Better than "Outdoorsy": Jesus, Hobbies, and Your Identity

Growing up in Montana afforded me many good days in the great outdoors. Whether it was skiing the Beartooths, camping in West Rosebud, hiking the Absaroka wilderness, kayaking the Stillwater, rafting the Gallatin, or mountain biking and running through the Rims (a 600-1400 ft. sandstone shelf that spans west to east through Billings), there was never any shortage of adventure to be had in Big Sky country.

But it wasn’t until trusted Christ at age nineteen that my eyes were opened to the glory of God in the beauty of his creation. The pursuit of outdoor pleasure took on a whole new meaning as I beheld God’s power in jagged granite peaks or his creativity in a lake-mirrored sunset. The quiet seclusion of a forest trail was a welcome respite from the busyness of life, and a full day of dropping the tips of my skis into narrow, tree-flanked chutes offered not only exercise to refresh the body but matchless glimpses of snow, sky, and mountain to invigorate the soul.

My eyes were also opened to how easily it might become for one to build his entire life around such pursuits. Rather than thankfully enjoying the outdoors as a good gift from God, I began to sense the temptation to identify myself my enjoyment of the outdoors. Who am I?  Well, I’m outdoorsy.

Pursuing An Identity
The temptation to identify ourselves according to our interests and hobbies can be powerful. Our hobbies tangibly distinguish us while simultaneously drawing us into a community with those who share similar passions. We are set apart from others in order be with those with whom we share our common passion.

We also long to know who we really are, and immersing ourselves in a particular hobby or interest is, for many of us, a sure way to reign in our confusion. If we start to wonder who we are, we can turn to our interests–coffee, cycling, travel, rock-climbing, college football, reading, music, politics–and bring quiet to our restless souls. “This is who I am,” we reassure ourselves. “This is what I am all about.”

But the attempt to ground our identity in anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ will never really satisfy.

It is Idolatry
The first and most obvious reason why it is foolish to identify ourselves primarily according to our interests and hobbies is that is idolatry. When we identify ourselves according to our interests and hobbies, we are relying on these things to ground our personality, mitigate our confusion, and supply meaning to our lives. Rather than look to Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel to stabilize our personality and provide significance to our lives, we find comfort elsewhere. But this kind of idolatry and will never lead to true satisfaction (Jeremiah 2:12-13). God has so designed human life that we find ourselves when we deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and define our identity in reference to Jesus and the gospel.

It Limits Your Sphere of Ministry
Yet, not only do we drift away from Christ as we identify ourselves according to our interests, we also limit opportunities for ministry to others. I believe it is true that God has given us interests outside our daily work and responsibilities not only for our enjoyment but for the sake of gospel relationships. Cycling, swimming, running, camping, and skiing have provided many opportunities to build friendships, evangelize, and enjoy edifying conversation with other Christians.

But if I define myself according to these interests in such a way that I shun other activities because they do not fit a particular “identity” I am laboring to craft (world-traveler, foodie, athlete, outdoorsman, etc.), then I close doors to potential ministry. Paul sought to be all things to all people for the sake of their salvation (1 Cor. 9:22-23). I find it difficult to imagine that Paul would have allowed the things he enjoyed to keep him from engaging in certain ministry opportunities because a given activity didn’t “fit” his identity (overtly sinful activities notwithstanding).

It Restricts Your Enjoyment of God’s Good Creation
Identifying ourselves according to our interests and hobbies also restricts our enjoyment of God’s vast and varied creation. More than once I’ve found myself resisting legitimate enjoyment because a given activity didn’t “fit” my “identity.” Explore the city? No, I’m an outdoorsman. Try surfing? No, I’m a cyclist. Read fiction? No, I’m a theologian. Now, I am not suggesting that Christians make their hobbies and recreation the main pursuit of life. But it is possible that we miss out on opportunities to praise and thank God for his goodness when we bind ourselves to any identity outside of Christ.

It Provokes Pride, Envy, and Jealousy
Finally, when we ground ourselves in an identity other than who we are in Christ, we will find it easy to be led away by pride and envy when others encroach on our interests. If we find our identity in running, for example, we might become jealous of others when they begin to form a new interest in the sport or when they begin to excel beyond our abilities. “This was my distinguishing feature, and now you’ve taken it,” we may secretly think to ourselves. But this kind of attitude robs us of much joy and contentment and keeps us, ironically, from actually enjoying what we’ve now made an idol.

All Things Are Yours
When the Corinthians were comparing themselves with one another and bickering about who belonged to the better clique, Paul corrected their sinful attitudes by supplying them with a stunning truth: all things are yours (1 Cor 3:22). Because we belong to Christ, everything in this world belongs to us, from apostolic ministers to everything else: coffee, college sports, trail-running. That does not mean that all of us will be able to participate in every one of these enjoyable activities; but it does mean that we are freed from the tyranny of trying to forge an identity in the things we enjoy.

When we are in Christ, everything in creation is ours. When we tether ourselves to just one or two things in creation, then only those one or two things are ours, and not for long. We will be left without the capacity to truly enjoy those things because we will have drifted from the only One who truly able to ground our personality and supply meaning to our lives.  

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