A few years ago, I went all-in on becoming a fisherman. I bought a tiny boat with an electric motor, I outfitted my closet with sun-proof shirts, I signed up for a tackle subscription box, and I began getting bass magazines every month. I’d hit the lake in the summer after the kids went to bed, and would get up at 5am on Saturdays to try and land “the big one.” I even, for a time, turned my entire Instagram into a fishing account!
Like I said, I went all in.
But a couple years later, something happened. My passion started fading. That’s not to say that I don’t like fishing and don’t still do it. I definitely still give my poles and tackle a workout. But today, it’s not all-consuming like it was. And when I meet someone new it’s not something integral in explaining who I am.
You might be tempted to say, “Well, Jon, that’s healthy. It seems like maybe you were spending too much of your time and energy on something that doesn’t mean a whole lot.” In many ways you’re right. But why you’re right is the real story.
See, as my obsession with fishing began to return to more healthy levels, it was replaced by another obsession. And when that one faded, it was replaced by another. And another.
In fact, as I look back on my life I realize how quick I am to bounce around and latch on to things that consume me and end up defining me in sometimes unhealthy ways. In other words, I have a propensity to use what I am doing (or what I’m passionate about at the time) to identify who I am.
As I was writing this I took a few minutes to think back on some of those things, and it’s incredible to realize what I’ve gone all-in on and treated in this way:
Green Bay Packers fan
Milwaukee Brewers fan
Craft beer connoisseur
And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head!
That said, let me pause here and say something important. None of those things are bad in and of themselves. And I still enjoy or engage in many of them, and would say that they are important in understanding who I am, where I’ve come from, and what I’m like. But there’s a key difference between identifying with something and letting it consume your identity.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, it’s not wrong to turn to healthy activities to help relieve stress. It’s also not wrong to engage in work to provide for your family. But when we forget the most important aspects of who we are, and turn to our admittedly wavering desires to define us, it’s no wonder so many of us can end up feeling empty and lost.
Earlier this year, that was me. So many of the things I had used to define me over the years ended up making me feel so empty. Through some tough conversations I realized I needed a reset. I need to cut out some of the definers that were becoming all-consuming and get back to making room for what and who is most important: Jesus.
I read once that someone said our hearts are idol factories. In other words, we have a tendency to turn things, desires, people, you name it, into objects of worship. That’s what I had been doing. And I know it’s something you’ve done. How? Because it’s in our nature. It’s who we are. In fact, it’s something even the Bible talks about in the book of Colossians. And that’s how those seemingly innocuous and harmless things can feel so unfulfilling. Because we’re looking for them to be what they can’t. We’re hoping they fill a void they never will. When we treat our hobbies as something that will make us whole, we crowd out what our souls really crave and were made for: a deeper relationship with our creator.
So what’s the solution? In some ways it’s simple. We need to put our passions, our hobbies, our jobs in their proper place. Where’s that? I can’t tell you exactly where each one goes, but I can tell you where it can’t go: first. That place has to be reserved for one thing, one person. And that’s God. When we do that, something really awesome happens. Those other things that we’re chasing after to define, but never fully fulfill, us actually become more enjoyable. It’s like when your spine is just the slightest bit out of whack it can cause the worst back pain. But once it’s aligned, and every bone is in its proper place, you can actually walk better.
I’m looking forward to going fishing in a few weeks. I’m going to dust off my poles after their winter hibernation, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. And I think for the first time in a few years, I’m going to enjoy it on a much deeper level. Because this time, I’m not treating it as a god, but rather as a gift from God. And as my eyes focus more on the giver instead of his gifts, they take on so much more meaning.
I pray the same for you.
Identity & Purpose | Doug Bender
Identity & Purpose | Lindsey Monsivais
Identity & Purpose | Rebecca Hoselton