Your vocation can never become your identity. Here’s why

I loved my job as a managing editor. I loved editing articles, planning content and collaborating with team members on marketing copy. I loved my co-workers, some of whom became friends. I loved having somewhere to be in the morning, and I loved the feeling of success I had after receiving positive feedback. I was good at my job, and I enjoyed it.

Before I had my baby, though, I couldn’t wait to quit. My husband and I had, after a lengthy and prayerful discernment process, as well as some beautiful gifts from God, decided that I would be the full-time caregiver for our daughter after she was born. For the couple of months leading up to her birth, I couldn’t wait to leave my job. I was so excited to take on the new mantle of “stay-at-home mom.”

What I didn’t expect

After my daughter was born, though, I felt so lost. I didn’t want to return to full-time work, necessarily. What I did want was to feel good at, well, anything again. I’d had child care experience, and I was a godmother and an aunt before I became a mother, so I’d thought, with great hubris, that I’d be a competent mother.

It’s hard to feel competent after you have your first child, though. I may have known how to change a diaper and been comfortable holding a newborn, but I was not prepared for the total overhaul of life that happens when you become a mother. I’m not sure it’s possible to really be prepared. In my postpartum fog, everything seemed foreign to me — and this feeling even extended to the daughter I’d carried in my womb for nine months, leaving me with guilt and sadness.

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Postpartum hormones, of course, exacerbate this experience. But also making things worse was my reliance on having a successful job for my identity. I was “good student” Taryn, and then I was “good editor Taryn.” My whole life, I’ve stopped trying any new activity that I wasn’t immediately good at, choosing instead to always chase that feeling of achievement. With motherhood, though, you don’t always have that feeling. Sometimes, you just get through the day. And on those days, I felt totally lost.

I’d gone from making my career an idol to making motherhood an idol. And every time I think I’ve toppled the idol, something happens that makes me realize I’m a work in progress in desperate need of God’s healing.

The goodness of vocation

The primary vocation of every Christian is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, vocation to beatitude — the call to holiness (No. 1719). Within that call, some of us have a call to married life, which may or may not include having children. We also might have a call to a specific type of work. For example, I consider writing to be something God calls me to; I’ve discerned that he’s given me a gift and wants me to use it.

These vocations are good. They are important. Any work that comes from God is worth pursuing. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, “We were created with a vocation to work.” It’s “part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” And, of course, any wife or mother will tell you of the value these roles play in her life. Being a wife and mother adds meaning to my life. It brings me joy and a channel for an outpouring of love greater than I ever thought I’d feel.

But none of these vocations — even the call to marriage and motherhood — is the thing from which we should derive our identity or worth. Pope Francis said that work is part of the meaning of life, not the meaning of life itself.

The temptation of the idol

We are made to worship. We are made to be fulfilled by someone outside of ourselves. And when we aren’t deliberate about worshiping and seeking fulfillment from God, we worship and seek fulfillment somewhere else.

For some, it’s a relationship. For some, it’s work. For some, it’s a hobby. It can be something that is good and worth pursuing — which makes it all the more difficult to spot this kind of idol. But when our pursuit of something good overshadows our pursuit of the Lord, it’s time to reevaluate our priorities and take a look at where we are rooting our identity.

I am a daughter of God. It’s a more difficult concept for me to grasp than “I am a mother” or “I am an editor.” But it’s the identity that I need to cling to. My achievements and accomplishments aren’t what make me worthy of love or give me my dignity, and neither is my husband or our daughter. I was made in the image and likeness of a God who loves me with a love “that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). He calls me to holiness, to eternal life with him.

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