A clergy friend recently retired and moved to North Carolina. I asked how it was going. He didn’t miss the night meetings, he said, and he was playing more tennis. But—he missed Sunday mornings. For thirty-five years he’d led people in prayer and worship, and listened at the door to a hundred little personal stories. People trusted him with their lives. Now, who was he?
Reminded me of another story.
The top-flight surgeon, always in heavy demand, allowed himself to let down one day in a chance, hospital corridor meeting with his minister. He talked of the pressures in his life, the professional burdens he carried, and the family strains he lived with. After a time his pastor put to him a frank question. “Doctor,” he said, “who are you when you’re not an MD?”
Stunned, but only for a moment, the surgeon replied, “By God, I’m always an MD!”
“Yes,” the minister responded, “and that’s just the problem.”
Almost universally, we over-identify with our jobs or professions. Who are you when you’re not a lawyer, a teacher, a broker, a saleswoman? The question sounds absurd. We’ve given our lives to this job! We live at work, and even when we go home we’re not really there; we’re still living in work-world. Everything depends upon our being a “success.”
But we could also ask, “Who are you when you’re not a father or mother?” It’s easy to take one aspect of yourself—parenthood—and make it somehow a self-defining profession. It’s how we got “helicopter parents.” Then inevitably the day comes when all your children leave home. Now what?
We all cultivate a false, external self. It’s the person defined by how we look, our job, party affiliations, children’s achievements, zip codes, all the external things that people see and judge. Yet deep down in every one of us—sometimes buried so deep we don’t even know it—is our true self. That is the person who simply is, the self that God created perfect as-is. Your true self cannot be defined by anything you do, anything you accomplish. Yet we spend most of our time trying to become somebody else. We’re taught not to trust the true self—it’s not ‘good enough’—so we spend most of a lifetime creating another, false persona. After a while we actually forget about that other self.
Until we read, say, a blog and run smack into the question: Who are you when you’re not a ___________?