One of the most readily affirmed truths in Christianity is that we are children of God and all our value comes from that identity. By that, I mean we recognize that God’s love and adoption of us as his children imparts our value to us. Not our abilities, not our possessions, not our fame or fortune or friendships or degrees or social standing or accomplishments make us any more valuable in God’s estimation than we were to begin with, simply because he created us and adores us.
I’m always wrestling with which pronoun to use, because “I,” “you” and “we” convey
monumentally different things, and I don’t always feel confident or qualified to move beyond first-person singular. So I will start with the one about which I am certain.
I say these words easily but they are not yet true of me: My only value comes from being a child of God. Actually, they are true, I believe by faith. But I don’t believe them.
Huh? Yeah, I said that. I believe in the truth of this statement, but I do not believe this about myself on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.
Can I believe a statement is true if I don’t live by its truth? Of course. I believe that sin hurts us and if I avoided sin, I would spare myself oodles of suffering and misery. Yep, I believe every word of that. I don’t stop sinning, mind you. But intellectually? I’m all in.
And yet, and yet, we have to ask what we mean (oops, slipped into first-person plural) by “believe.” Does it mean, “I affirm this truth,” “I assent to this fact,” or does it mean, “I live by this knowledge and order my life accordingly?”
I believe that eating healthily all the time is the best thing for my body. I don’t always eat healthily, but generally I try. And sometimes I just gorge. Mostly on holidays or special occasions when I’m calling it a feast day and just taking it off from eating more wisely and selectively. Or when I’m depressed and think that eating junk food will cheer me up, which never works in the long-term but does make me feel a little better in the instant gratification time-frame.
Back to identity. My conflict feels different to me than sinning or eating badly, because with those I know I’m wandering away from reason, but in the moment I’ve just decided a)I don’t care, b)the consequences are worth it, or c)I’ll swim in denial for a bit.
When I say, “Being God’s child alone gives me value,” I am speaking a truth that my head buys and my heart simply doesn’t. So I know it’s true, but I don’t believe the truth I know. In case you are not conflicted in this manner, I can recommend some wonderful higher mathematics sites that you might really enjoy. But Paul who wrote Romans was.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
I had a leader of a mission trip I was on tell me that this is a passage for non-Christians and does not apply to Christians. It may not have applied to him, but it still describes me and I’ve been a Christian for coming on 30 years now.
I would like to know and believe the truth about myself. Heck, I would like to know, believe and live the truth about myself. How cool would that be? When I imagine what “God is faithful to complete the work he started” means, I picture this. Consistency, across the board. But today, I’m still all over the map, like the start of a Risk game when you’ve got one or two armies on each country spread out hither and yon with no pattern other than the random draw of cards.*
Today I received four compliments, seven insults, a few hugs, a nasty look, and an email that might have been joking or else was a dagger camouflaged as humor.** Does my value change like a volatile stock that bounces up and down as its shares are bought and sold? Nope, it does not. I know that. But those things impact me because some part of me believes that that’s exactly what happens. Days where I can do no wrong, everyone sends sunshine my way, and my little goals in life seem to be getting accomplished, I don’t just feel happy–I feel more valuable. That’s a confession. I shouldn’t. I know better.
• The things people say are largely, if not entirely, about them, not me. Every compliment must be taken with a grain of salt and every insult should probably be taken with a salt lick.
• There are SO MANY variables going on with every interaction I have: People are having skubula days, they are in crises I know nothing about, parenting is not working out for them today, they (like me) suffer from insomnia, they’re feeling lousy, etc, etc, etcetera.
• I can’t be a reliable witness to how others intend their words. Oh, I can guess and speculate–and do, all the time. But I’m no expert witness. No case should be decided based on my evaluation of whether that tone you just spoke to me in was light-hearted, mocking, indifferent or dismissive. I don’t know your intentions. I’m doing my best to decipher them, but even after I guess I still don’t know whether I’m right.
That’s a tiny list of reasons I shouldn’t let my value rise and fall on my interactions with others. I know all this stuff. But if you, whom I love, or maybe like a whole lot, speak sharply to me or maybe don’t trouble to speak to me, I feel bad. It might be legitimate for me to feel concern for you, or be troubled about the state of our friendship (or whatever we have), or even question whether I did or said something wrong. But I feel bad about me.
Truthfully, my negative response ranges based on how important the speaker or ignorer is in my life. And this is exactly why I should root my value in God’s view and only God’s view.
• God alone has the objective view.
• God isn’t having a bad day, pissed that his car won’t start, etc. x 3.
• What God thinks of me, in the end, matters the most…by a wide margin.
In the same sense that either God exists or doesn’t, I am either valuable to God or I’m not. According to the Bible, God does and I am. Both unchanging.
You may say, “Come on, Mike, those negative things might hit your emotions, but they aren’t really impacting how you see your value. Right?” Thus did I choose to write this from my very own first-person singular perspective. You may love advanced equation websites and you may never have felt the Romans passage I quoted above applies to you. If that’s genuine, awesome. If that’s your version of denial…stay with me. We’ll get there.
I’ve become convinced that these things hit my emotions so hard precisely because I still have them connected with my value as a person, or as a Christian, or whichever part of my identity gets bruised or coddled. Going up is just as dangerous as going down because a)what goes up must come down (i.e. if I’m invested in praise I’m also invested in criticism) and b)feeling too good about myself apart from God’s value he has imputed to me runs me smack into pride. Anything referred to as “the root of all other sins” is just as well avoided.
What now? If you are going to
jump into this boat with me acknowledge that you’ve been in this boat with me all along, I’ll shift to what we might do.
My value comes from God’s love, straight up, no chaser. God loves me whether I spend tomorrow in the fetal position, accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God, or manage some middle ground betwixt. God loves me whether I’m wallowing in my sin or loving him with all my heart and my neighbor as myself (he has a strong preference between those, largely for my sake, but his love doesn’t waver). If God’s love for me stays consistent regardless of my own behaviors, it’s sure and certain not to change with others’ treatment of me, nor with any of the other things that tend to swing me with their lassos.
We need to internalize this truth. We need to integrate it into our thought patterns and let it become the measure by which we evaluate every interaction. I know, that might sound exhausting and a little unrealistic. Am I really going to stop after every conversation and mentally compare it with the truth about God’s love for me? But I’m pretty sure this is what some other folks already have built in. That’s how it appears to function in my wife.
To get this truth internalized, we need to soak in it.*** Let it saturate us. Make it the air we breathe and the
chocolate food we eat. Let it become the water we swim in. Meditate, memorize, reread over and over every single day, passages that convey God’s love for you. Pick your favorites. I don’t care if that’s cherry picking. If you struggle with the same kind of negative thoughts I do, you are already very clear on passages about judgment, sin, and failing. God’s grace is greater. Jesus died for us when we were enemies. Nothing separates us from the love of God. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
The next time you feel yourself plummeting due to someone’s words or actions, step back and hold up what they’ve said or done/your reaction to what they’ve said or done**** against the words that you’ve been ingesting. Yes, they may even have spoken something true about what you’ve done wrong or need to repent of or do differently, but that doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t change how God sees you.
If you can, ask someone close to you to speak these truths to you when you can’t manage it for yourself. This can be uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing. It’s tough to let other people see how screwed up we feel. But the right people can help us to believe what we struggle to accept about ourselves.
Pray. God can change hearts, God can change minds, God can change our screwed-up wiring. There’s a reason for each of us why we started believing untruths about ourselves. Something happened in us that caused us to attach our value to other people’s responses or our own success or failure or whatever thing(s) we’ve hooked on to apart from God. God can get into that sealed-off chamber in us and transform and redeem what’s in there.
I’m not saying it will happen like magic–“Presto!”–nor that it will be painless. The truth will set us free, but first it will kick our butts. Healing often hurts. That’s the paradox, but it’s one we see in our physical bodies and everywhere in the world around us. What I’m describing may require intensive prayer, or counseling, or a support group, or some other form of deeper work. Sorry that sounds rough. We agreed we are in the boat and leaving denial behind.*****
I am God’s beloved child.
You are God’s beloved child.
There are a whole bunch of other things we think we are, we’re told we are, and we’ve believed we are. They’ve got to be dragged out into the sunshine. The father who loves us gets the final say. Do you think the prodigal son, while trudging home, believed the truth about himself?
Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son
We’re trudging home.
I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.
*Sometimes we played random draw for countries and sometimes we took turns choosing them. The latter better look a little more like strategic planning. Maybe winning at Risk is the image of having God’s work in me completed, in which case the other colors are truly my enemies…not too bad of an analogy. I think I’ll leave it there before it collapses with rolling the dice.
**I’m making these numbers up so that my problem-solving friends don’t try to figure out where they figure in.
***Some authors I highly recommend to help with this: Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Joyce Meyer, Timothy Keller, Rob Bell.
****Because remember, we’re only interpreting their intentions through our own lenses.
*****I disavow any pun here. If you thought it, it’s yours.