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
A 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.