I’ve had some identity problems lately.
No, no one stole my social security number and spent all the money I don’t have. My identity problems stemmed from the struggle of not being able to figure out the equation for calculating my self-worth. Call me selfish (I’m sure you’re not wrong), but I’ve got this thing where I really need to feel like I’m WORTH something or I get in a really bad mood.
When I pastored a church for seven years, lots of my feeling of self-worth came from people looking to me for strength and guidance almost daily. Another portion of my worth also came from my wife looking to me as a strong husband. When my kids came along, another portion of my self-worth came from my children looking to me as their one and only father. As a school teacher, still another portion of my self-worth came from my students looking to me as the only male role model some of them had.
I’m not sure if you’re catching on to this yet, but there is a serious problem with the above self-worth equation.
Although I have been in the ministry for almost twenty years, I’m ashamed to say that so little of my self-worth came from Christ that it wasn’t even worth mentioning.
Oh sure, a large part of my self-worth came from WHAT I DID FOR CHRIST. When I would preach a good sermon, or help save someone’s marriage, I felt really great about myself. When I would obey all of the rules of the bible like a good boy, I felt really worth something.
But far too little of my self-worth came from WHO I AM IN CHRIST. And this has absolutely nothing to do with WHAT I DO FOR CHRIST.
I never learned to take joy in the wonderful miracle of being redeemed by His grace and being His beloved child even on those weeks when I wasn’t the greatest pastor, husband, father, and school teacher. During my prayer time, I didn’t frolic in the whole spirit behind why Christ came to this filthy place and died a shameful death in the first place…because He really, really, really loved me.
This is also why, when our income was cut by more than half and we found ourselves living below the poverty line, my self-worth as a man tanked. During this dark time, when I wasn’t that strong husband that my wife had always counted on, I would beat myself instead of growing in those areas in which she needed me. When I was less of a father than my children needed, I would wonder why God would give such beautiful kids to a father who couldn’t measure up to the guidance and care they deserved.
I had an identity problem. That is, too much of it was tied up in my performance instead of who I am in Him.
I’m in such a better place right now, but it didn’t turn around when my income increased (it hasn’t), when I became a pastor again (I haven’t), or when I became super disciplined and obeying all the rules perfectly (impossible). Instead, my self-worth began to spike when I began to really rejoice in WHO I AM IN CHRIST.
My breakthrough came when I really realized how much He loves me and how much more He wants to love me if I will let Him (I’m doing that much more often). My heart totally changed when I began to joyfully receive His love, even on my bad-performance weeks. By adopting this self-identity mindset, truly, a self-worth miracle happened in my life.
(A sea change began when, for the first time in my life, I began to see a therapist.)
Don’t get me wrong, accountability for behavior that is disobedient to His word and is hurtful to others hasn’t gone away with this deeper grace perspective of mine. In fact, it’s funny how much more accountable you become when you’re motivated by Christ’s unconditional love rather than your performance. You seem to justify your bad behavior less and own up to your brokenness more. I’m sure you can see how this leads to deeper inward conversion.
But unmasking my true self in such a way used to terrify me. Not anymore. These days, admitting my brokenness reminds me just how much Christ loves me. And what’s worth more than that?