When your work is taken away from you

by Editor on December 7, 2015

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My husband and I moved to rural Cambodia in March 2011, and through the summer of 2012, I volunteered in a missionary clinic as a registered nurse. I helped set up the clinic, registered patients, assisted with procedures, and visited patients in their homes— a volunteer job that was meaningful and fulfilling. I was also finishing my bachelor’s degree in nursing online.

But in June 2012, the missionary doctor closed the doors of the clinic and went home for a year’s furlough. I continued studying online and volunteering with small projects, but my world of work and influence shrank. After I finished my online studies in December, I found myself a very reluctant housewife with a blank calendar and few commitments.

I’ve always been a “go-getter” – a woman with a lot of drive and ambition who finds new challenges for herself. That year, however, I plunged into a depression I couldn’t shake. I tried finding part-time work with my husband’s organization and developing health education programs for other charities in town. But there were no positions in my husband’s office or with the other charities.

I felt frustrated, unfulfilled, and dissatisfied.

Why would God put me in a country like Cambodia and not give me a specific role to play? Why were my talents and time being wasted? Why couldn’t I find some way to use my nursing skills?

Slowly, over the course of a few months, God showed me why. Through prayer, his Word, and deep conversations with other Christians, I found purpose in the darkness. He gently drew the idol out of my heart: finding my identity outside of Jesus.

It was true. I’ve always found satisfaction, even pride, in describing myself as a nurse. I held challenging jobs that were respected by others. I had a role to look forward to when I woke up and a way to feel good about myself. But when it was taken away? I felt worthless.

I didn’t feel like Jesus was enough for me.

I believed the lie that I needed to create my own identity through my work, efforts, and titles. Being his daughter, his redeemed child, didn’t factor into my thoughts when I evaluated myself. I sought to be recognized and defined by my work, instead of the work Christ did for me.

God had to strip away all that was holding me together – a long and painful process. But now I know why God allowed those props to fall out of my life. I’m not defined by what I do; I’m defined by what Jesus did for me, and even now, how he changes me and leads me. Who I am in Christ is far more significant and lasting than any identity I could build on my own.

Once in Christ, our identity doesn’t change. It’s not threatened by other people. It can’t be held up in comparison to others, either to make us feel better about ourselves, or worse — because we can’t take credit for who we are. God is working in me and through me to make a new creature, with a new heart that longs only to glorify Him.

Now we’ve returned to the United States, and I’m still tempted to find my identity in a place other than Jesus. As long as I’m in this broken body on earth, I won’t stop struggling with the temptation to look away from Christ. But he is faithful to forgive, to strengthen, and to redeem. That’s what I want to identify with and be recognized by: his steadfast love for me.

Originally published here

WhitA travel junkie, RN, book nerd, and recovering expat, Whitney Conard recently moved back to Kansas City, USA after three years in Cambodia with her husband and son. She blogs at Journey Mercies about pursuing Jesus, loving people, living justly, and exploring the world.

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  • Ginny

    Thank you for sharing. This rings true for me as we move ministries after 11 years in a village to now living in a city. I haven’t found my place and I am struggling with feelings of not being worth much or having value in some way. I am praying that God will help me realize what is truly important. Thank you for your words!

    • so glad you were encouraged! God is definitely in the business of giving us new dreams for the future, even if it wasn’t what we expected 🙂

  • Bon

    This my story too!! I’m a nurse in Central America and we moved from one ministry area to another 1yr ago. In the past year I haven’t done any nursing (which I didn’t realize I clung to so much to feel significant)…I feel like I’ve been lost for a year but God has been using this to remove the dross from my life…teaching me that I can find my value and significance in him not in a title or in what I do.
    Thanks for sharing, it’s so encouraging to read about someone going through a similar situation!

    • Yes, I think as nurses we definitely cling to that “identity” because it’s so much a core part of who we are! But I began to form my identity around that, not Jesus…I’m thankful to hear others have gone through this and seen God faithfully work in their hearts in this area 🙂

  • “Trailing spouse” is the word I’ve used for it. One spouse has a clear professional role and identity, while the other comes along without that, though he or she may have tons of education and qualification. Often the trailing spouse has to be entrepreneurial, or, in the “find a job” world, must accept far less security/continuity and pay. So much can be said, but you hit at the core. Where does our true worth and identity lie? And, are we willing to engage the Lord in our dark place, to stay with it and with Him, to watch and pray and wait? BTW, our daughter and her husband live in KC, too. She has spend time as an M and they met and married in the Middle East. And Cait is a total book nerd. And had plans to do a nursing program when she became pregnant the first time. Would you like to try to hook up? I’ve no idea how long you’ve been back in the US.

    • It’s hard, too, when you “turn into” a trailing spouse! I think it would have been easier to prepare myself for that mentally/emotionally before going, but God had different plans 🙂 I always love meeting up with other “recovering expats”! My email is whitney conard at gmail dot com (obviously put it together 🙂 if she wants to connect sometime!

  • Diane Campbell

    As I was reading your article, I felt like I was rereading my own personal journal entry! I shared this same experience when “the honeymoon of missions was over” as a physical therapist serving in Cambodia in 1992. My identify crisis was like grieving my own death. But the new awareness that it isn’t about what I do or my title but whose I am really changed my perspective. In losing my identify as a medical professional, I regained my identity as God’s child, totally dependent upon Him. I thank God for this painful yet intimate lesson! It released me from my own limited expectations, and broadened me to be used for His purposes in authentic relationships — not as a professional or hero but as a friend.

    • Wow Diane, that sounds exactly like my own experience! And I’ll admit – it’s still one I’m learning, especially in returning to the States and starting a job that was very different from my previous one. You’ve shared your own experience very eloquently – thank you 🙂

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