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2. Roles

“Who am I?” This question goes beyond the question asked at the beginning of session 1. It doesn’t ask who human beings are corporately but rather who each of us is as an individual. Though a simple question, it often leads to myriad complex answers. And despite its importance, many of us have never taken the time to answer it.

Many people assume that we know who we are. Some may have the attitude that life is better spent in action than in reflection. After all, if I’m a salesperson, I need to focus primarily on making sales. If I’m an avid mountain biker, I will make time to go on as many rides as I can. However, such descriptions miss the mark. Understanding your identity in such terms can blind you to God’s design in your life.

The assumption that most people have a handle on who they are currently and how they need to grow and change in the future is incorrect. “Who am I?” We begin to answer this question by exploring the relationship between our identity and our roles.

Session Aims

  • Individual Aim: To identify individual roles and their relationship to your identity.
  • Group Aim: To discuss the relationship between identity and roles and to begin to distinguish between the two.


Read Session 2: Roles.

Read Life Inventory: Introduction on page 89.

Complete the Life Inventory: Roles exercise beginning on page 91.


The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. (Proverbs 14:8)


Life in twenty-first-century America is transient. Job changes and relocations uproot people from home, church, and even family and friends. Changes of this magnitude disrupt and change one’s sense of identity.

It’s challenging enough to find our way around a new town—locating grocery stores, figuring out what auto mechanic we can trust, and discovering the fun recreation spots. But the real challenge of moving is establishing an entirely new set of relationships. For some period of time, we lack community. We neither know nor are known by others.

We may begin to question who we are and how others perceive us. We may feel destabilized and vulnerable. But even an identity crisis can be a blessing. There’s no better time to evaluate our identity than when we are forced to see ourselves in a new light.

Consider some times of transition from your own life, such as moving to a new city. Did you wrestle with your identity? How often during that time were you asked questions such as “Where do you work?” or “Where are you from?” These questions are often attempts to ask the fundamental question “Who are you?”

Often, our first response to such questions is to list our various roles. Depending upon how the questions are asked, we might describe the roles we have at our workplace (“I’m an accountant”), in our home (“I have three kids”), or in our hobbies (“I play on a softball team”).

On the surface we may feel we fully understand our identity when we list all of our roles. Though we may find great significance and even stability in the roles we fulfill, can we say they completely encompass our identity? For example, can someone describe who he or she truly is by stating, “I’m a buyer for a retail company, I’m the mother of two teenage daughters, and I am an active member of the PTA”? If that were the case, our identity would undergo a major transition every time we made a life change.

While describing roles may be how we attempt to reveal our identity, those roles don’t truly encompass who we are. It’s better to seek our identity in how we perform our roles.

For instance, the following are statements of roles (what a person does):

  •  I am an engineer.
  •  I am a hospital volunteer.
  •  I am a mother of three.

By contrast, the following statements tell how a person lives out his or her roles:

  •  I am trustworthy.
  •  I am reserved.
  •  I am ambitious.

These statements are much more useful indicators of identity. They remain more stable when the person leaves his or her engineering job or when his or her children grow up and leave home.

Your roles are the interface between you and the world around you. The way a man fathers his kids demonstrates core aspects of his identity. Is he gentle, or harsh? Is he actively involved, or distant? How a waitress performs her responsibilities reveals a part of who she is. Is she courteous, or rude? Is she hardworking, or lazy? Observing patterns in the way people live out their roles gives insight into their identity.

You are not what you do,
but how you do what you do reveals who you are.

Thinking of your roles like this may be a new concept for you. When you begin to view your identity in these terms, it can be difficult to get a handle on it. The rest of this study will help you gain clarity.


Evaluating our identity is a difficult and sometimes confusing process. Though our identity affects the way we live out our roles, our identity and our roles are not one and the same. Roles are based on our present circumstances. Certain aspects of our identity develop over time, whereas others are “given” as part of God’s design. Gender is one of those aspects. We will discuss that issue in session 3.


Read Session 3: Gender.

Complete the Life Inventory: Gender exercise beginning on page 94.

Related Topics: Man (Anthropology), Spiritual Life

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