In my early twenties I was the wife of a ministry student and the mother of three children born within 2.5 years. We had one car and dozens of cloth diapers. In the brain fog of watching my husband come and go between school, work and ministry—between loads of laundry and the care of my babies, amid the creative stretching of every single dollar and my homespun wardrobe I found myself sinking deeper into a hole of perceived insignificance.
It seemed all my time at church, family gatherings and ministry ops were spent corralling our hyperactive toddlers and shifting my baby from hip to hip. I watched with no small amount of resentment as my husband chatted it up with other purpose-driven, passion-filled folks thrumming to hog tie the devil and save the masses.
I distinctly remember standing at the stove one morning in my well-worn-holiness-compliant-soon-to-be-pastor’s-wife denim skirt stirring oatmeal and tearfully reminding Jesus of my address.
What about my dreams, Lord? My call? I want to be in Bible school, I want to be out ministering and making a difference in people’s lives—dang, I’d settle for ten minutes of uninterrupted quiet time. Sometimes I felt like I was doing hard time in domestic solitary confinement, trying to find significance in mundane duties while feeling virtually invisible to everyone except my needy brood. “Me time” in those days was an evening trip to the grocery store without children.
But let me back up the train and take you to my early teens. I was a high-functioning dissociated mess walking out an abusive childhood in an alcoholic and emotionally chaotic home. My core belief was that I was created and existed for the sole benefit of others—God’s little Cinderella on planet earth. My identity was inextricably tied to this purpose.
I leached self-worth from pushing other people’s carts and lapping scraps of accolades and approval in the process. I told myself a lot of If Only, Then stories. I will feel worthwhile when I am married, preferably to a pastor or missionary, have babies, a home and I am happily June Clever-ing my way through life. (For you younger readers, June Clever from the television show Leave it to Beaver was my generation’s version of Pinterest.)
With complete humility I confess that the next three decades of my life were a series of B rated sequels to the If Only, Then story I told myself in adolescence. How do I say this without sounding crude—I pimped myself out to every church or para-church opportunity that presented itself. If you had asked me then, I would have said—with conviction—that I felt directed by God. But nothing ever stuck and none of it ever quite filled the hole in my soul for identity, purpose, validation and worth. A backward, time-lapsed glimpse of my journey would have revealed me working my way up an incredibly long smorgasbord sampling various offerings of This Will Fill the Hole entrees.
There was a popular book back in the day called Search for Significance but I never actually read it because the title told me enough—people are hungry for significance. I was famished. I realized that even as a Christian who believed she loved Jesus, I was still actively looking for significance and purpose in hopes of finding identity and worth. The church helped feed that lie.
Can I just say it out loud? Purpose does not equal identity and significance doesn’t fuel worth. If I could infuse just one thing into your process today, it would be that truth and here’s why: Our significance and purpose hinge on the assurance of Who’s we are and not from our perception of who we are. Feeling satiated on artificial purpose and the approval of others is like trying to satisfy hunger by viewing a menu.
Not everyone comes from my particular petri dish of shame and brokenness but I can confidently say that shame and brokenness have been cultivated in every single one of us. Shame drove me toward self-appointed significance. I believed I could somehow atone for the deep-seated belief that I wasn’t enough, that I had to earn love, work for belonging and barter for acceptance. This exhausting and unfruitful process failed to eradicate the erroneous, and unbiblical, perception I had of myself.
Even though bible head knowledge said otherwise, my internal shame grid would not allow the truth of my worth, value and lovability in God’s eyes to take root in my soul and feed purpose in life.
When I finally stepped back from trying to fit into a mass produced ministry matrix and started living out of an organic place of intimacy with Jesus, my beliefs about purpose shifted.
Every life-transformative encounter recorded in the gospels was born out of an intimate and personal exchange with Jesus. He was face to face when he probed Peter’s heart, “Peter, who do you say that I am?” You see, for years I answered that question largely based on what I had heard others say about who He was.
What would be your answer if you sat face to face with Jesus, His eyes peering deeply into your soul, and He asked you the question He posed to Peter? If you peeled from your response all the rhetoric and sound bites and insights of others, answering only what you know for sure, what you have personally received—what would your answer be?
Let me ask you to consider joining me in asking Jesus a question. “Lord, who do you say that I am?”
Can I encourage you to pause, step off the hamster wheel you’ve found yourself on and simply sit at the feet of Jesus like you just met Him.
I’m convinced that He wants to clear up any misunderstandings you’ve acquired along the way—misunderstandings about your worth, your purpose and your significance.
As Staci Eldridge says,
“You don’t live a purpose-driven life, you live an identity-driven one.”