As my sister-in-law Debby drove to the elementary school to pick up her daughter, the car was filled with a barrage of questions from her 3-year-old son Cameron, securely fastened in his car seat in the back. Like many other preschoolers his age, Cameron was fascinated with the “why’s” of life in his growing world.
“Mommy, why are we here?” Cameron asked Debby as they pulled up to the school.
“We’re here to pick up your sister,” came Debby’s obvious answer.
Frustrated, Cameron let out an exasperated sigh.
“No,” he said, “not why are we here. Why are we heeere?”
To emphasis his point, Cameron’s little arms made a wide circle to indicate the earth. And with that unforgettable exchange, this little boy asked the question so many of us take a life-time to answer.
Maybe you’ve been asking these questions lately as well. “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How can I make a difference in this world? I’m so confused…”
Confusion often comes when your identity is mixed up with the vocation you choose to follow. Your identity and vocation are not the same thing, though they can and should work together. This is so important to understand!
Let’s say you’ve chosen to work as a nurse. You invest your time and resources in training, and spend years developing your skill. Whenever you meet a new person, you’re quick to say in the introductions, “I am a nurse.” Being a nurse has become your identity. It is who you are—or so you think. Then one day, your job folds and you are thrown into a pool of thousands of other unemployed nurses, battling for the scarce job openings that remain. Finding no other options, you change careers and become a teacher. “I am a teacher…” becomes your new calling card.
What’s wrong with this scenario? Isn’t it possible for our identities to change along with our jobs in life? No! No?
This confusion happens when we substitute who we are with what we do.
Who are you? First and foremost, you are an individual deeply loved, created in the image of God. There never has been, and there never will be, someone just like you!
The starting point to discovering who you are—your true identity—is to recognize the unique way you resemble the One who created you.
Returning to the example above, you may have entered the field of nursing because you have an instinctive desire to nurture and protect. Can you see how God’s character and nature are imparted to you—qualities that mimic His own heart? No matter what vocation you choose in life, your desire to nurture and protect will always be at work, for that is how you were created—that is who you are.
In the book of Jeremiah, God tells him when he was still a young person, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
God had intimate knowledge of Jeremiah before he was even formed in his mother’s womb. God knew Jeremiah completely—his identity, his purpose, his destiny. The unfolding of all these things was released in Jeremiah’s life as he walked in his identity (prophet) and in his destiny (to the nations).
Jeremiah could have chosen to live out his identity as one who listened to the Lord individually, because a prophet is one who hears from God first. He could have chosen to live out his identity as he spoke God’s words to his inner circle of friends and family. But God chose to widen his influence and send him to the nations. Now many others came into contact with Jeremiah’s identity and destiny, as they heard the words God gave him to speak.
To put it in other terms, here’s one simple way to help distinguish between identity and vocation, and how they work together to bring you to your destiny:
Imagine yourself in a car. The car is basic, but you like it. It’s running well, and it’s getting you to where you need to go. Before long, you decide you need a new form of transportation to get you to where you need to go—so your uncle buys you a private jet and before you know it, you’re heading off to the places you’ve always wanted to go (well, we can all dream, can’t we?). In this example, your transportation is your vocation—it’s not your identity, although sometimes we do fall into the trap of letting our things define our worth. Your destination is your destiny. And you are the same, whether you are behind the wheel of your trusty car or being transported by private jet—the essence of you is still you!
If you’re struggling to discern your identity and destiny in life, here is my encouragement to you:
First, ask God to reveal the unique way He’s chosen you to represent His presence in the world. This is your unshakeable identity.
Next, evaluate your strengths. If you don’t know how to do this, I recommend this simple Strength’s Finder test. See if your results match up with what you already instinctively knew. (Disclaimer: this test isn’t free, but it’s definitely worth the $15 investment).
Then, as you are equipped with knowing who you are and the strengths God has given you, evaluate how you would best like to use your abilities to impact your world.
This is the fun part! When you know who you are, and how God has created you to live, you can relax and be at peace in whatever vocational choices you make in life. Vocation is just the avenue by which your identity, purpose and destiny gets to be released. No matter what you chose, you’ll be able to confidently walk in each opportunity He gives.
You were born for this time in history. Your life was created by design. I pray you will discover your true identity and find joy in the destiny waiting for you!