(HPP Series, Part 2)
If I had met you a few years ago, one of the first things I would have asked you is, “What do you do for a living?” And I would have expected you to return the favor by asking me what I did for a living. This is how I wanted you to know me—through my profession. Why? Because though I didn’t fully recognize it, that’s what I had identified my value and purpose in life with. To paraphrase Descartes, my life’s mantra could have been: “I coach, therefore I am.” My whole sense of value and self-worth was wrapped around what I did, and as a result, I overworked and constantly pushed myself to keep achieving success in my profession.
I remember the first time I realized that something just wasn’t right with the way I was living. It was the day I left my job as a Division I collegiate strength and conditioning coach for a newer, better opportunity to work with SEALS. I had been extremely successful as a college coach, participating in helping my school win back-to-back Division I Men’s Ice Hockey National Champions. But as I packed the last remnants of my former office into my truck and began to drive away, I remember saying to myself, “Huh, look at that. It’s not burning down without me after all.” The program I spent years building was going to move on without me whether I was there or not. Suddenly, King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2:21-23 hit home:
“For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his day his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.”
Yes, it was a depressing thought, and a flood of painful emotions quickly followed. I began to recognize just how exhausted I was on every level. But as uncomfortable as experiencing that sense of emptiness was, I desperately needed to feel it. In the end, it opened me up to seek the Holy Spirit and allow Him to show me a better way to live.
In the weeks and months that followed, my loving Father began to wrap me in His arms to show me the truth of who I really am and my purpose in life. He helped me understand that my performance identity was rooted in unresolved pain and lies I had believed in childhood. Somewhere, I learned that my identity was something I did, not something that I am, and so no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I also believed that acceptance from others came from how effective I was through performance. God began to set me free from these lies and heal my heart with His truth. I began to realize, “I’m a strength coach, sure. But there’s so much more to me than that. I’m also a father and husband. I’m a brother and friend. I’m a mentor and student of life. And, most importantly, I’m a child of God.”
In my ongoing search to understand and live in my true identity and purpose, certain truths have become anchor points in my thinking. Here are four:
- We were made in the image of God.
Genesis 1:27 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him; male and female he created them” (NIV). The implication is that our original design was to be like God. There is nothing more that we can do to be more loved by Him. He created us to be like Him, and just like any Father, He teaches us how to live. We are our most authentic selves when we live like He does.
- Jesus lived and modeled the authentic human life.
Jesus was the fulfillment of what we, as men, were supposed to be. He knew His purpose and He spent His life fulfilling it. His relationship with the Father was perfect, as God intended for us, and therefore, He knew exactly what the Father’s will was for His life. We get a glimpse of the awesome surety of Jesus’ purpose and mission through His very clear and pointed statement in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He knew His mission and it drove His life and all that He did. Every step of His life was taken because He was completely clear of His identity. He wasn’t one way when He was speaking in the synagogue and another way when with loved ones. As a result, He left a legacy of love, honor, sacrifice, service, and protection—a legacy with eternal impact.
- On the day Jesus took His rightful place in heaven, He left us our purpose.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything have I commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In this statement, Jesus gave us our purpose. Now that we know our true identity as children of God, He’s telling us to simply go out into the world and reveal to others their true identity—to show the lost how they are creations, loved deeply, and made in the image of God. We must answer the call of Jesus and walk that out. No matter what we do for a living, our goal should be to bring people to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That’s your purpose. Sure, be great at what you do for a living. Be a great dad, husband, and friend. But follow in the path of the only Authentic Man and love, honor, sacrifice, serve, and protect others out of respect of Whose image you carry. As followers of Jesus, we are to bring God’s people back to their rightful inheritance.
- Our identity cannot be found in striving and driving in the hope of proving our self-worth. It can only be found in embracing and thriving in the freedom of believing what God believes about us.
The Father has given us every tool and resource we need to live the life He gave us. It is up to us to find the great power lying inside us and bring it to a world that is in such desperate need for it.
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 MSG)
Go forth and live the life God created you for. Your purpose can be found in His purpose. Your identity is not found in what you do but who—and Whose—you are.