Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.

One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?

So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.

Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?

And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.

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Who are You, Lord, and who am I?

“Who are You, Lord, and who am I?”

St. Francis of Assisi prayed this simple phrase.  I remember learning it in college during a class about St. Francis and St. Clare.  Part of me was consoled that even a great saint like Francis prayed to understand God and himself.  Once I went to a prayer group at college and was asked if I had any prayer intentions.  I responded with this prayer of St. Francis and I think some of them questioned if I was having a great crisis of faith.  I wasn’t, but the prayer was one I had been pondering for a while.  It came up again a couple nights ago as I sat in adoration.

My students have certain perceptions of who I am.  My co-workers, friends, and family have different perceptions of who I am.  As I sat in adoration before Our Lord, I was wondering who I really was at the core.  Am I actually how I am when I first meet someone, reserved and quiet?  Or am I more truly myself in front of my class, fairly serious but enjoying laughing with my students and sharing Jesus with them?  Or am I most the person I am when I’m home with just my parents and we’re playing cards or drinking coffee some Sunday afternoon?  Or is it when I play with nephews and niece?  Or when I am confessing my deep-rooted sins?  Or when I’m cut off in traffic?  Or when a student challenges me in front of the class?  Or when I’m deep in prayer?  When am I most myself?  My desire is to be consistent, but I find that each situation seems to pull out a different facet of my personality and I change depending on my environment and surroundings.  It isn’t that it is necessarily a bad thing, but it leads me to wonder what I am at the core.

In actuality, I think I know myself quite well.  The question, I suppose, is less one of who I am and more one of how do I bring who I know myself to be into the different situations life affords?  At times I feel a bit envious of my older sisters who are religious sisters.  People expect them to behave in certain ways.  I teach Theology in a high school, but there is still the pressure to conform, to act certain ways so that one doesn’t appear “holier-than-thou.”  I know that in many ways, I am quite innocent of the world.  Yet people often believe that innocence is the same as naive.  While they are related, I think there is a difference.  I don’t view myself as wholly lacking in wisdom or judgement.  However, there are many things I don’t know about and experiences I have never had.  That doesn’t bother me.  What bothers me is when lack of experience in some things seems equivalent to childish.  I’m young and innocent in some ways, but I’m not immature, just a bit shielded from the foolishness of the world at times.

So I found myself asking the Lord who I was to be.  How can I live for Him without bringing Him up in every conversation?  It isn’t necessary to always speak of Jesus with words.  My life should proclaim Him.  People can get frustrated if you always point to Jesus and I don’t want them to become deaf to the Gospel because I misuse it.  Yet I also don’t want to feel like I must cover up my faith because it might cause inconvenient conversations or situations.

It is quite easy to live in my little bubble and instruct my students to be bold in standing up for the faith.  Because when I find myself in those situations, it is so difficult to be bold.  Instead of asking how I can best proclaim the truth, I find myself wondering how I can adhere to my principles without making people dislike me.  Perhaps St. Francis wondered such things also.  Lord, who am I?  Who do you desire me to be?  And, Lord, help me to know the truth about You.  Who are You, Lord?  Because that answer changes everything.

*Art by Robert Zund*