A friend confided in me that he has spent his life feeling very insecure about his worth as a person. If you were acquainted with him you would be shocked. He has all the trappings of success: a successful career, a beautiful family, good looks, and the admiration of those around him. How can he feel insecure? He told me that his Father never affirmed him for anything except when he was number one at something: number one in his class, number one in a race, number one in sales - if he ever was second or lower he was ridiculed as a slacker. He has begun to realize that the haunting criticism of his Father has controlled his life. He told me that he had built his life on two premises: First, I can control your opinion and approval of me by my performance. Second, that is all that matters in life.
My friend is working on being free by finding a new way of seeing his value as a person. So how do we assess value if it is not by perfect performance? Our current culture says this is the only method.
In traditional cultures of the past and even some that exist still today, people have personal worth because of "honor". That is they are valued and honored because they fill their role in society - father, mother, teacher, leader, citizen, etc. Honor is not about "winning" and "being on top" but being a genuine success by fulfilling their responsibilities where they are.
There was a time when good families were a "haven in a heartless world" - a place of safety, love, instruction and joy. In his book, On Paradise Drive, David Brooks describes a new kind of family where we have the "professionalization of childhood". From the moment a child is born, Parents and Grandparents begin a plan to produce children who excel in a "profession" not a vocation. The goal is status, power, money - Brooks calls the system many Parents use as the "great Acheivatron". The result is that from day one a child is taught that only as they perform perfectly do they have real value. Brooks suggests these children are headed for the Psychiatrist or for drug and alcohol addiction just to cope with these immense pressures.
To be sure, challenging ourselves to excel and do our best is a good thing. But that is very different than making performance our God.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 8: David speaks of our majestic God - creator of all things, who shaped human beings by his grace - "made a little lower than heavenly beings, crowned with glory and honor". (Psalm 8:4-5) Our worth is because of God's grace and love not something we have done or will do. God has crowned us with glory and honor - his action, his love, his view of us.
My dear Mom used to sing this little song to her children, including me...
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear how much I love you - please don't take my sunshine away."
She followed up that song by treating us with honor and admiration - I always believed her when she sang the song.
God is singing a love song to you - do you hear it? - do you believe it?
Just thinking, Steve