When I was a senior in high school, I dated a guy from the AP crowd. At the time, I didn’t know AP stood for Advanced Placement classes. It could have stood for Apple Pie Society. All I knew was the AP kids were super smart and headed for the Ivy League. They had plans to become something, a doctor, lawyer, or other professional.
I was headed to a small school in upstate New York situated between a field full of pheasants and a mental hospital. With no plans, what was I going to be, nothing?
This was the root of a lie that twisted my identity for years.
You are what you do.
This became more problematic when I gave up my first professional job at a small publisher to stay home with my small children. Since mothering is unacknowledged work, according to the lie, I was still nothing.
When my youngest was in elementary school, I finally earned a grad degree and professional teaching license in language, literacy, and culture. To my ELL students, I was their first teacher in the promised land, the statue of liberty lady, and their American mom rolled into one. Now, perhaps I could be an honorary member of the Apple Pie Society.
Circumstances, however, led me to another urban middle school as a reading teacher of under-achieving students who scored far below grade level. My job was to bring them up to par.
I quickly discovered if you can’t really read in middle school, you’ve learned to hide it with every manner of misbehavior.
And, beneath every misbehavior, lies an iceberg of tragedy and dysfunction. One student told me she watched her mother bleed to death in her lap after being shot by a bullet meant for her older gang-banger brother.
My heart ached. I wanted to be like the teacher in the movie Stand and Deliver, saving my students through literacy. Instead, I became an under-achiever myself, failing in most cases to improve their lot.
And the lie continued to whisper, “If you are what you do, then who are you when you fail?”
After too many crazy, frustrating classroom days, my heart aflame with adrenaline and confusion, the answer roared in my head, “You are the loser of losers.”
And so, I became a teacher dropout.
I thought that was the end, but it was the just beginning of God revealing how hard I leaned on my profession, not Him, for my worth and identity.
Now I know why they lift up a cross to keep away vampires that suck the life out of you. Jesus’ sacrifice is the antidote to the zombie lie that wouldn’t die.
NO! I am not what I do, even if I fail.
I am who God loves.
And the proof? Jesus took death’s bullet meant for me.
I no longer have to strive for significance.
I can step out of abusive situations not needing the approval of toxic relationships.
I can relax and let others see my weakness.
I can enjoy myself not feeling guilty I should be doing something more important.
I don’t have to control things. God is on my side.
I can take risks - who knows, I might fly.
And, I can forgive, trusting Christ with both my core identity and what others owe me.
*Image by Sven Brandsma from Unsplash
Ann C. Averill is a retired teacher, and the author of Teacher Dropout: Finding Grace in an Unjust School. She lives in the woods of Massachusetts with her husband, her cat, and a flock of silly chickens. She enjoys kayaking, tap dancing, and taking long walks with close friends. She can be found on Instagram @annhilltop.