My True Identity

by Deborah J. Alig

Photo © Andrey Savin/
Shutterstock, Inc.

Six years ago I was in my 10th year of teaching English at a public middle school. I was a tenured teacher with a lot of responsibilities. I sponsored the school newspaper, coached track, and directed the annual play. I also held the position of department chair. English teacher was my vocation and my identity, and I envisioned a healthy, lifetime career in education with the goal of a secure retirement.

However, in January 2004, I became ill. I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and major depression. The symptoms of these illnesses consumed and incapacitated me, and I became so sick that I had to take medication and receive help from a doctor. And the OCD and depression didn’t go completely away with these treatments. In fact, even now in 2010, I am still struggling to be well. Because of this struggle, I have not yet returned to teaching, and due to the deprecating nature of depression, I have been left to wonder: If I am not a teacher, then who am I? I have even questioned the purpose of my earthly existence, sadly disregarding God and pondering, “Why do I live if only to die?”

My pastor faithfully addressed these questions when I went to him for counsel, but it wasn’t until a visit to church on a Sunday early in February that an answer to my questions became clear to me. During worship, I listened intently to the Scripture readings, the sermon, and the closing hymn. In the Old Testament lesson for the day, the Lord asks Isaiah, “Whom shall I send?” and Isaiah responds, “Hear am I. Send me” (Is. 6:8 NIV). Similarly, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells Simon Peter, a fisherman by earthly trade, that he will become a fisher of men, taking on a new spiritual trade (Luke 5:1–11). Both Isaiah and Peter are called to be dedicated, practicing servants of the Lord and stewards of His Word. Theirs is a high calling—but so is mine and yours. Stanza 1 of Hymn 853 in our Lutheran Service Book offers this wonderful insight:

For me, the key to this stanza is the last line: “And will not let us fall.” When in a bout of depression and a cycle of OCD, my university education does not help me. My teaching skills do not help. All the earthly wisdom I have gained over the years does not help. However, the promises of my Baptism do. In Baptism, I am a child of God, and as His child, I am called to serve Him. In so doing, “[He] will not let [me] fall.” He brings new meaning and reason for living by taking away sin and death. Like the apostle Paul proclaims, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

When I get into the rut of identifying myself solely as a teacher, I am left without direction and purpose when depression and OCD incapacitate me. But when identifying myself as a child of God, these illnesses have no power over me, for I know I am guaranteed an everlasting retirement in heaven.

About the Author: Deborah J. Alig is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Roanoke, Ill.

“How Clear Is My Vocation, Lord,” stanza 1—text: Fred Pratt Green (1903–2000), Copyright © 1982, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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