A case of mistaken identity: How should we define ourselves?

I was supposed to be a missionary.

I dreamt of it all through childhood. The passion grew each time I read a missionary biography, attended a missions conference, or drove by a Kansas wheat field “white to harvest” (John 4:35).

I traveled to Belize in high school, Papua New Guinea in college. I majored in International Ministries at Moody Bible Institute, intent on following the call of God overseas.

And I did.

My dream came true. When my husband Jarod and I landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2002, ready to minister, ready to take in our twin boys, I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone on the face of the earth.

I was a little fearful, yes. I knew trials surely awaited us. In fact, with the darkness of voodoo surrounding us in a nation that had been dedicated to Satan 200 years earlier, we sometimes felt we’d entered “Mordor” of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But I knew my calling.

Until eight years later, when I didn’t.

After the Port-au-Prince earthquake, after God brought us through the “Red Sea” on dry land, after the adoption miracles, I found myself stripped of the identity that had defined me.

Have you been there?

In American Christian culture, or at least in my own little mind, there was something so noble about being a missionary.

I felt I’d joined the Navy Seals. I was in the elite group. I was one of the chosen, one of the few who got to pick up my cross and follow Christ to another culture.

Though the American Dream appealed to my flesh (oh, did it ever), I wanted to live in a fourth-world country more than I wanted a white-picket fence.

But eight years later, whether I liked it or not, the door to that country was closed in my face.

It eventually sank in. I was no longer a missionary.

Of course, I understood that my mission of reaching the lost would never change, maybe not even my calling to work with those from the Haitian culture, but my identity was gone.

And it needed to be.

Ripe Barley Field at Sunset, a grassy Path leading towards the Sun

He knows when we need to be moved to the next thing.

We may not see the next thing at all. All we see is emptiness, and all we feel is the sting of the slammed door, the disgrace of perceived failure, or the frustration of thwarted plans.

But that’s where Jesus wants to meet us, to refine us — to take knowing and trusting Him to a new level.

And when, after days, weeks, months, or years, we’ve surrendered our identities back to Him, remembering that our true identity is in Him, He sheds His light on a path we never would have found otherwise.

I’m not a missionary in the classic sense of the word.

When I read Kisses from Katie, or blogs by my missionary friends back in Haiti; when I listen to a missionary’s presentation at church or receive prayer letters from friends who are “answering the call,” there’s a twinge of jealousy in my heart.

That used to be me! I answered that call once. I lived an adventure. I shopped the open market instead of Target!

But if my identity was wrapped up in a calling — even a good and noble calling — it was in the wrong place.

God will keep using us, friend. He’s calling me to new things, and He’ll do the same with you. But neither you nor I have the right to tell Him how He should use us.

He’s the Potter, we’re the clay.

And as high as our hopes and thoughts for ourselves are, His thoughts are higher! (Isaiah 55:9)

Yes, God allowed me to flounder without the answers that I desperately wanted, so I would plant myself firmly in Him instead of in a title.

Truth be told, I’m still floundering. I laugh when required to fill in the blank marked “Occupation” on forms.

What am I, anyway?

I may not know what I am, but I do know whose I am.

I am HIS.

And that, my friend, is enough for any of us, isn’t it?

10 comments on “A case of mistaken identity: How should we define ourselves?

  1. It is amazing how your blog seems to coincide with just what Holy Spirit is working in my life. I am 64..married 42 years.. 3 children.. 6 grandchildren.. and still He speaks to me about identity. You have spoken of the Haiti earthquake and how that was such a beginning of change and new paths for you. I think of the verse that says He will allow the shaking in our lives so that what remains will be Him. I treasure His faithfulness to love me and finish the work He began in me long ago.. most of all I treasure His presence as He continues to mold my heart to be ONLY His. Thank you Jennifer for your timely posts!! His words of revelation thru you are like fresh baked bread!!

    • Dear Eva, You speak of a verse “that says He will allow the shaking of our lives so that what remains will be Him.” May I have the reference of that verse, please? I need that one to go on my cabinet and in my heart. 🙂 Thank you!

      • Hi Trina: I’m glad to share the verse about “shaking our lives”. It has been one I have gone back to often. It is Hebrews 12:25-29. He speaks of shaking the earth and the heavens and the importance of heeding that shaking. I often ask God what He is up to in my life, when things seem “shaken”. He gave me this verse in one of my quiet times years ago..I believe they indicate the removing of what CAN be shaken so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
        Kinda like a good sifting.
        Then in verse 28 He goes on to say that we are receiving a kingdom that is unshakeable! So I cling to the truth that when things get shaken up in my life.. it is to remind me that after the shaking, what will remain will be HIM and His clearer voice…and THAT is unshakeable! That promise helps me be more prepared for the next “shaking” in my journey. We serve an awesome King! Thanks for letting me share! Blessings!

    • What a blessing to hear from you, Eva! Yes, this is a lesson God will be teaching me just about every day of my life, I think! I’m so grateful for His promise that you mentioned — to finish the work He began in us.

  2. Yes! Your thoughts on our identity resonated with me. Our worth and identity are so mistakenly wrapped up in our activities and occupation. (Just look at all those Christmas letters we write and receive!) I struggle with this since the lasting effects of my head injury keeps me from substitute teaching. Even when I was a stay-at-home mom and home-schooled my 4 children 30-15 years ago, that was, happily, my identity.

    • You’re right, Trina! Your comment about Christmas letters makes me laugh… yep, in some ways we just can’t help but center ourselves by our activities and occupation. But I’m so grateful that our worth and identity remains unshaken even when we’re rendered “useless” by the world’s standards. Sometimes God brings us to a place where we are forced to “be still and know that [He] is God!” Thanks so much for your comment, Trina.

  3. That was absolutely beautiful, Jennifer! You have discovered what everyone needs to discover.. That our identity must be in Him and Him alone!

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