Written by Clare Lee, Singapore
This was the question that was explored over the pulpit at my church a while ago. We learned that Christians are not defined by their jobs (or lack of), but by their identities in Christ; Christians were once slaves to the world (Galatians 4:3), but have now been adopted as children of God (Galatians 4:6-7).
Yet that exhortation didn’t bring me any comfort. If this was true, why then did it seem as though I was being treated differently—even by believers—because of my vocation?
In Singapore, the default introduction that one gives on meeting a new face is to state one’s occupation at the time. And, depending on what you say, the response you get can be different, as I experienced.
I spent some time in teaching some years ago. Upon hearing that I was a teacher, people would tell me that I was doing noble work and praise me for devoting my time and energy to molding young minds. It didn’t matter that as a non-graduate teacher, I did the same work as my graduate peers, but with half the pay—which, if I may be completely honest, was demoralizing.
Later, I spent some time helping out with holiday programs at my church’s student care. I felt that this was similar to my previous job. Though it didn’t require me to mark assignments, I was still interacting with young people from the same age group. Yet I felt like I was now viewed differently, as people questioned why I had made such a choice.
Once, a pupil even told me that I “should be having the time of my life” as a young adult instead of helping out at a student care. While I was taken aback by the comment, I calmly explained that every job that was respectfully done, was a worthy job to have. Yet, I couldn’t help mulling over the thought: If even a child had a preconceived notion of which job was respectable and which wasn’t, what more an adult?
I tried my hand at freelance writing for some time too, after a friend offered the opportunity. I learned much from it, as the experience gave me a greater awareness of current affairs and taught me about time management—working without the fixed routine of an office job. I was discouraged, however, by the unsolicited opinions that came my way. People kept telling me that freelance writing wasn’t a profitable job, and shared about opportunities they felt were more beneficial, like private tutoring.
I think I would have been less affected if these sentiments had come only from non-Christian acquaintances, but they were echoed by people in church, even those I trusted (including those in respected positions). Although I was thankful that freelance writing was a good match for my interests, skills, and personality, my initial gratitude later turned into discouragement and despair, and I started to wonder: Why can’t people just be happy for me in what I do?
Presently, I write for a Christian website. While I am not earning as much as I used to, people generally react favorably to what I do. I guess this is due to the “nobility” of the job—it is a platform for gospel ministry. I am grateful for this privilege. However, I also realize that it is no different from the other jobs I have worked at in the past—each one of them was a platform to be a gospel witness and an honest means of income.
Across these different vocations, nothing internal had changed—I possessed the same qualifications, personality and social status as I did when I first started teaching. At the core, I was still fallen, in need of my Savior, but saved by grace. I’m still learning not to take to heart the labels that people put on me as a result of their skewed perceptions of what I do.
These days, I’m learning to rest in the comfort that while my identity (in the eyes of the world) seems to be tied to my profession, in God’s eyes, it never changes. As a child of God, I am neither falsely elevated by a job that society deems prestigious, nor will I lose my standing in God’s sight if I were to hold a less conventional or prestigious job. My identity as God’s child is secure in Him.
Though I live in a society where my perceived worth can fluctuate, nothing inherent about me has changed. I am valued for who I am by God, and I can rest assured that I remain a beloved child of the Most High.
And for that, I am thankful!