Disclaimer: this isn’t a post about Raisin Bran (though it would taste wonderful this morning!), but about self-worth. It’s a subject that’s been bouncing around in the back of my mind for awhile, particularly recently. And honestly, the more I consider it, the more I realize that my own sense of self-worth has often been misplaced, probably for most of my life.
Where do we typically get our sense of self-worth from? As a generalization, men tend to get their self-worth from their accomplishments, trophies (house, car, money, etc.), and career; women tend to get their self-worth from relationships/family, home/living-space, and appearance. While none of those things are poor sources in and of themselves, the problem is that there will always be someone more intelligent, more attractive, more creative, wealthier, have a “better” family, be more accomplished, and more <fill in the blank> than you. If our self-worth is based up that (ie, ourselves), then sooner or later, it’ll likely be damaged (and sometimes dramatically).
A couple weeks ago, I had to purchase a different vehicle, which was a rather unexpected surprise. Thankfully, I had a basic idea of what I was looking for and how much I was willing to pay, and the rest was matter of searching online (thanks Google!) and calling around. Needless to say, after buying the new car I’ve noticed that some people look at me a bit differently. All of a sudden, I seem to have more “worth” in their eyes, even though nothing other than my form of transportation has changed (ie, a trophy). True, I went from driving a badly hail-damaged older car held together with duct-tape (and bubble-gum!) to one that’s new and shiny and flawless. But behind that wheel, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, except how I’m perceived by others. My true worth has very little to do with what I drive, where I live, what clothes I wear, or how wealthy I am — but to this world it does. The phrase “Perception is everything” usually rules the day.
Now that my life is finally settling down post-divorce, I’ve been reprocessing things a lot — maybe too much at times! It was about ten years ago that I began tinkering around with writing, and soon after I began producing books, being a writer became a big part of my identity, from which I drew my self-worth — trophies and accomplishments. That voice in my head would go something like, “I may not be all that smart, talented, wealthy, or tall/athletic, but I’m very disciplined, motivated, and I can crank out books like nobody’s business!” And I suppose I did, averaging 2-3 a year from 2008 to 2014. I could consistently sit down before and/or after work and plop down 1,200 words in an hour or two. Back then, my biggest fear was that my writing career was just a flash-in-the-pan — and if I stopped writing, who would I be then?
A close cousin to self-worth is love, and the two often go hand-in-hand. If you regularly feel loved, your sense of self-worth will be greater than when you don’t. As I look back, I’ve come to realize that perhaps much of my motivation to pump out books was because deep down, that sense of feeling loved was missing or incomplete, so I subconsciously wrote to gain the respect of others. Men generally feel love through admiration and respect over something they’ve accomplished, while women feel love by — well, LOVE (and we think women are the complicated ones!). When making small-talk in the past, writing used to be one of the first things that would come up, but now I rarely mention it (if at all!). However, when many of those relationships evaporated in the divorce, I was broken and whatever sense of self-worth I had practically vanished; my accomplishments didn’t amount to a hill of beans.
So from where should we draw our sense of self-worth that can’t evaporate, be repossessed, rust, or fade away?
Scoop #1: From God, Not Others
If there’s one lesson I’m learning over the last several years it’s that God is the ONLY solid, unchanging Person in this ever-changing universe. Now, it’s one thing to know this in your head but something much, much greater to know it in your heart. Perhaps that’s by His Divine Design, that everything around us is temporary, unsatisfying, and rather fleeting most times — utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Solomon, the second-most wisest man to ever live, had much to say about this subject in Ecclesiastes. When self-worth evaporates, who else but God can meet those needs that are no longer available from our typical (and temporary) sources?
The answers to all our deepest questions about self-worth can only be found in who we are in relation to God, the One who doesn’t change like the fallible and fickle people we all are and certainly not our stuff and accomplishments. It’s our identity before our Creator that really defines us and assures us that we are lovable and that we have intrinsic, eternal worth. It’s knowing and relying on the fact that God loves us more than we can ever know, and He loves us for who we are in Him, not for what we’ve done or what we have. Over and over in the Bible, He proclaims and proves His unfathomable love for us by going to utterly ridiculous lengths to have a deep, meaningful, and eternal relationship with us.
Scoop #2: From Us Deeply Accepting Scoop #1
The biggest hindrance to us drawing self-worth from God is our own doubts, unbelief, and lack of faith. Particularly if we’ve never been really, really loved by others, it’s very difficult to accept that even God can love us the way He designed us to be, that we truly have eternal, incredible self-worth in His eyes. When I was broken and my self-worth evaporated, I had to learn to rely on God to meet most of those needs that were no longer able to be met from my spouse and family — and it took a long time for me to learn to accept that I actually had worth after that huge relationship failure. It was only through soaking in the Psalms, His Word, books, and music that I finally began to accept who I was to Him and in Him. Again, heart-knowledge takes much longer and much more effort to learn and digest than head-knowledge.
Perhaps instead of placing Him in the middle of the pack of our daily rat-race, He needs to be kept far, far ahead of everything else if we are to regularly draw true contentment and our sense of self-worth from Him — and be able to accept it. Maybe that’s why the Bible says that in whatever we do, do as to the Lord (Col 3:23). He needs to always be kept firmly in First Place in our hearts, lives, and thoughts if we are to feel fulfilled in the midst of life’s vanity and futility. Perhaps it’s when He’s pushed aside or to the back of the crowd that we start looking to others to fill those places in our lives that we turn inward — and then downward. Maybe it’s when we take our eyes off Him that we start to deeply question our true worth and quickly sink (remember Peter and his two-step walk on the water?).
In going through this process of being remade, my motivation and drive to crank out books has diminished because maybe deep-down, I no longer need those things from which to draw self-worth from. Perhaps that’s why I no longer feel this burning drive to pour out countless words onto paper everyday or push myself to go on and on without sleep until a chapter or piece of code is done. Perhaps that’s why I no longer beat myself up if I haven’t made much headway on my latest work-in-progress, which has been dragging on for well-over a year now. Of course, I still love writing and coding, but I no longer need to do it in order to feel respected or “worthy”. When I write now, I write for the simple delight of expressing myself and my thoughts in the written word that may (or may not!) touch untold people years after I’m gone. When I write now, I write for the sheer joy it brings me, particularly when I’m writing about Him.
We have Worth Because He Loves Us
We have worth because He made us, pure and simple. It’s not about us, what we’ve done, or what we have, but because of HIM. We are loved because He loved us from eternity past, within every moment of our lives today, and He will love us for all eternity future. He loves us through the good times, the bad times, the dull times, the lonely times, and even the evil/dark times. We are loved and lovable because He made us that way: to love and be loved, to know and be known. We are loved not because we are all that lovable in and of ourselves, but because He is love — it’s His very essence — and we are made in His image, flawed and broken as we may be. The very letters that comprise the root word for “love” in ancient Hebrew mean “the spirit/breath of the father (ahb)”, and much more.
We are loved because He loves us with this furious, raging, unfathomable, almost-insane love — and He has proven it over and over throughout history, but most of all by sending His Son to take our punishment for our sins upon Himself. He loves us so much that He joyfully humbled Himself and took on human flesh, walked among us, and then suffered a horrible sacrificial death for us. We are loved fully, deeply, and completely because of Who HE is, not who we are or what we’ve done… The entire Story of Creation and Redemption is about Him, NOT us. We are loved because He is love and aside from His Son, we are the ultimate objects and reflections of that love. Our self-worth is completely wrapped up in and derived from His accomplishments, not ours.
We are assured of His love and our inherent self-worth because not only He took our place on the cross, but He’s given us everlasting life and has made us joint heirs with Him (Romans 8). We are loved because He is the very essence of sacrificial, agape love (1 John 4:8). Love is His very nature (along with holiness and righteousness) and He is committed to remaking us in His image.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” — 1 John 4:16