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July 13, 2015
Mary Tomlinson

How often do we define our identity by what we do for a living, who we married, what children (or grandchildren) we may have, or what church we attend?

As a type-A personality and former executive at a Fortune 500 company, my identity has often been defined by my work. When I left corporate America to start my own company 14 years ago, the insatiable drive to succeed increased. Now, it was really all up to me (or so I thought). There was no automatic weekly paycheck, no one but me to make clients appear, and—with an office in my home—no clearly defined work hours.

The More I Did, the More I Felt I Had to Do

As a coach helping organizations and individuals find and live out their unique purpose, you would think that I would have purpose and identity mastered. Not necessarily. They say coaches and preachers speak to themselves and although at times, I have been able to simply trust God to provide and work alongside Him as my work partner, I too can slide into bad habits.

I’m not sure how it started, but every morning when my husband would leave for work at 6:30 a.m., I felt compelled to begin my workday. There was always work to do and it usually continued through lunch and into the evening. The more I did, the more I felt I had to do: client work, marketing work, planning, book writing, follow up. The list was endless.

I felt like a car with the engine racing, going too fast, off track, and a bit out of control. I could feel pressure in my neck, in my racing mind, in the inability to sleep, and especially in the lack of quiet contentment. I was always thinking of what else I should be doing. There was a constant need to be doing more and an inability to decide when ‘enough is enough.’

I was literally making myself sick. I found myself three days away from leading two major client presentations and felt laryngitis coming on. I started to panic. There was no back-up plan and I thought my reputation was on the line.

In times of desperation, our God is especially amazing.

In times of desperation, our God is especially amazing. A dear friend had sent me three video talks by Julie Canlis about Lent and I thought I would try to calm my spirit by watching them. In one of them she said, “At Jesus’ baptism, God stated that Jesus was His beloved Son. We too are His beloved and this is our true identity.” She went on to say, “If you find your identity in anything other than being the beloved of God, He will get your attention. For example, if you find your identity in competence, He will make you sick.”

Stop the tape. The stunning truth of that statement hit me right between the eyes and pierced my heart. Here was God speaking directly to me as I stared at my computer.

I stopped what I was doing that afternoon and prayed, wrote in my journal, cried, repented, and committed to change. What might seem overly simplistic to some became clear and practical next steps for me: no work before 7:30 a.m., more exercising, morning devotion time, creating margin each day and being very aware of my personal warning signs. I shared this epiphany with my husband that evening to force myself to admit it out loud and ask for accountability.

My warning signs of misplaced identity are when I am:
Striving (to make things happen) rather than Abiding (in God’s grace and care for me)
Driving (feeling it is all up to me) rather than Following (His voice and dependence as His child)
Feeling pressure (more, faster, now) rather than Peace (do what I can today, trust Him, and rest)

I know my identity is in Christ. I know I am His beloved and I know I am His daughter. When I am abiding, following and at peace, I am who He created me to be—and nothing can separate me from His love.

At this very moment in your life, take a prayerful inventory:
Are you striving… or abiding?
• Are you doing all the driving… or are you following?
• Are you feeling the pressures or this life…. or are you are peace?

Some lessons we have to learn many times, and I am thankful that He will continue to help us see that our true identity is in Him alone. When we slow the car down and turn the keys over to the Lord to drive, we really can enjoy the view!


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