I’m sure you’ve heard the sayings, “We are not human doings, we are human beings,” “Just be,” or “Stop doing and start being.”
I appreciate the sentiment behind these statements, but what do they mean? What does it mean to stop doing? Stop doing what exactly? Everything?
Your lungs breathe, that’s what they do. Your heart isn’t just being, it’s beating, pumping blood and oxygen to your body. That’s what it does. Doing is not an option in life. Neither is being. It’s not an either-or scenario, it’s a both-and reality. So what does it mean to stop doing and “just be”?
I think the issue being addressed in these statements is the direction of flow. The call to elevate “being” above “doing” is not that we should stop doing things, but that our “doing” should flow from our “being,” not the other way around.
If your identity, worth, meaning and purpose flow from what you do, then you are essentially a “human doing.” When you function as a “human doing,” your relationships, work-life balance, goals, desires, values, priorities—everything in your life—is going to be out of whack, because the direction of flow is off. Your sense of being isn’t supposed to flow from what you do. What you do is supposed to flow from who you are.
Your “doing” is only healthy, life-giving and true when it flows from your being. This means what you do and, more importantly, why and how you do it, is determined by, and is an extension of, who you are. You don’t get your identity and value from what you do. What you do has value and purpose because it flows from your being, from who you are.
This means our identity, value and purpose are independent of what we do. What we do is intended to be dependent on, and flow from, one’s intrinsic value and true essence. When you live this way, your “doing” has integrity because it’s in line with who you truly are. When your “doing” flows from your “being,” your behaviour, words and attitudes reflect and manifest your true essence.
This way of life is one of the goals of the way of Jesus. The process of moving towards this goal is called growth.
Very few of us fully live this way. Most of us don’t have a clear sense of who we are. Very few of us are in tune with our true essence because few of us are willing to do the inner work required to discover and manifest our true essence. That’s why so many of us try to find our identity, value and purpose in what we do. It’s easier.
This is also why, when we meet someone, one of our first questions for them is, “What do you do?” We’ve been conditioned to discern other people’s identity, value and purpose based on what they do. But not just other people. Without our “doing,” we don’t know who we are either.
This isn’t to say what we do isn’t important. We should take healthy pride in what we do. We should value and find fulfilment in our “doing.” The goal of growth isn’t to cease our “doing.” The goal of growth is that our “doing” flows from our “being,” our true essence. Someone with a clear sense of who they are may very well do more than the average human being, but all their “doing” will have intention and integrity. It will flow from their true essence. That is the goal.
The growth journey is not necessarily about doing less, it’s about becoming who we truly are, and letting our doing flow from our true centre. Growth is discovering and manifesting your true essence. This is key. You can’t “just be” if you don’t know who you really are.
The call to “just be” is somewhat misleading. The focus is really on becoming.
“Becoming” is the process of discovering and embodying your true “being,” your true essence. This is a journey that will take our entire lives.
Few of us arrive at pure being. I’m not even sure what that looks like. So, instead of saying “Just be,” I would say, “Just grow,” because growth is about becoming who you truly are. Then, as you grow, let your “doing” flow from your growth, from the process of discovering and manifesting your true essence.
Troy is a pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.