For the longest time, I felt my identity in life was in being a writer. My value, worth and security was all tied up in my writing. Success made me feel more valuable and failure made me feel as if I had failed as a person. Everything I was had been tied into how I performed, how much I achieved, how good I was.
Many people say writing every day is vital, and it improves you. So, as you do if you want to improve, I began writing every day.
It did help me improve as a writer. But it also gave fear a stranglehold over me. I became afraid to stop writing – because I thought if I stopped, I would fall behind my peers, and I wouldn’t get where I wanted to.
So I never stopped. I poured out energy every day writing. I burned myself out, and the quality of the work decreased as a result. And at the end of the day I felt a failure because it doesn’t do as well as I’d hoped, and it wasn’t my best work. I felt guilty going even one day without writing. My life had become controlled by writing.
That’s how easy and subtly these habits, roles or statuses can begin to control us.
And it comes from grounding our identity in the what we do, rather than who we are.
Which is why we need to reclaim the principle of sabbath.
Our human bodies are finite. They wear out. All of us get tired, we need oxygen, food and water to survive. And one other thing which our body needs is rest.
Rest almost seems anathema to our culture now. If I had a pound/dollar for every time I or someone else has said the word ‘busy’ in relation to our lives, especially with the word ‘too’ preceding it, I’d be quite wealthy. Rest, disconnection, has almost become counter-cultural. If we’re not busy, working, spending time with family, having an active social life, we almost feel guilty.
We’ve become a world of busy-holics.
And this is what happened with my writing. I got so busy and wrapped up in my writing, my motivation got way out of sync, I burned-out, and ultimately my writing itself suffered.
So I took a break from public writing, saying it would be for as long as necessary (it turned out to be three months). I wrote when I could, but only for me. No deadlines. No panic. No obligation. Just for myself.
And in this space, I realised I’d defined my identity in my writing, and in it’s success. Instead of defining myself by something bigger and deeper.
I also began to understand the importance of rest, and how this is tied in inexorably to our identity.
The simple fact is our bodies need to rest. If we don’t take a break once in a while, we will get worn down, burnt out. But if our identity is grounded in the wrong place, if our value and worth comes from what we do, we will much more prone to over-work, much less likely to take rest.
Which can ruin our life. Our relationships suffer. We’re more prone to illness.
And our work, our ability to serve others well with our gifts, this suffers too.
I worked almost obsessively, putting pressure on myself, because my identity, value and worth came from my writing, how well I did, how good it was, and how hard I worked at it. And when it didn’t deliver I felt a failure, burned out, and my work suffered.
To become the best version of ourselves, we mustn’t ground ourselves in what we do. But in who we are.
Sabbath & Identity
We all have infinite value and worth. We did the day we were born, when we had achieved nothing. Said nothing. Not even had a memory. And whatever happens in our lives, we will always have this same value. Everyone is precious.
Personally, I believe this value comes from God & who scripture says I am. But whatever you believe, the fact remains:
you have infinite value and worth – not because of what you do
but because of who you are. (you can tweet that)
The principle of sabbath is, essentially, taking a break from work of any kind (not necessarily paid work), which you do every day and is a major part of your life – and not doing it for one day each week.
Laying this down for one day is an acknowledgement that what we do doesn’t define us. It recognises the truth, that we have value, worth and security simply because we exist.
Rest put our lives in perspective. And it allows us to enjoy life, to wind down and relax, without feeling guilty.
We need the principle of sabbath desperately in our world. Every single one of us.
Consumerism tells us it’s all about being busy, doing as much work as you can in order to make a success of your life, and that your value comes from what you do. But the way of sabbath says your value comes from who you already are.
So take a break. Whatever it is you do often and is a major part of your life – for me it’s writing. For you it might be social media, or lists, or leading, or organising or something else – take a break from it for one day a week, and don’t feel guilty.
Enjoy that day off, and rest your mind and body doing something different, without the worry of that thing you’ve laid down. Recognise your identity is in who you are, not in what you do.
Try it for one month, and see what happens.
I still have a regular writing habit. But one day a week I now lay it down, and don’t feel guilty. I only make an exception for private or journal-type writing, if something comes up. But otherwise that one day I don’t write.
It’s revolutionised my life. It’s freed me from guilt, and given me fresh focus & energy for writing. Because my identity no longer lies in writing and how well I do as a writer.
My identity is in who I am.
Are you with me?
Questions For Reflection:
What is it you do that maybe you need to lay down for one day each week?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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