Being Vs. Doing: A Fundamental Misconception
How do you define yourself? If asked to introduce yourself, how do you begin?
I think most of us would state our name and occupation. It’s straightforward, easy, not too much information, and certainly not risking anything too personal. But is this who we really are? I understand that our name is part of our identity, but is our occupation really who we are? Or are we simply determining who we are by what we do?
This, I think, is a fundamental misconception that so many of us struggle with. We get our identity from what we do instead of doing based on our own identity.
Let me give you a quick example: let’s say that I am a doctor because I work in a hospital [doing => being] or I was made (born) with a fascination for medicine, anatomy, and fixing broken people leading me to seek a profession as a doctor [being => doing].
Why Does This Matter?
In true Pauline fashion, I have anticipated your next question (read Romans and see how Paul raises questions in response to his reader’s probable objections if you don’t understand what I just did there!).
In short, this matters immensely because we act based on our motivations which leads to who we perceive ourselves to be.
If I’m simply a doctor because I work in a hospital, then my motivation is likely to become financial, leading me to get through patients as quickly as possible to earn more money and enjoy my time off. But, if I’m a doctor because of my identity (I am fascinated with medicine, anatomy, and fixing broken people), my motivation will shift dramatically, leading me to focus on patients, study/learn and do all that I can to fix broken people.
What if we took this idea a step further? Let’s go beyond our personal identity and focus on our collective identity. So many people focus on what they do to determine who they are without ever looking at who we all are. Before humans existed there was God.
First, God was. And then God created, expressing who He was/is. Here we see the first example of being => doing.
An Example From Paul
This is a long quotation, but I want you to take a moment to read through it as it shows us Paul’s being leading to his doing.
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. -Ro 1:1–12
We see through this example that Paul is an apostle because of God putting this call on his life. His zeal for the law, ability to travel and teach rigorously, and love for all people are all part of his being that equip him in his doing of the calling to be an apostle.
What Does This Mean For You?
I believe this concept is so powerful that having the correct view of our being leading to doing is critical and life-altering. So, my plea for you, is to spend some time today thinking of who you are, not focusing on what you do but why you do it? Why you do stuff leads to your motives and character.
Ultimately, the correction of this misconception helps us to connect to God in a much more powerful. It takes off the blinders and allows us to focus on the gifting/calling that the Father has put on our lives!
Carve out some time over the next few days and read Romans 1 and figure out who you are!
Andrew is the director of The Reflection Center House of Prayer (www.thereflectioncenter.com) and writer at www.heinspiredme.com. He is married, has one son, and loves following the Lord’s leading in his life to establish night and day prayer, unite the Church, and disciple younger believers!
Thanks for addressing this important issue. I’ve always thought that identity is more important than what we do as well. It’s part of why I get frustrated sometimes when people ask “what do you do?” as the first thing when they meet you. It puts too much of an emphasis on our actions and allows that to define us. Sometimes what we do isn’t even really who we are at all. What should be most important is who we are in Christ and who he is transforming us into each day as we’re conformed into his likeness.
Glad to address issues that are important! I totally get the “frustration” of the inevitable “what do you do?”! Who we are in Christ is so much more valuable and eternally significant.
Thanks for the great comment!
Andrew, thanks for your post. As you point out it is interesting that a common introductory question is “what do you do?” I think it allows people to reach quick conclusions about you – things like your education, status, financial situation etc. Some of which may not even be correct. But you are so right – any answer a person gives about what they do does not reveal the essence of the person. For many people can be doing the exact same job, but each likely has very different reasons and motivations for doing so. I thought you offered some great encouragement – for people to think about who they are, what unique giftings they have, what makes them come alive and brings them joy. Their answers would highlight the “why” rather than focus on “what” they do.
That’s great insight on how many people can have the same job but be very different people! Glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!
I am actually preparing a message on how individuals are able to discover their true identity through Christ. I was hoping to have it ready for tomorrow.
One thing I have come to understand is that our true identity rests on the core values we have. These core values influence our beliefs and motivate us to live life with meaning and purpose. I have a whole lesson on discovering 9 core values and then building on those values in order to establish who one is and how it defines their sense of meaning and purpose. Something I have done in therapy groups with my patients. Many of them come away with a renewed sense of hope.
That’s good insight about the core values! Thanks for sharing that!
You are welcome, and thanks again for your article.