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When My Job Doesn’t Feel Sexy Anymore

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

 

Her: “So what do you do for a living?”

Me: “Oh. I’m a freelance writer.”

Her, crease darkening her brow as she wonders, “Is this a clever way of saying ‘virtually unemployed’?” : “Okay… So what does that look like?”

Now. Compare this scenario to about six months ago.

Her: “So what do you do for a living?”

Me: “Oh. I’m homeschooling my kids because we’re in Africa. On the side I teach some refugees.”

Her, a glow widening her smile: “Wow! That sounds amazing!”

 

One of these, you see, is decidedly sexier than the other—even with the “homeschooling” part thrown in.

I get it. Most of us have a hierarchy of Job Coolness Factor. I’ve got one, too.

But as much as I joke about it—there’s an identity factor here, too. I’ve dealt with some legitimate fears since returning to the US. It’s tempting to think maybe God got this all wrong. Or maybe I did, electing my own “demotion” from serving as a missionary in Africa. When all this transpired, I admit uttering to another writer, of all people: “I feel like here I am, sharing the Gospel, and God’s handing me a dented paintbox to work with. What am I supposed to do with this?”

(Did you feel it? That flicker of doubt?)

At one point, I figured out a metaphor for what I was wrestling with. It was as if, in Africa, I had been a sous chef, working alongside Him through major banquets and sweaty evenings, finishing with a high five. On the side, I created some tasty pastries. But one day, He tells me, “You’re my new pastry chef. You’ll be working over there.” From where I am now, I can still smell the main course He’s cooking up as I muscle through my new job, rolling out dough and throwing away a few failed dishes.

Yet when I step back, the real message in that metaphor is the alienation I felt; the change in partnership I sensed in my work. Yes, God and I still create together. But I still fight against that feeling of being “benched.” Is this really where you wanted me? I’m tempted to justify where He’s put me with a certain level of achievement—to make it feel significant and meaningful, doggone it.

See, I tend to link my own sense of my work’s significance with my value. It’s hard not to in a culture where we value effectiveness. And that’s how we start building this imaginary hierarchy of service to God. This tendency is linked to three lies we tend to believe as humans, which Henri Nouwen identifies:

  • “I am what I do.”
  • “I am what I have.”
  • “I am what others think of me.”

Each, unfortunately, fly in the face of the verdict Jesus has won for us.

I’m learning that sometimes, my disdain for the commonplace boils down to good ol’ fashioned pride. I’m not sure God shares my American value of usefulness or value or greatness in the same way. Sometimes, He says it’s good to just wash feet.

Sometimes, my idea of “greatness” is simply . . . off.

Perhaps my value should simply lie in being His daughter, rather than my contribution (anybody else hear Martha and Mary tones in there?). The point is, I’m His. I am not what I do. Or who others say I am. Or what I have. So I don’t have to grasp for a higher place in the hierarchy of “Cool Jobs”.

So, the passage I’ve drilled down through lately is this one:

. . . if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body… If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  (1 Corinthians 12:16, 17, 19, ESV)

I thought, “If the whole Body were a sous chef, where would the pastry chef be?” Because this passage isn’t just about gifts. It’s about unique functions in a collective whole. About God’s holy idea of usefulness.

Martin Luther King once said,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

In my transition, I’m unhitching my identity, still, from my pet lies about what makes me valuable—even when those lies touch on what I do for the Kingdom of God. Or who other people think I am; to do whatever I do for His renown (see Colossians 3:23). I’m learning daily the beauty of Mary’s “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Maturity in the Body of Christ, wherever I am around the world, is just another chance to wash more feet. So here I am, saddling up for a little less sexiness for the Kingdom of God—and hopefully, a little more quiet, trusting faithfulness.

Editor’s Picks: Best of What Makes You Beautiful

Try as we might to stop it, modern society’s ever-changing standards of beauty seem to constantly creep into our thinking and impression of our self-worth. But God, as our creator, designed each of us exactly the way that we are, with great intention.

What do we do when we struggle to like how He’s made us?

When I Got Tired of Hiding My Sins

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

“The truth will find you out.”

When I was a small child, these words struck fear in my heart, because when my mother quoted them to me, it meant that even though she lacked sufficient proof to discipline me for my disobedience, she knew that I had sinned and was leaving my conscience to God.

This line from Numbers 32:23 was issued by Moses as a warning to Israel against violating their covenant relationship with God, but it also illustrates the general idea that even though we can bury the evidence of our sin and refuse to confess, we cannot escape the reality of our misdeeds.

When I read mystery stories, I always looked forward to the moment when the detectives would unmask a criminal. But in real life, I identified more with the criminal who hid his or her guilt, afraid of the moment when they would have to face the truth and its consequences. Nothing terrified me more than the thought of people seeing how bad I really was.

As I matured, I stopped wasting my mother’s time by lying about deeds that I had obviously done, but I sinned in other ways. People at church thought that I was a sweet girl, but at home, I was characterized by angry outbursts and disdain for others. When youth leaders praised me for my biblical knowledge and sterling character, I tried to convince them that I wasn’t nearly as godly as they thought, but they just chalked up points for my supposed humility, never understanding how bad I actually was. There was no way for me to convince people of my brokenness without shocking and alienating them, so I kept my public behavior up to the level of others’ expectations and felt like a total fake.

 

Confronting the Truth About Who I Am

I spent hours obsessing over my own perceived guilt and innocence, and this drew me even deeper into my lifelong interest in mystery stories. According to Hannah Anderson, who writes about how detective novels helped her discover the importance of truth in a chapter of her book All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment, readers gravitate towards this genre in search of “something that is more elusive in our real lives: certainty, truth, and resolution.” These are exactly the things that I was searching for—and yet at the same time was most afraid of.

Near the end of my teenage years, I devoured every single Agatha Christie mystery, enjoying the adventures of her famous detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, as well as those of her lesser-known detectives. Agatha Christie’s mysteries, published from 1920 to 1973, are famous for their ingenious twists and moral core; her detectives love justice and seek out the facts regardless of the personal or social costs.

As Hannah Anderson writes, “Pursuing truth requires more than knowing where the facts lead. It requires the honesty to actually follow them, no matter who they implicate.” When I reached the denouement of books where the murderer was a likable person or a love interest, I would inwardly groan, because I didn’t want it be them!

As I dealt with this fictional reality, I realized how much murder mysteries illustrate the truth of human depravity. We tend to assume the worst of unlikable people, while minimizing the sins of those who seem sympathetic, but we are all sinners, and our inner guilt doesn’t always manifest in our outward appearance. It pained me to think about characters that I cared about facing imprisonment or death because of what they had done, but this was the punishment that they had earned, and if the detective had not discovered their guilt, innocent people would have remained under suspicion.

The truth must come out, even when it is unpleasant, and seeing this reality at work in fiction encouraged me to be more courageous in facing the truth about myself. At the same time that I was reading a murder mystery a day, I became aware of red flags in my own life, recognizing that sin issues which I had ignored out of confusion and helplessness had become deep-rooted in my everyday habits and thoughts.

I could have spun stories about myself to ease the tensions between my problems and my ideals, but instead of looking for evidence to confirm a personal narrative, I held myself to the higher standard of truth that the best murder mysteries encourage, willing to deal with the facts in the most accurate, impartial way.

 

The Truth That Sets Us Free

I discovered that I was far worse than I had originally thought, and my feelings of guilt intensified. During this time, I became much less interested in explaining my sins away, because what I needed was forgiveness, not a better narrative.  This sense of desperation drew me back to a verse that I had memorized as a child: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

I clung to this promise, knowing that even though it was excruciating for me to reevaluate my life and face up to my sin, God would not leave me in the depths of my depravity. He promised to cleanse and purify me, and all I had to do was confess and reach for Him in faith.

“Truth is more important than my self-image,” I insisted, and as I accounted for the facts, faced reality, and moved forward in repentance, I learned what it means to be loved by a God who already knows everything about me (Psalm 139:1-5). The consequences that I had feared seemed paltry in comparison to God’s lavish grace, and I knew that His mercy had always been there for me, even during my worst moments.

As the psalmist writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). I was finally free to face the truth, and I knew what it felt like to be cleansed of my sin.

When I finally told people about my struggles, they responded with compassion and understanding, but my greatest relief came from the divine grace that I laid claim to in faith. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I am cleansed of my sin and clothed in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), and this frees me from the bondage of sin and from my old, constraining fear of reality.

At the cross, all that I am, and everything that I have done, is totally exposed, but even though this can be an excruciating thought, it guarantees that I will never have to defend illusions about my own goodness again. My sin will find me out, but the mercy of Christ will restore me, because the One who has always seen the whole truth chooses to love me anyway.

Handing in My Self-Degrading Thoughts

One of the most natural habits I acquired through life was that of putting myself down. I didn’t need anyone talking down at or to me because I was already so good at doing it to myself.

I was never berated while growing up. I just always wanted to be the best at everything, so I put unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed no matter what.

In school, if I got a 96 instead of a 100, it was easier to beat myself up for “not being smart enough” than to celebrate the fact that I had passed with a high mark.

Such self-deprecation never actually helped me accomplish or achieve good things. It only fostered a heart prone to endless pain. And it was tiring. The burden of self-degrading thoughts was overwhelming.

Where I erred most, however, was when I never took my heaviness as a sign to stop and surrender. Instead I allowed my mind to further fall into the destructive habit of thinking poorly of myself.

My views of who I was were low. Putting myself down was natural. And my feelings weren’t me just being “modest.” I truly did think very little of myself, to the point where I felt I had no purpose.

I insisted on holding on to my self-made mirror instead of looking at the one Jesus wanted to give me instead.

Throughout the years, I knew the truth in my mind—that my value is far more than I could ever imagine, because Jesus died on the cross for me. Sinful, seemingly insignificant me. He gave me new life and new hope. But that head knowledge couldn’t access my heart for the longest time while I held on to my own beliefs of how insignificant I still thought I was.

Until one night at church when my pastor came over to pray for me. As he prayed, he reminded me that God not only loves me, but He is delighted to call me His daughter. And that is what I am. A daughter of God.

As he said those words, it was as if a switch were flipped in my brain. And in my heart, I suddenly understood the truth about myself.

It left me broken, but also with a newfound joy as I learned to surrender my thoughts.

To my low self esteem, God says . . . He has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)

To my fears of failure, God says . . . Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)

To my physical insecurities, God says . . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To my people-pleasing ways, God says . . . Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

To my feelings of hopelessness, God says . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

To my self-demeaning thoughts, God says . . . See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

In time, I’ve found my prayers going from “Lord, help me as I seek to do things for You today” to “Lord, help me simply ‘be’ for You today.”

At times, it’s still easy to slip into old habits of beating myself up, but I don’t stay stuck in those ruts anymore. God in His great faithfulness meets me where I’m at and beckons my heart to move forward with Him.

When I moved from Mexico to Hong Kong nearly three years ago, I found it so easy to compare myself to other women’s academic achievements and statuses. I constantly imagined what life would be like if I had had their qualifications, and I often berated myself for not being as smart or as accomplished. It was draining, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, all superficial.

Over time I learned that as great as such outward qualities may be, at the end of the day, God is more interested in my heart.

Within the last year I’ve slowly stopped comparing myself to others’ academic achievements or statuses. Berating and thinking poorly of myself has lessened more and more as I’ve allowed the truth of Scripture to really sink into my heart. The verses I mentioned above have been key in my life as I learn to see myself as God does.

I keep learning that “being” for the Lord looks like simply listening to what He has to say about me, enjoying His goodness, and resting in His freedom.

The truth about me and the reality of my identity is this: I am a child of God.