by Joanie Butman
Judging from the number of emails I received in response to last week’s article, I think I may have struck a nerve. Could it be we all share an innate desire:
- to make a difference in this world
- to leave knowing that in some small way we have contributed to making the world a better place
- to know that our life has value and significance
The problem arises only when we choose to compare our own contributions with others regardless of which side of the equation you find yourself. Everyone has a purpose. Who are we to assign more or less value to one over another? Life is a cooperative effort requiring only that we all do our part with love.
Maybe it’s because of the question posed to me last week or because I am watching my son go through the painful process of applying to college, but recognizing and expressing our own self-worth doesn’t always come easily. Why do some of us have an unhealthy predilection towards self-deprecation rather than self-appreciation?
Personally, I suspect at some point in my youth, I bought into the lie that self-love equated to conceit. It can be, I suppose, if you are glorifying your achievements without honoring the One who made them possible. But acknowledging God as the source of your gifts, talents and accomplishments allows you to glorify Him rather than yourself. Furthermore, I am learning that choosing to recognize and appreciate the gifts and talents we’ve been given is necessary for discovering and determining how and where we choose to utilize them.
If we don’t choose to value ourselves, why would anyone else? And by devaluing ourselves, aren’t we expressing discontent with what we’ve been given or that those who love us don’t have good judgment or taste? As my friend said when discussing this topic, “I’ve always felt that my best resume is my long list of amazing friends. I truly know that they adore me and since I know their intelligence, amazing attributes, etc. I feel totally honored that they like me and want me to add to their already full lives.”
There is no denying we live in a performance-driven society where our culture tempts us to let our accomplishments determine our identity and self-worth. It seems as if no one does anything for fun anymore. Our children’s lives have become one long resume-building process. They are evaluated on everything they do since birth, so how could they not judge themselves in comparison to others.
The following email from a friend illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. “Value, growing up, came from A’s, degrees, sports, serving, looking skinny, being cute, etc. (it’s embarrassing to even write it). But it’s only through Christ that I can know my value. I was so glad you wrote about BEING a child of God because I think that fact (over any other detail, accomplishment or even service) in our life is the truest source of our value. Because if it isn’t, then we can come up short in our efforts to serve others, and we’ll always come up short in our effort to earn His love through works. I've always clung to the fact that God couldn't love me any more or any less based on my actions, attitudes or whatever (thank goodness). Because His love is complete...and THAT's where my value lies...completely.”
It took me years to grasp the wisdom and freedom of her last statement. So much time and effort wasted in pursuit of something I had all along. The interesting thing is once I embraced that reality, I discovered gifts and talents I never knew I had. They just came bubbling to the surface as if He had uncorked a bottle of champagne, and I was intoxicated with joy and possibility.
Regardless of circumstances and abilities, everyone can choose to participate in the same kind of coming out party. Louis Savary suggests starting each day with the following prayer. I can’t think of a wiser choice.
Fundamental Choice Prayer
I choose to live this day
as an instrument of your love and work in the world.
I choose to commit myself to your divine project,
whose goal is to bring all human persons together
into one great loving union.
I choose to live this day as healthily as I can
in body, mind and spirit.
I choose to live this day true to myself.
I choose to live this day taking responsibility
for making my contribution to the world.
Postscript to last week's blog:
At the same time I was writing last week’s blog, my friend and her mother were celebrating a combined birthday this past weekend. She was turning 40 and her mother 70. I love the plaque they received highlighting their accomplishments. These are two gifted women in their own right, but worldly achievements are not what their family chose to emphasize. It reads:
Given in recognition of outstanding achievements
and other exceptionally meritorious stuff
during the past 110 combined years.
Your commitment to excellence and the tireless pursuit of virtuosity,
as exemplified by distinctive and awesome feats in the esteemed domains of:
skiing, appreciation of fine potables and comestibles, efficiency, partying,
keeping up with family, laughing and silliness in general,
is in keeping with our very finest traditions.
Your dedication to living life to the fullest is exemplary.
Therefore we, your family,
hereby bestow this plaque onto you
on this day of July 27, 2013
on the occasion of your 110th birthday
in honor of these,your accomplishments.
I think their sentiments sums it all up beautifully, and I thank her for allowing me to share it with you.