I am a teacher. This is how I’ve defined myself most of my adult life. It’s become not just an occupation, or even a vocation, but also an integral part of my identity. That wasn’t my intention of course, but unwittingly, it’s the identity I chose. Perhaps it’s because I’m single and “my kids” have been just that to me; perhaps it’s the tendency we all have, particularly as westerners and Americans, to let what we do define us. I’m reminded of an English movie I saw recently where two strangers meet and one asks the other, “And what do you do?” The new acquaintance responds, “My, aren’t you sounding American.” In any case, though our actions always speak the truth of our characters, and however much we are shaped by the icebergs of culture around us, I can’t let my career define me.
I’ve come up against this rather startlingly in recent months when it became obvious that I was no longer serving or caring for my students as their teacher should, primarily because of health challenges. Leaving teaching behind is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. To be honest, I guess I would say I feel a little groundless now, particularly in responding to the questions that characterize dinner parties. My aunt has always wisely said it took her a long time to learn we are called human beings and not human doings for a reason. Just why is it so scary for us to offer up ourselves as we are without listing what we are doing and accomplishing? For me at least, it feels insufficient. But God says to me that He has made me sufficient. As Marilynne Robinson once wrote, and as quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech:
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. You say, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God! Your playing small does not serve the world….and as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously liberate others to do the same.”
I am a child of God, defined only by how He views me: totally right with Him, completely accepted as I am, utterly worthy of dignity and delight. I’m clinging to that these days, trying to learn to see myself through His eyes.