hips and my outlook over my wrinkles. While I want to be seen as a competent and capable worker, I want to be known as a kind and generous person. I want it to be known that I value humor, relationships and pointing people to the Savior but how I live and love. I want people to see Him over what I do. I want to BE a person who gives trust and expects the best, who catches people off guard by seeing them as amazing, who cares by hearing what someone may or may not be saying, who extends grace and makes a difference. I want to speak truthfully. I want to be a shoulder to cry on. I want others to understand the world and God better because I intersected with them. I want others to see me aligned with the things I value. I am Dependable. Faithful. Kind. Trustworthy. Fun and Funny. Open-minded. Curious. Smart.
Deciding who I am going to be based on attitude, relationship and identity rather than role, which changes, is a value to extend to others as well. But I often miss that. In fact, I think I do this to God. When He doesn’t answer my prayers I question His provision. When I feel lonely I question His character based on what He has done for me rather than who He is. When I don’t have an answer to prayer, or at least not one I want, I feel He is capricious, distant and a hard of hearing judge instead of remembering that those have never been part of His identity.
God is a provider but that is because of His character not just what He does. He is a God who loves, who sees, who is faithful. He is more than what He does, but how often do I reduce Him to Doing over a Being?! When I cannot see who He is or when I choose to focus on what He does or doesn’t do for me or someone I love, I doubt His character. I minimalize His nature. Do I really know Him? Do I allow Him to be more or do I squish Him into a box?
May I move forward with a positive attitude, treat others with the unexpected kindness of seeing them for more than what they do, and look for and name the qualities of character over the labels of action.