“I met for breakfast with Coach Joe (Paterno) and told him I was leaving the program,” said Billy Morton (not his real name).
“You were leaving a full scholarship at Penn State? You were leaving a highly respected D1 football program? You were giving up on the possibility of a professional football career?” I asked with incredulity.
“That’s right. I believed football had become my identity, and I didn’t want it to be,” he explained.
“What did Joe say?” I asked.
“He explained what a wonderful career I had ahead of me. And then he tried to talk me out of quitting the team. Before we ended the breakfast, he told me to talk to one of the other coaches, think about it for a couple days, and get back to him with my answer.”
“I did what he told me to do. But I also prayed about it. Then I called him and confirmed I was leaving Penn State.”
“Is there anything you can point to which caused you to become disenchanted with football?” I asked.
He said, “I loved football. I just didn’t want it to be my identity. Here’s why.
“Every morning, as a freshman at Penn State, I would get up and my roommate would be reading the Bible. I knew he had his life in proper perspective and I didn’t. With his help, I reengaged in my faith and came to believe my identity was not football but Christ.”
“Did you continue to go to college?” I asked.
“Yes. I transferred to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. I played football there until I graduated. I was invited to an NFL combine but decided to pass. Instead, I went to work in the family business,” he answered.
After he learned the skills of business from his dad, he partnered with his uncle in the car wash business. His uncle put up the money, and he did the work of finding the sites, building the buildings, and running the businesses. It was a great partnership which made both of them a lot of money.
Now, at forty-one years old, he sat in front of me over lunch asking, “What does God have lined up for me to do next? I want to serve Him in whatever I do.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation.
Questions on the word “identity” kept popping into my head. “What is identity? Is it really determined by my work? Or is it determined by whom I serve, my faith, rather than what I do?
Then I thought, “If I come to a good answer on identity, maybe my next steps will be clearer for me.”
In the next three articles, I’ll be sharing what I learned in my thinking, reading, prayer and discussions on identity.
What about you? What are your thoughts on identity?