What are you worth?
Do you ask yourself this question? Do you fear the answer? Has something, or someone, left you feeling intrinsically less valuable than you, deep down, hope that you are? Believe me, you are not alone.
All of us, in one way or another, spend much of our lives desperately trying to answer the question: “Am I worth it?”
If only discovering our worth was as easy as checking a price tag, or as straightforward as ascribing ourselves a pecuniary value. If only meaning was as simple as money.
Hear me out. Money is, in one regard, fascinatingly simple. Each piece of currency, whether paper, metal, or whichever newly created polymer nations such as Australia, Nicaragua, and Brunei are using, has two important pieces of information on it.
First, currency tells us which country issues it. Second, currency tells us how much it’s worth in that country. With these two simple facts, and with the help of Google, I can tell you exactly how much each yuan, baht, or dong is worth in a currency you can understand.
At face value, it would appear that if we could determine the value of everything, including ourselves, as easily as we can with money, our messed-up priorities would be much easier to arrange, and our moribund sense of value would be simple to resuscitate.
Once we realize, though, that money has very little intrinsic value, but rather has arbitrary worth ascribed to it by a government we may or may not trust, the worth picture becomes much cloudier, and starts to more closely resemble real life. The metal in U.S. pennies and nickels is worth more than the value of the coins themselves, for instance. Printing a U.S. $50 bill costs 3.5 cents more than printing a $100, as well. Nice work, Federal Reserve.
Not only that, but the value that money has can fluctuate wildly, in a global sense. A dollar, for instance, can be valued based on how much it can buy in foreign currencies, as well as through the value of Treasury notes and through foreign exchange reserves. I recently purchased a condo in Mexico, and throughout the closing process, the dollar weakened against the peso. This meant that when it came time to close, I paid almost $1,000 more, in U.S. dollars, for a piece of property that was worth exactly the same amount in pesos as it was the day I submitted my offer.
It turns out money isn’t so simple after all. It also turns out that the way we arbitrarily assign it value, and the way that its worth can be further altered by a variety of factors, closely resembles how we irrationally impute value to ourselves. To each other.
What are you worth? Why are you worth it?
Is your worth found in your paycheck? Your mortgage? Your trophy spouse? Is it found in your friendships, your giving, your acts of service? In what others say about you? What gives us value? What makes us worth anything? Anything at all?
We all have value. We're born with it. We’re aware of it before we’re aware of almost anything else. We come out of the womb expecting, demanding, and deserving love. Attention. A bigger bag of candy. Another toy. Another ride. Another tickle. "Look! Look," we exclaim. Every child’s deepest desire is for someone to notice what they're doing. Validate their existence. Love them.
We all have value. Until we don't.
There comes a time in each and every life when someone tells us we aren’t worth it, and we believe them. Maybe it’s an abusive or neglectful parent. Maybe it’s a classmate in middle school. Maybe it’s the comparisons we inevitably make, lining ourselves up unfavorably next to the quarterback, the homecoming queen, the CEO, the model. Fill in the blank.
Somewhere along the way, we learn that we are valued for what we do and what we have, not for who we are.
Does your worth come from money? Success? Sex? Looks? All of these will crumble and fade, as someone richer, more famous, and better looking comes along to take your place.
Maybe you’ve patted yourself on the back as you’ve moved past these shallow barometers of human worth. Maybe you derive your value from something deeper. "My worth is in the love I give and receive, and in the meaningful relationships I’ve built," you say. So, what happens when those relationships fall apart? When the ones you rely on for love and acceptance turn their backs? Worse yet, when you make mistakes and drive them away?
Perhaps you find your value in service. You work your fingers to the bone, wearing twenty-seven hats at church or at your nonprofit. Perhaps you’re the first to bake cookies for the bake sale, feed the homeless, and give prodigiously to charity. What happens when your health fails and you can’t serve anymore? What happens when you burn out? Wear out?
None of these sources of worth are intrinsically evil. On the contrary, they are all positive human attributes, activities, and goals in their proper contexts. None of these things, though, are worth basing our worth on.
Even religion, in and of itself, isn’t worth finding our value in. In fact, it can often leave us feeling less worthy than we did before we found it. Faith that is rightly informed, yet in any way dependent on what we do, will only lead us to despair. Rules, obligations, and salvation that is in any way tied to our good deeds can bring us worth when we succeed, but leave us worthless when we fail. What happens when we inevitably stumble? What are we worth when we sin, over and over again? What’s our value to God or to humankind when we can’t find the strength to be good, to do good?
There is only one reason that we are worth anything at all, just as we are, with all our feeble, fleeting attempts at worthiness stripped away.
That reason is Jesus.
God became man. Perfection became sin. Love became unloved. A Savior with nothing to gain except our hearts gave up everything he had to ransom everything we are. No higher price could anyone pay to show us our worth.
Yes, we are made in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully. But this isn’t why we have value. Like a bunch of less-than-intelligent sheep, we have chosen our own way. The way of finding value in lesser things. The way of building our own worth out of smoke and mirrors. The way of realizing that we’re a mess, but being powerless to change, to become something worthwhile.
Take a long, hard look at your life. Rest assured that I am doing the same. When I look deep into my own heart, I see a loneliness that no amount of friends can fill. I see a self-worth that is hopelessly glued to the things that I do. I see mistakes I can’t believe I’ve made, that have left me so far from being the person I want to be. From being a person who is worthwhile. Worth anything. Worth it.
This is exactly where grace begins.
Jesus looks at us, not in judgment of our sins or in disappointment at our depravity. He looks at each one of us, tears in his eyes and scars in his hands, and simply says, “Worth it. Worth it. Worth it.”
It's difficult, though, you say. Difficult to find your worth in three nails that are two thousand years old. You'd rather be loved and valued by a human you can see and touch than by an invisible God whose very existence you sometimes question. I get it. I have struggled with these needs and doubts more often than I’d like to admit. I’m faced with this one reality, though: judged by any other metric of worth and value, I will fail. Fall short. Grow old. Give up. Break down. Finding my worth in a God who gave everything is the only hope I have.
The beauty of this reality is that finding our worth in God starts a chain reaction of love and value. Once we know what we are worth to the God who holds the universe in his hands, we begin to change inside. We begin to stop settling for anything and everything that brings us temporary, evanescent value.
We shy away from relationships with people who don't treat us the way we deserve, because we know what we are worth. We surround ourselves with individuals who reflect the grace of Christ, and who love us for who we are, in spite of our inevitable missteps. We become the type of people who treat others this way, as well, and so begins a butterfly effect of value affirmed.
There is no greater affirmation of another human’s worth than to know them, and yet love them, for exactly who they are. What Christ has done for us, we are called to do for others.
When we know what we are worth, we can’t wait to help others discover the same joy, the same freedom, the same meaning. The same value. Not just those who are easy to love, either. Truly knowing how much each of us is worth to Jesus will inevitably change the way we treat the guy at the office who we can’t stand. The impatient woman in the grocery store line. The ex who has walked all over you. The loudmouth from that other political party. Everyone.
I am worth it. You are worth it. God has given us the greatest gift, the gift of himself. The gift of knowing our worth is tied to the perfect love of a Savior. This is the one gift that will truly keep on giving. A gift of immeasurable value we can’t earn, can’t repay, can’t create, and can’t live without.
“It is finished,” Jesus said. All the self-doubt, shame, and regret that cripples our worth has been buried with Christ. It’s time to be raised with him, filled with the infinite love and value that only the grace of a Savior can impart.
We are worth it.
This piece was originally published by Spectrum Magazine (www.spectrummagazine.org).