In his book, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”, Eckhart Tolle warns against believing the roles one plays are our identity. As he points out, our roles in society in centuries past were largely determined by the circumstances of our birth. We were assigned to a social class from which it was usually next to impossible to escape and then expected to continue in the roles assigned to our family (butcher, baker, candlestick maker, homemaker, etc.) whether or not that was what we really wanted to do. And most people identified themselves by the roles they filled.
These days we for the most part are able to choose the roles we want to fill, such as trade or profession, and even whether or not to marry and raise a family. Even then there is a danger in identifying ourselves with those roles. Will we lose our sense of identity if and when those roles change? The current global COVID-19 crisis has brought this question into sharp focus. Although only a small proportion of the world’s population has actually contracted the virus and an even smaller proportion has died from it, everyone in the world has been impacted by the virtual shutdown of society with the exception of what are teemed vital services. A great many people have lost their jobs (their source of the income needed to care for themselves and their families). For many of these their health insurance also disappeared with their job. And there is a real possibility many of the roles they played in their jobs and the jobs themselves will not exist after the crisis is past. In many cases their former employers may not even exist.
If they identified themselves by their former roles, they may not know who they are anymore, and how they will fit in to the new society that exists post crisis. Even before the COVID-19 crisis erupted around the world, society was changing so rapidly that Tolle was telling us:
“In fact, in the modern world more and more people are confused as to where they fit in, what their purpose is, and even who they are.”
The key to understanding our purpose in life is to know who we are. When we realize who we truly are, all roles aside, it becomes obvious what our life purpose is. We are God’s children, made in his image, and our purpose is clearly spelled out for us. We are made, first of all, for fellowship with God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism posits it:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
That was the state that existed in the Garden of Eden before Mankind decided that, instead of just enjoying God’s presence, trusting him to supply all their needs, they wanted to begin to learn about good and evil so they could take control of their lives and make their own decisions instead of relying on God. They desired to be like God themselves. Look where that has led us.
Jesus made our purpose clear when he answered the question of what God’s greatest commandment was. He said;
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Then he continued;
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And he concluded;
“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So there you have it in a nutshell: our identity and our purpose. If we keep these in mind in whatever roles we undertake, we will not confuse our identity and purpose with the roles we are currently filling, and when those roles change, as they undoubtedly will, we will never lose our sense of identity and purpose.