Written by Evi Idoghor
We all struggle with our sense of self and this sometimes may stem from our upbringing. For example, when you did something wrong and someone told you that you weren't going to amount to anything, or when you failed a school test and you remember the look of disappointment on your parents faces, then you said to yourself - I am never going to amount to anything, I am a failure. Thus, this narrative has followed you over the years like a dog neatly tethered to your hand. Most of the time, you forget it's even there; until something triggers it and it barks, at which point you appease it with anything or distract it from whatever prompted it.
An occurrence in my life recently prompted me to reconsider how I value myself and where I lay my self-worth. It dredged up old insecurities that hover over my life every now and again when something begins to go a certain way without my permission. If someone rejected me (romantically), the mocking voices in my head would tell me it was because of the way I looked. If my family members ignored my advice, they would remark, "It's because you don't make enough money like so and so, which is why they don't respect you."
Thus, my worth or how I judged people's affection for me was through my performance. If they didn't "love" me, it was because I lacked something. I found myself in a perpetual battle in my relationships over the years. I attempted to become someone I wasn't to please some people, just to be accepted at the time. When they eventually rejected me, it eroded my self-esteem - perhaps I wasn't good enough, clever enough, or pretty enough for them, I reasoned.
I've carried these wounds with me, burying them beyond 6 feet just to have them resurface when humans show me that they are just that - humans. It wasn't until I wrote down my feelings and forwarded them to a friend that he asked, "What's wrong with you?!? Do you not realize you are a child of God?" That compelled me to delve within and find why I saw myself in this way, as well as where all of the pain came from.
Many of us associate our identity and self-worth with our job, who we are in a relationship with, our material possessions, our sexual preferences, our marital status, how much we are needed by others, and the list goes on. We utilize all of these things as coping methods to fill the emptiness in our lives. So much so that when these things fail, we lose ourselves, as if there was nothing else to live for.
Can I just emphasize that these are lies/deceptions from the enemy? There is a creator who created us, and he is the one who has given our lives all the worth they will ever require to function properly. It makes no difference whether you are rich or poor, sick or healthy, disabled or not, earn a six-figure salary or minimum wage; Jesus has already given us our self-worth and/or value. If he didn't think we were valuable to him, he wouldn't have given his life for us. He not only did that, but he also gave us his spirit. If we put our self-worth or identity in the hands of others who are also trying to figure out who they are, or in things that cannot genuinely satisfy, we will end up in disaster.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139: 13-16
I love the last sentence of this text because it demonstrates God's intentionality with us. Not even our parents can plan out our entire lives once they find out they are pregnant, and not even you, who gets to live that life can have everything sorted out at any moment. This chapter of scripture is similarly related to one found in Jeremiah, in which God speaks to a young lad, telling him that he knew him before he was placed in his mother's womb. If God knew us, deliberately created us, and planned our days before we were ever formed, we can deduce that our self-worth must derive from him as well.
The psalmist speaks brilliantly about how God formed him on purpose. He understands that his life has meaning and that he was not an afterthought in God's thinking. That is how God created us all; he was the one who gave us life, his breath, and, most importantly, his spirit. Not our jobs, spouses, partners, children, communities, money, or other possessions. When we realize this, we will be more secure in who he created us to be so much so that if a disappointing situation arises, we will not think it is because we are worthless; instead, we will attribute it to one of life's unpredictable circumstances.
God sees us differently
I'm reminded of the story of Gideon, who was perfectly content with a less-than-average life. According to his narrative in Judges, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, he addressed him as "Mighty man of valor," urging him to go fight a battle. Gideon shriveled, shrank back, and told the angel that he was from Manasseh's weakest clan and was the least of his father's household. We can also see Gideon's insecurities as he repeatedly seeks God for signs that he would win the battle that was ahead of him.
When I am faced with a hardship, I often pray to God for a glimpse of hope, something to hang onto, something to show me that all will be well. Thank God, he sometimes indulges me like he did Gideon. However, those requests frequently stem from a lack of faith, from impatience, failing to recognize that difficult situations arise to teach us something about ourselves, and perhaps to save us from destructive patterns. So, as the book of James puts it, it is better for patience to have her perfect work, so that when we are finished with that trial, we will be whole and complete, lacking nothing, and confident in who God has made us to be.
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