My worth and yours

I had to make a monumental decision the other night when planning a meeting with two dear friends. And it was this…Panera or Starbucks? Perhaps monumental is overstating it a little, but my choice would affect more than my palate and my pocketbook. My self-image was at stake. Let me explain.

I live on the outskirts of an upscale little village with trendy shops and trendier shoppers. Many attractive and mostly younger women and men live and work there, and Starbucks is a popular hangout in the center of town. Panera, on the other hand, is closer to home in a more typical suburban location with a more typical suburban population. My choice hinged, then, on more than the $7 cash and the $10 Starbucks gift card in my wallet. I was compelled to also consider the kind of clientele I would be mingling with. Not because I anticipated the Starbucks crowd to be snobs, but instead that they would be generally more attractive and stylishly dressed than I. And I have not yet learned to disregard such comparisons.

I chose Panera. But even at Panera I could feel my self-image slipping as I listened to my friends discuss pants sizes in the single digits, and I’m a double-digit gal. And as I observed how comfortable they were making conversation when I often can’t seem to get past my self-consciousness.

How many of us are living lives of constant comparisons, and feel that we’re always coming up short? How many struggle with an assessment of self-worth that grows and diminishes according to the company we find ourselves in? Just what does determine our self-worth? Is it physical beauty? Athletic ability? Intelligence, strength, or talent? Wealth? Altruism? Leadership skills? Fair-mindedness, good parenting, or a great sense of humor? Lots of questions, but I want answers.

There was a story in the news recently, perhaps you saw it, about a young, socially-awkward high school girl who was voted to her homecoming court as a prank. Apparently there was a plan afoot to humiliate her at the ceremony. (Hadn’t any of them seen “Carrie”?) I think it’s safe to say that this young lady’s self-image took a regular beating as she endured the putdowns and pitying looks that must have been a daily occurrence if her classmates went to such lengths to embarrass her. But when the community-at-large got word of the dastardly scheme, many rallied around to support her, so that the homecoming ceremony turned out to be a night to remember in a very good way, instead of one that might have sent her life on a tragic trajectory.

Was this girl’s worth determined by her classmates or her community? The first group judged it to be quite low, if not non-existent. The second deemed it high enough to shower her with gifts, make banners in her honor, and cheer loudly as she stood on the football field, as if she were a local celebrity. So, she was worth more to one than the other, like an antique toy would be worth more to a collector who knows its value than to a youngster who sees it as just a piece of useless junk.

But even among collectors the value of an antique fluctuates according to its popularity and desirability, as do other commodities like art, fashion, and the latest technological gadget among the general population. Does the value of a human being fluctuate according to the same factors? My answer to that is…yes, and no. I am “worth” more to my husband and children than I am to a stranger. We are mutually invested in each other, have history together, share emotional and financial support, and love and understand one another. They value me more than even my extended family do. And that’s understandable.

And if I were a beautiful film star walking into the local Starbucks, even in less than fashionable attire, each person there would likely feel honored to be in my presence. Beauty and popularity weigh heavily on the human value scale.

But my intrinsic worth is mine by virtue of being created in God’s image and loved by Him. And that never changes, and is what every human being can claim. Do you believe that? Do I really believe that? If we do, what difference does it make in our lives? Perhaps one of the reasons it often doesn’t seem to make much of one is that it doesn’t set us apart if all of us have equal worth. And our nature is to want to be better than others, not just as good.

But I think if we really understood and appreciated what being loved and valued by God means, it would be enough to satisfy our need for significance and worth. If we filled our minds and hearts with the truths of how indescribably great this God is who knows us intimately and desires to connect us with himself by the union of his very Spirit with ours, we would not allow the superficial evaluations of others to define us. If we walked into a room, or a coffee shop, as a child of the King…a princess, or a prince…we would not be so easily bothered by the potential dismissal by others as unworthy. Do they know who you are? you might be tempted to ask. But it doesn’t matter, because He knows who you are. And that’s enough.

And that’s what I want as the spring from which all my actions and attitudes flow. How about you?