It was so embarrassing. I had a PhD in psychology but I was working as a security guard!
While I was completing my degree, I had been building my psychotherapy practice, but when I was done with my schooling my client load dropped from fifteen clients a week down to three and new referrals were not coming in. I had spent eight years and over $100,000 on my education (in the late 1980s) and here I was sitting inside a cubicle watching security cameras and walking my rounds to make sure everyone was safe.
Instead of being a Dr of the Soul, I was a lowly Dr of Security!
I prayed for God to use me to help people who needed counseling, but little changed for months. I was angry that God wasn’t answering my prayer. I became more and more discouraged and debased. I questioned my calling from God.
One day as I was watching security cameras and praying about how dejected I felt, I sensed God speak to my heart:
“Bill, why are you so distressed? Don’t look to your PhD, your income, or what people think of you for your identity and well-being. Learn to find your significance in Christ — hold your head high because you belong to me!”
Maybe at times you feel inadequate, if not ashamed. Over the years, I have talked with many people whose self-esteem rises and falls with their performance. They feel good about themselves if they succeed or if people approve of them.
We all know this insecure experience of doing whatever we can to feel a sense of value and significance. As children, we were desperate to know that we were seen, heard, and wanted. Children are totally dependent upon the empathy and care of their parents and other caregivers to establish their sense of self-worth and identity.
Many of us have grown up physically, but not so much emotionally. We don’t have a strong sense of identity as a person who is loved and significant to God and others — no matter what we do or what people say about us.
Pastors and others who serve the Lord often struggle with “conditions of worth” or “performance-based identity.”
We become so focused on our ministry to others that it becomes our source of identity. We know better in our heads, but on a feeling level, our self-esteem and mood get tied to our performance. If our teaching, service, or leadership are appreciated then we feel fulfilled, but if we are criticized, under-utilized, or not noticed then we feel insignificant.
Serving God and helping others are very important, but these are secondary sources of identity. When accomplishments and approval are feeding our appetite to feel significant it leads to workaholism, approval addiction, or worse.
In the Bible, John shows us that fruitful ministry comes out of an identity rooted in intimacy with Jesus.
John was just a fisherman and a groupie in Jesus’ entourage. He failed his father by not succeeding in their fishing business. He failed Jesus repeatedly with disbelief, pride, ambition, and anger. Even as an Apostle, he was always lost in the shadows of Peter or Paul. But he grew to be secure and confident because he was Jesus’ friend and Jesus’ friends accepted him. (John 15:15)
This is called “abiding in Jesus.” We become a branch abiding in a grapevine. As we abide in Jesus’ words and love one another relationships we bear fruit that lasts. (John 15:5-12)
With John and soul friends who gave me grace, I learned to smile with dignity as the Dr of Security because “I am the disciple Jesus loves!” (John 13:23, 26; 20:2; 21:7, 20)