Twenty of us were sitting in the living room on a mish-mash of recliners, couches, and chairs pulled in from the kitchen…
It was a routine Young Life staff gathering, and we were going around the room giving updates about life. I cannot tell you, 10+ years later, what any of the other 18 updates were about, but I can tell you about two.
Mine was that I was pregnant, for the first time ever, and I had a healthy baby girl growing inside of me!
His was that, despite a healthy lifestyle and an active ministry in one of the poorer parts of Pittsburgh, his life was coming to an end soon. Cancer – and it was spreading. Caught too late for treatment to be effective.
The dichotomy in that moment was harsh, yet distinct: life, growing in my body – and death, growing in his. My moments were filled with excitement, anticipation, curiosity, planning, dreaming. His, with resignation, disappointment, grief, and good-byes.
The tragedy of his cancer was made all the more acute for me because of my celebration of my growing daughter. New life. Impending death. We made an awkward pair in the room that day.
In my grief over his news, and in my newly-pregnant state, I deeply felt the value of his life. It wasn’t just his ministry I grieved, and not just his family’s loss, but I was grieving for him as a person – as a fellow human who had once been just a bud of expectation, like my daughter was now.
People fight and deny each other’s value constantly, don’t they? They blame, stare, criticize, neglect, abuse, judge, curse, ignore, and bruise. Parents do it to children – and children to it to parents. Middle school kids notoriously thrive on doing it to each other – and so do workplace and mommy rivals. Liberals do it to Conservatives – and Conservatives do it to Liberals. Races, ethnicities, tribes and cultures take turns declaring their own worth and value while attempting to crush everyone else’s.
Maybe someone has done it to you.
Maybe your value has been attacked so viciously that you are left questioning if you were ever worth anything to begin with.
“Well,” came the answer, “look at all the difficulties you’ve had, and the pain you’ve had to endure…surely you wouldn’t wish that on a child.”
Well, it’s true that living my life with Asperger’s has often been difficult. Yes, I have dealt with my fair share of pain and rejection… In a perfect world I wouldn’t want a child to go through the same issues. But I also had to wonder…is life just about avoiding pain? Or is there something more?
Looking back on my life, I find that the most painful experiences taught me the most valuable lessons. But, you never learn what those lessons will be until you’re on the other side. How can you judge the quality of a person’s life and experiences, before they have had them?Lynne Soraya
People don’t always judge each others’ worth so blatantly. But they often sub-consciously use variables to judge the value of other people.
The “value variables”
Location Does a refugee’s identity change from being a hunted enemy to being a welcome friend when they move from Congo to Iowa? Or is she the same person, just with a change of address? And does an 8-pound fetus suddenly gain value when he gasps out his first (audible) cry, or did he have the same value moments before when he was still inside his mother?
Age/potential In our culture’s obsession over youth, health, athleticism, and education, this is an easy one for people to use in judging others. Not smart enough? Not thin enough? Not funny enough? You must be worth less than the smart, thin, funny ones. Although… even the ones who look perfectly put together must struggle with stress, doubt, failure, embarrassment, and rejection sometimes, right? So – are they actually any more valuable than anyone else?
Race/ethnicity Many, many people throughout world history have used race and ethnicity as their sole basis for granting or denying basic human rights to each other… with disastrous results. But who’s to say who’s on top in this never-ceasing cycle of birth and death? No tribe or culture or people group have ever grasped the level of immortality or cracked the code of ultimate power. No, this ever-changing struggle for power and control over others cannot be an accurate judge of anyone’s worth or value.
Ability level In our production-based society, some people think to themselves that the girl with Downs’ Syndrome and the boy who just became a National Merit Scholar couldn’t be equally valuable. And yet – isn’t there more to a person than their capacity for production? There is also capacity for love, and joy, and relationship. And who’s to say what the “better” capacity is?
Other people’s opinion The child whose parents died of AIDS, the transsexual teen, and the humble volunteer at a homeless shelter… It doesn’t matter if you have been called “useless” or “good-for-nothing” or something much harsher – or if you are a “sharp kid” or “have it all.” If other people’s words can determine your value, then their opinions also have the power to take away your value. But value must lie deeper than someone else’s words or recognition of worth, right? Like foreign currency forgotten in a traveler’s junk drawer – true value never goes away, even when it goes unrecognized.
So where does your value come from? Is your value set by majority rule? By the “most valuable” humans? By the people who know you the best? By some set of “impartial” standards?
If value is contingent on any of these things, or on another human’s opinion, then we are all at risk of losing our value when a stranger flips us off or our mother threatens to send us back to where we came from. Heaven forbid!
Heaven does forbid.
This is the message of Heaven. That every one of us – rich and poor, young and old, able-bodied and differently-abled, kind and mean, baby in the womb and abortive mother, gay man and judgmental preacher, pregnant woman and man dying of cancer – we all carry the imprint of God’s handiwork. As our Creator, He reveals pieces of Himself through our infinite variety, loves each of us thoroughly, and tells us that we are made not for transactions and accomplishments, but for relationship. Relationship with Him and relationship with each other. Our Creator sprinkled value and worth into the dough we humans were crafted from, and no amount of cutting or chewing can extricate it from our essence. We are valuable not because of what we accomplish, or who notices what we accomplish, or how popular or loved we are. We are valuable because of who we are… children of God.
So no one, not your parents who didn’t “plan” to have you, or your ex-best friend, or your angry co-worker, or someone who looks down on your particular ethnicity/disability/personality/life choices can remove one iota of your value and worth.
Every life carries with it the same inherent, inestimable value – from it’s very beginning til it’s very end.
So whether or not you feel “wanted” today…
I pray that you – whether you feel “wanted” by your friends and family and society, or whether you feel rejected and alone – will have an experience today of realizing your deep, incredible value… a value that is not earned by your actions, potential, location, parents, or reputation – but a value that is a free gift from a much higher and much more trustworthy source – your Creator Himself. It is a value so tightly wound into your DNA that nothing and no one can take it away.
And I pray that as you recognize God’s fingerprints on your life, you will simultaneously notice them on the person you dislike, the person you judge, the person you don’t understand, and the person you avoid. And that you will recognize their value, granted to them in tandem with the gift of life – and of your joint need for relationship with the One who made you both so very valuable… the only One who can help us live into our deepest, fullest, and safest identity – as children of God. All valuable, all loved, and all wanted by Him.
That’s an update worth sharing!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39