We’re Not Having a Work Crisis; We’re Facing An Identity Crisis

By Denise Lee Yohn

January 31, 2022

Burnout, De Pree Journal

Workers are quitting their jobs at record rates. Frustrated by low pay, bad working conditions, and all the disruptions caused by the pandemic, people have become disillusioned with work and are searching for greener pastures in better jobs, their own start-ups, or in some cases doing nothing more than the bare minimum to survive. But the Great Resignation must become the great realization – people need to realize that work cannot fulfill all the desires and meet all the expectations that we have been conditioned to think it should.

The current workforce trends reflect not a crisis of mental health or workers’ rights or fair wages – it’s a crisis of identity. Too many people have been looking too much to their work to give them their identity. We tend to believe “it’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me,” as a popular quote from a Batman movie tells us. With our job as our identity, we expect to derive meaning, satisfaction, and self-expression from it.

Too many people have been looking too much to their work to give them their identity.

But God doesn’t intend for work to be our identity. Jesus Christ is to be the source of identity. He wants us to understand that we are first and foremost beloved children. We are not orphans left to find our safety and significance in this world. Our identity in God is made possible through Jesus and we are instructed to live out this identity as His followers. Once we get our identity from Christ – once we derive our sense of purpose and fulfillment from Christ and Christ alone – then we are to seek work that enables us to embrace and experience it.

This means that our response to a poor work experience shouldn’t be to quit, condemn it, or simply check out. We should seek God’s grace and power to cling to our identity in Christ. Some practices that will help include:

    • Preach the gospel to ourselves. Despite what our culture seems to suggest, we are human beings, not human doings. Who we are makes us valuable, not what we do. So, our first priority should be to firmly root ourselves in our identity as God’s beloved children. To do this, we need to regularly preach the gospel to ourselves, as Jack Miller would say. The gospel isn’t a message that we hear and believe and then move on to do work out of our own effort and intention. We must continually renew our minds and guide our steps with the gospel.
    • Reject idolatry of work. When we look to work to give us significance, to provide security, or to make us successful, we make an idol out of it. We give it inordinate and inappropriate power over our emotions, and our lives. We need to restore the proper perspective on work: God created work and He blessed us with it, work is supposed to be fun and lead to flourishing, and God declared work “good.” But, work now lies with all other aspects of human life under the curse of sin because of the Fall—and as such, work can be fruitful, life-giving, glorifying, and eternal, but it will always fall short of its original promise. We need to reject the god we’ve made out of work and worship the One and Only True God.
    • Use our calling from God to make job decisions. As Christ-followers, we are called to partner with God in advancing the kingdom – and we have been equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so through our work. So, we must discern through prayer, study, and wise counsel what our vocational contributions should be. Where, when, how, to, and with whom are we to apply the skills, gifts, and experiences that God gives us? It may indeed be that our current job doesn’t allow us to faithfully steward these and we should look elsewhere. But it’s just as likely that God can and wants to use us exactly where we are.  Instead of seeking self-satisfaction, we should make our decisions about what jobs we take and what work we do in response to God’s calling.

For many of us, recent times have revealed the shortcomings of our current work. But that doesn’t mean we should take our job and shove it. Work remains a path toward fulfillment, but we’re better off pursuing it as a path toward formation. Work can be a way that God forms us into the people He intends for us to be – we just need to let Him.

Instead of seeking self-satisfaction, we should make our decisions about what jobs we take and what work we do in response to God’s calling.

Denise Lee Yohn

Writer & Author

Denise Lee Yohn is the Director of the Faith & Work Journey, a spiritual formation and professional development experience that helps Christian businesspeople cultivate a vital integration of their faith and work.  

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