You Are Not What You Do

“For the Christian mystic, the first question should not be ‘What should I do?’ but rather ‘How should I be?’ The mystical journey is preeminently a life that focuses on being rather than doing. Mystics can be found in almost every walk of life and in every life circumstance and thus are largely indistinguishable in what they do. Rather, the sign of true mystics is in who they are” – Stephen Rossetti

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Today so much of our identity is derived by what we do that when what we do changes we go through an identity crisis. This is a problem for men in particular, but women struggle with this as well. When a man retires from his job he struggles to find a way to give his life meaning and purpose. Women experience this as well when their children leave home. A mother has been so identified as the person who cares for her children when they grow up and no longer need everyday care, she asks herself who she is. What we do becomes the determining factor for who we are. Our identity is deeply connected to what we do.

If there is any lesson the Christian mystic teaches us its that what you do does not determine who you are. Who we are is not determined by activity its determined by relationships. A Christian mystic is not defined by his or her job. Cooks are Christian mystics, plumbers are Christian mystics, school teachers, police officers, etc. are all Christian mystics. What they do is not what makes them a mystic its the relationship they have with God.

In the contemporary world we are very intentional about differentiating ourselves from one another because of our hyper individualism. While it was an error to identify ourselves by what we do, that error has been extended even further by people today. We are not just defined by what we do, we are defined by who we like to have sex with, whatever gender we decide we want to be, our political affiliation, the type of cell phone we use, etc. We are a mess because we now define ourselves based on so many temporary and changing trends, emotions, intuitions, and feelings that we no longer anchor ourselves in anything lasting.

We can learn a great deal from Christian mystics who define themselves by relationship rather than what they do, think, feel, etc. The Christian mystic learns he or she is a friend of God. The mystic understand the reality that they are loved by God. They know they are in a relationship with God and it is that relationship that primarily defines who they are not some shifting changing cultural idea. If we identify ourselves as anything other than a person in relationship with an eternal God we will lose ourselves as these temporal misguided ideas fade away and change. If you want to truly know who you are begin to see yourself in relationship to the eternal God. Then, when you lose your health, your youth fades, your job is eliminated, or your tastes and preferences change who you are remains firm. The mystic know their identity is in Christ and it is in that identity that they can remain confident. I am not what I do, I am a child of the most high God, loved when I am unlovable and cherished as the most valuable being in the universe. That is what the Christian mystic teaches us again and again.

Author: Dominick D. Hankle PhD

Dr. Hankle has 20 years of experience in pastoral counseling and pastoral ministry. He is founder of the organization “From Emmaus to Jerusalem,” that promotes sacramental healing, spiritual direction, and counseling. His publication and presentation topics include spiritual discernment, the use of the psalms in therapy, and healing from a holistic perspective. He has also written about the use of psychology in priestly formation and other faith topics. Dr. Hankle serves as a priest in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a convergence community and pastors a community in Virginia Beach called Emmaus Fellowship.

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