Reflecting on this week’s sermon on co-dependence takes me back to my first job out of college. I worked at a start-up that helped Christian ministries and churches use the Internet to get their message out and reach people with the Gospel. We were a small group of over-achieving 20-somethings fighting tooth and nail to stay in business. We also deeply believed that our work to get Christ-centered content on the Internet had eternal consequences.
Two appealing aspects of a start-up company are a profound sense of purpose and tremendous ownership. For a newbie like me, that combination was irresistible. I ate it up.
I worked long hours. Ignoring personal limitations, I never said “no” to a project. And slowly I twisted a good thing, my job, into an unhealthy relationship with work that allowed it to define my identity and my value.
It didn't have to be that way, but I let my job define my self-worth. Looking back, here's how the “10 Rules of Codependency” talked about in the sermon on Sunday would have applied to me:
#2 I always have to be thinking about my job. Check.
#4 If I care about my job, I have to fulfill all of its needs. Check.
#6 Being in this job means putting my work's problems above my own. Check.
#8 Asking for what I want is selfish. Check.
#9 If I care about my job, I can't say “no.” Check.
To be clear, God was not calling me to sacrifice myself like that for my job. I was driven by the satisfaction I received from being a martyr to get things done, from being successful and respected at work, and from being essential to my team. When my husband, parents and friends challenged my unwavering devotion, I couldn't understand why they didn't see how important I was. How valuable I was. How I had to be that committed at work or things would fall apart without me.
I was deceived. And quickly became miserable.
The misery wasn't just because I was working so hard. It was because my job could never completely fulfill my need for validation. My relationships suffered. My health suffered. The folly of using my job to meet the basic needs of self-worth and identity caught up to me.
God, in his mercy, protected me in many ways. Even though I wasn't seeking him to fill those critical needs, he never left me and never stopped waiting for me.
Sparing you the drama of how it all ended, I eventually left the company and was blessed to work for a non-profit that insisted on work-life balance. One way they did that was by requiring 35-hour work weeks - what a blessing! That job, while secular in nature, was a holy time of restoration for me.
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” I certainly needed God. He graciously welcomed me to his throne and showered his relentless love and forgiveness upon me.
A couple of years later when I became a stay-at-home mother, God continued to pursue me and transform my identity. Slowly, often painfully, my identity continued to be detached from what I accomplished and attached to being a daughter of God.
This story isn't fully written. It's still something with which I struggle. God keeps pursuing me - living in me and through me, giving me choices each day to follow him and be his. I was so quick to buy into a worldly mindset of deriving self-worth from a job. Through that experience, I also learned a lot about where NOT to find value. Our deep need for security, identity, self-worth, and belonging can never be fulfilled by any person, job, or thing. Those needs can only be met by God and depending on anyone but Him for them will only lead to an unhealthy relationship. How beautiful that God always stands ready to call us his children and show us our worth in him. That's one reason why I love 1 John 3:1 which says, “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.” (The Message)
Katharine is a member of Skyline Vineyard Church. When not wrangling kids or geeking out on math, she might be found spinning some discs (Ultimate Frisbee style), gardening playing in the dirt or hiding from the kids by secretly reading in the laundry room.