Have you spent much time reading Instagram and Twitter bios? They usually read like a list of jobs. “Wife, mom, entrepreneur.” “Writer and speaker.” I was just looking at Joanna Gaines’ profile (because my mom gifted me a copy of the Magnolia Journal…yay!), and it reads, “Wife. Mom. Renovator. Designer. Shop Owner. Homebody.” I’m not immune to this trend; my profile says, “Writer, reader, and mom.”
I understand the value in describing ourselves this way. When I clicks on someone’s profile, I want to quickly know she is and what she’s about. I want someone else to learn the same thing about me. Listing our various roles is a good way to define how we spend our time and energy and the kind of things they might see in our profile.
A problem emerges when I define my worth, my value, and my identity in terms of the roles I fill. Roles change and shift over time, but I’ve often resisted this change because I didn’t know how to reframe my identity when a certain role passed away.
When I’m focused primarily on my roles and doing them well, I am disjointed. Both my heart and mind feel divided; I can’t decide which task to complete first, which person to direct my attention toward, or which hobby or passion is most deserving of my time in that moment.
Focusing on roles also leads me down the path to comparison. Life and the Internet give me ten million vantage points from which to compare my motherhood, my home, my productivity, and my career with those of other people. I need only to scroll through Instagram for a few minutes to see how thousands of other people are living into their roles, and when my own roles feel tenuous or unfulfilling, I immediately begin to wonder if I measure up or if I’m doing it as well as they are. (Whatever “it” is.)
As I’ve mulled it over, I’ve come to realize that getting clear about purpose helps shift the focus away from roles and responsibilities. If, for example, my purpose is to “pursue freedom instead of grace and encourage others to do the same,” then there are about a million different ways to do that. No matter what role I do or do not fill, there’s a path toward pursuing that purpose.
While Jesus walked the earth, he filled a lot of roles. He was a son and brother, a teacher and leader. He was likely a carpenter. He was a healer, a provider, and an encourager. But none of those roles—in and of itself—composed his entire purpose. Right? Jesus fulfilled his purpose within each of those roles, but also apart from them. I would even argue that sometimes, the roles society expected him to fill were distracting everyone from his purpose. Because so many expected him to be a political leader and overthrow the Roman empire, they missed that his purpose was to forgive and redeem and reconcile.
This can be true of us, too. When I focus too much on my various roles, I am tempted to place my identity in relationships with others, in accomplishments, and in definitions. I begin to ignore my God-given purpose and forget that my value lies in being a child of God.
Success in each role is often defined by outside forces and society at large, and as a perfectionist, I cling to those sorts of standards and definitions. Whereas purpose? Well, that’s mostly up to me and Jesus to define. There’s a lot more gray area, a lot more wiggle room. That can feel a little intimidating, but in reality, it involves a lot of freedom. When I focus on purpose instead of roles, I experience the freedom to set my own definitions and standards of success, plus the freedom to recognize that success isn’t required to make my life valuable.
“I can’t think of a better way to describe what it feels like to try and get your head and heart around who you are and where you come from than wrestling a greased pig in the dark. Our identities are always changing and growing, they’re not meant to be pinned down.” —Brené Brown