By Marlin Birkey, A Licensed Family Therapist
There is a pervasive belief in society, and entrenched in many of our minds, that our true worth as persons is defined by our performance or productivity. When we are doing well, and when things are going well, we feel positive and self-confident. But when our performance begins to slip, or when things don’t turn out as we expected, our sense of value begins to slip as well, often resulting in anxious striving to get things “fixed” so that we can feel better about ourselves.
The problem with this is that human performance and productivity is by nature variable; sometimes we do well, sometimes we don’t; sometimes we get it, and sometimes we don’t. To be human is to experience both ebbs and flows in our productivity. No one gets it right 100% of the time. If our sense of worth is tied to our performance, we end up on a roller coaster of shifting feelings about our acceptability as persons.
The understanding that our true worth and value as persons is connected to something that CANNOT change is essential to emotional and spiritual health. And the one thing that does not change, from our first breath on this earth to our last, is the fact that we are a person, an individual, created in God’s image and affirmed by God’s infinite love. God’s infinite love for us creates in us infinite worth and unsurpassable value, worth and value which are completely unrelated to performance or productivity. They are connected only to our person.
Consider a gold bar that is worth $100,000 at today’s price of gold. And now, because this is my story and I get to make the rules, let’s say that the price of gold is fixed and will not change for the next 100 years. The value of the gold bar is connected to the substance that it is. It is a gold bar; therefore it has value that we are identifying as $100,000.
Suppose that I find this gold bar on my desk some morning, and have no idea what gold is. I pick it up, note how heavy it is, and decide to use it as a paperweight. But the fact that I’m using it as a paperweight, which completely trivializes its value, has no actual effect on its value. While I’m using it as a paperweight, it is still a gold bar, and is still worth $100,000 since the value is connected to its substance, not what I happen to be using it for at the time.
Now, suppose I arrive at work some morning, find this same gold bar on my desk, and still have no idea what gold is. I pick it up, note how heavy it is, and think that it would make a great paperweight. Except I have no papers to weight, and I don’t like clutter. So, having no use for it, I toss it in the dumpster along with my orange peelings. I have essentially declared, “This gold bar is worthless.” And the gold bar is now resting in the dumpster along with all the other trash.
But, while the gold bar is resting in the dumpster, it is still a gold bar, and is still worth $100,000, because the value of the gold bar is connected to the substance that it is, not to where it is, or to my perspective of it. So, whether the gold bar is sitting in my bank vault, or on my desk being used as a paperweight, or in the dumpster along with the trash, it is still a gold bar and is still worth $100,000. The value of the gold bar is connected to one thing, and one thing only – its substance; the substance never changes, therefore the value never changes. If I throw a gold bar worth $100,000 in the dumpster, it is not a reflection of the value of the gold bar; it can only be a reflection of the fact that I didn’t understand the value of what was in front of me.
The point of this metaphor is simple – you are a gold bar! In fact, you have it way better than gold, because although gold’s value can be quantified at a certain price per ounce, human value is infinite. You are a human being, a person; your worth is infinite, your value is unsurpassable and unchanging, connected to the one thing that can never change – your person. You are a person whether you are performing well or performing poorly, behaving well or behaving badly. If you are performing well, you are a gold bar with infinite worth and value that is performing well. If you are performing poorly, you are a gold bar with infinite worth and value that is performing poorly.
Your performance may vary, but your value is constant – infinite and unsurpassable.
There are times in life when we are not treated with the kindness and respect that our infinite worth calls for. Perhaps we have even been mistreated or abused. It is easy to conclude that the mistreatment proves our lack of value. Many people go through life feeling worthless based on mistreatment or lack of respect from others. But remember, if I throw a gold bar in the dumpster, who has the problem? My action does not change the value of the gold bar; it only proves that I didn’t get it.
When other people think well of me, I like that and experience it as pleasant. But it does not increase my value when another person thinks well of me. My value is already infinite; it is not connected to another person’s opinion, it is connected to my person. When another person has an unfavorable opinion of me, I experience that as unpleasant, but it does not decrease my value. My value is not connected to that person’s opinion; it is connected to my person. So, although my feelings may change based on the type of feedback I’m receiving at any given moment, my true worth and value never changes. My value is not connected to my feelings of the moment; it is connected to something that never changes – my person.
So, you are a gold bar! You are a person with infinite worth and unsurpassable value, regardless of how you are performing at any given moment, regardless of the opinions of others, regardless of how you are feeling at the time. You are valued and treasured by God because you are a person created in his image and affirmed by his love. As the value of the gold bar in our metaphor is fixed for the next 100 years, your worth and value will never change – always infinite, always unsurpassable, forever and ever!