When Your Identity Is Found In Something (or Someone) Other Than Jesus

01Yesterday I worked my last full day as a police officer. Granted, I still have one high profile case that still has to go to trial, and for many months, I will be running out time that I have accumulated “on the books”. But yesterday was the last time that I will be paid for a day’s service as a regular sworn police officer in our law enforcement agency. When I return to act as the investigating officer (IO) for future cases, it will be as a retiree, paid as a special consultant to assist the police department and district attorney. In other words, yesterday was my final regular day “on the job”.

I had the great fortune of being able to work my last day with my son, Jimmy. My department hired him in 2011, nearly 50 years to the month after my father was hired in 1961. Jimmy continues a legacy of three Jim Wallace’s, all of whom have contributed to our agency as police officers. Yesterday, I got back in uniform (as a detective, I typically where a suit) and I worked one last shift with my son in a patrol car. What a day. It was the last time I got the chance to view the streets of our city from the inside of a patrol car. I was blessed to have Jimmy at my side (and in charge). It had been so many years since I drove a unit through the city that I didn’t even try to do much more than enjoy the day and assist Jimmy in whatever small way I could.

We got detailed to a call where a drug addict was trying to jump out of a second floor window in a hotel, to a call of a suspicious object that had to be dismantled by the bomb squad, and we made several vehicle stops. We ate together, talked together and sat together. I will never forget that day.

But it was much more emotional than I anticipated. It was difficult for me. I didn’t realize how much this job means to me until I realized I was performing every duty for the very last time. The last time I would put on or take off a uniform. The last time I would enter or exit a police unit. These things were surprisingly tough. I cleaned out my locker and gave a few items to Jimmy; passing on a few small tools and pieces of uniform that he could use going forward.

As I walked to my car for the last time, I realized that too much of my personal identity was wrapped up in my role as a police officer and detective. During much of my career, I was also involved in some form of ministry. I attended and graduated from seminary. I pastored and planted a church. But as I walked to my car I realized that this job, my career in law enforcement had become the source of who I really am. Walking away for the last time, it seemed like a significant part of me was lost.

My error, over the past several years, has been in finding my identity in my work. As a man, that’s not an uncommon thing really. If you are also a guy, you know that the topic of your occupation is one of the first things that guys want to talk about. “So, what do you do for a living?” is one of the first questions asked when two men meet each other at a party. Seldom will you ever hear, “So, what’s your relationship to Christ?” For the past 16 years as a Christian, I continued to place my identity in my occupation, even when I swore I would never do that. Yesterday showed me that I had been deceiving myself.

So, as I move forward, serving now with Stand to Reason (I’m flying today to speak at a high school retreat in Indiana), I hope that I can realign my perception about my own identity and find myself again in Jesus. Maybe it will be easier in my new full time role as a Christian Case Maker. But I know me; it won’t be long until my “work” will deviously seek to define me once again. When the question comes at a party, “So, what do you do, Jim?” will I say only, “I’m an author” or “I’m a speaker with Stand to Reason?” Will I remember that these temporal titles fade in comparison to my eternal identity in Jesus? I hope I can, instead, remember the importance of trusting Jesus, being faithful in even the smallest acts of service, and acknowledging that I am being used by God, not for my own personal glory or identity, but so that God Himself may be glorified and identified to the world around me.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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