I have been having conversations with some parishioners and friends recently about self-worth. Last week, I was in a conversation in which someone told us that his therapist noticed that he does not think he is worthy of love all by himself. He always feels like he has to do something or contribute something to be loved. If he is not contributing something, achieving something, entertaining something, he doesn’t feel like he deserves to be treated well by others. I think we were all surprised when a lot of us chimed in and said, “I’m the same way.”
It was fascinating how differently this struggle for self-worth played out in each our lives. I shared that I am often reluctant to tell people stories about my life because I tend to assume no one would care about the inane details of me. Why do I deserve to have my issues and thoughts eating up peoples’ precious time? On the other end of the spectrum, someone else told us that she always shares stories and details of her life with people because she feels like she only deserves love and attention if she can entertain others with her stories and be the life of the party.
On the surface we are such different people. I am quiet and reserved, hard to get to know. She is loud and boisterous and talks constantly. But we both are the way we are for the same reason: we feel we are unworthy of peoples’ time all by ourselves. We never feel quite good enough or worthy enough to receive love all on our own. I wonder how the struggle might look in your life.
Struggling with my own self-worth has been somewhat of a spiritual focus for me in the last few years, and I have written about it here in various ways. As I watched my father decline in physical and mental health toward the end of his life, I was struck with the terrible realization that I would one day, too, lose all of my own abilities to contribute, help, and achieve—all things that I attach to my own self-worth. If I lose all of those abilities, why should anyone care for me or love me?
But then I look at the person I have grown to love most in the world—my infant daughter. Her most celebrated ability is pooping consistently, and her greatest contribution to the world is a gummy grin. Sometimes we joke that she needs to get a job and start contributing to the household! But in truth there is nothing she needs to do to earn my love. I unconditionally love her just for her. Why can’t we afford ourselves the same grace? Why is it such hard work for us to feel like we don’t have to do hard work to deserve love and care? Why is it so hard to feel worthy all by ourselves?
My self-worth spiritual journey has been a long one. And there has been no sudden transformation for me. I have just had to constantly notice when I am running myself ragged for the wrong reasons. And then it is just a matter of the spiritual discipline of reminding myself that I am safe in God’s love no matter what I do. I cannot earn what is most important in this world. And my life was precious to God before I could do anything to deserve it, and it will be precious to God long after I can do nothing to deserve it. I pray that, for one of you reading this today, these words ring true and can provide a reminder that one of the key tenets of our faith is grace: love you cannot earn.
26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will she not much more clothe you—you of little faith?