Is Your Worth Up for Debate?

Is Your Worth Up for Debate?

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Earlier this year, I developed a little obsession with Brené Brown. I read her book Daring Greatly and couldn't stop thinking about it. Though the book is actually about how vulnerability is vital to healthy relationships, Brown dives pretty deep into the research she has done on shame. In her view, you can't be vulnerable unless you've dealt with your shame.

I don't think I've ever read a book that turned on more lightbulbs for me in such rapid succession. (I wrote about my initial response here and here.) 

Simply put, shame is the identity-based message that "I am bad," as opposed to more choice/action-oriented message, "I've done something bad," which researchers tag guilt. I was amazed by the difference in outcomes this simple distinction makes. People who live with strong internal shame messages lead one kind of life. People with strong internal guilt messages lead an entirely different kind of life. I am not exaggerating. 

For me, Brown's research is a fantastic example of how faith and science aren't at odds with each other. In Daring Greatly, at least, Brown doesn't mention the Bible, what she thinks of it, or whether she believes in it. But I find her research so incisive at demonstrating some very specific and very damaging ways in which our culture (and even the church within our culture) have failed to believe and live out the Bible. Here's the best example I can think of: 

We regularly act on a deeply held belief that our worth is up for debate. For some of us, that means monthly or weekly; for some of us, it's on a moment-by-moment basis. It might mean we question our value as human beings, or it might mean that we question our worthiness to be loved. Brown especially focuses on the latter because, she reports, it's the watershed in her research, dividing those who live a life shrouded in shame from those who don't.

What I've realized in the past few months is how often questions about our worth come into play in our daily lives. And how often it's not others who are bringing them up, but we ourselves. Shockingly often, actually.

For example, a-hypothetical-girl-named-Maria hears that a friend has gotten engaged and is planning her wedding. Maria expects an invitation to be part of the wedding party, but it doesn't come. And suddenly, what may have been a very practical decision for the friend about headcounts, logistics and the coherence of the people involved can become a relationship-ruining accusation that Maria is not worthy of her love. And it likely has little to do with the friend or the friendship, but on the messages that play on a loop in Maria's head and heart. 

Messages of shame usually come to us from somewhere or someone else initially, but after a while, we get practiced enough that we can turn them on ourselves. And here are two nasty consequences when we do: 

1) When we're in uncomfortable or conflict situations with friends and family, shame seriously distracts us from the real issues at hand. We might be having a communication problem or a genuine misunderstanding. Difficult maybe — perhaps even dicey — but shame hijacks the situation and elevates it to the metaphysical level. It's awfully hard to resolve a communication problem when one of us suddenly makes his or her entire human worth part of the stakes in the game.

2) It places a truly unbearable burden on our friends and family. Our worth is a fixed thing. It is not dependent on anyone else's opinion of us. But when we make it dependent on someone else's opinion, that's a burden others aren't meant (and aren't really able) to bear. I'm increasingly convinced that shame is what sabotages so many relationships and keeps people who are desperately seeking closeness and connection from finding it.

But if our worth is not dependent on others' opinions of us, what is it based on? Two things, and these have already been irrevocably settled. First, we are created in the image of God. That makes each of us humans incredibly unique and valuable, for each of us reflects the character and nature of God in a unique way. Second, we were purchased with the ultimate price. That speaks definitively about our worth in God's eyes. 

I write that last part hesitantly, because it sounds like such a trite Sunday School answer. And then I realize: The fact that it sounds trite means that we believe our shame more than we believe the Gospel. We believe our worth is up for debate more than we believe that it has already been established by our Creator and Savior. That's hideous!

I'm not saying shame — and the resultant jeopardizing of our own worth — is the root of every problem we have. But I'm certain it's 1) more prevalent than I previously realized, and 2) easiest to defeat when we recognize it and call it what it is. Brown's research bears this out: When we name shame, she says, it loses its power over us.

In times of conflict, alienation, discouragement and depression, I'd love to see followers of Christ lead the way in culture by examining whether we're putting our own worth up for debate when it's really not.  And one of the best parts about it is that in doing so we get to tell the Gospel to ourselves again, with the hope that we will come to believe it truly. 

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  • -- Our worth is high in God's eyes not for anything we have done, but because the eye of judgment from the Father sees only the covering atonement of Jesus Christ the Son of God when looking upon someone delivered into his hand.  He is only happy and delighted in us every day because He is happy and delighted in the Son.  All other humanity is rightfully deserving of the angry eye of the vengeful Creator God who will judge them and cast them aside as the children of Satan.

    Let us not forget that there is nothing we can boast of ourselves, as the only thing we ever earned was death, and the only reward we ever merited was eternal banishment from that which is holy, but we may boast of the unmerited grace in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ in giving us this gift of salvation. This is why we must pray for the unmerited grace and mercy of God to be laid upon unbelievers, as it was an unmerited gift to us as well.  

    I understand your message to be unbound from the shame, but you should be unbound from the shame not because you are special, not because you in particular earned some ounce of grace, but rather that you were purchased and the full cost was paid -- while still sinning, still filthy -- by someone truly and uniquely special, and you have received a gift you cannot repay; past sins were not only visible to God, but foreknown, and still Christ died to ransom you,  As a slave to the Lord, you are told to reflect the deep-seated joy of that gift to the world and to accept and release these items that bound the old you, the dead old man.

    It is important to avoid the conceit and the snare that is thinking there is anything special in anyone without unmerited grace of salvation.  You cannot buy your way in; you cannot work your way in.

    Thank God I am saved; may God deliver more into the hand of his Son Jesus Christ.

  • -- The message that all human beings have high worth because they were created in the image of God cannot be overstated. Throughout the history of Christianity, most of its atrocities have been rooted in the idea that it is acceptable to exploit and murder people who are non-Christians or aren't the "right type" of Christian. If they are the devil's children or the devil's servants, then they have nothing positive to offer, and the world would be better off without them, so the argument goes.  

  • "-- Our worth is high in God's eyes not for anything we have done, but because the eye of judgment from the Father sees only the covering atonement of Jesus Christ the Son of God when looking upon someone delivered into his hand.  He is only happy and delighted in us every day because He is happy and delighted in the Son.  All other humanity is rightfully deserving of the angry eye of the vengeful Creator God who will judge them and cast them aside as the children of Satan."

    I'm sorry, I just can't agree with the comment from jaybees, and I think that thought process, although well-intentioned, does a lot of damage to people who are earnestly trying to live their lives in a faithful commitment to God.  There is a lot I could say in response, and not enough time right now to say it.....but I have to say this :  if the above statement is true, why were we even created to begin with?  God must take some pleasure in who we are...in our gifts, our personalities, our strengths, and in our longing to be better than who we are at this moment in time.  I think He looks down on us, all of us, and sees His Creation, fallen and imperfect, but beautiful and unique beyond anything we can imagine.  That doesn't lessen the impact of sin in our lives or of God's holiness.....but we are "fearfully and wonderfully made".....He sees us and He loves us and He redeems us, not because we are totally devoid of value, but because He values and loves us so highly, just as a father loves his child.  And how does the Prodigal Son story fit into this mindset?  The above description of God doesn't sound like the father in the story, who is looking down the road for the wandering son, running to welcome him home and putting a ring on his finger.  I read Daring Greatly recently and it had a profound impact on me as well....sin should drive us to guilt which should drive us to repentance and a right relationship with God, but the kind of shame that makes us hang our head and despise who we are....that is not of God.

  • --The funny thing is I agree with Jaybees but I also agree with Alyson and JenM.  None of you are wrong.  The two view points are not mutually exclusive.  Jesus died for us because we are valuable to God.  We were made in his image so he counted us worthy.  But that is only a half-truth.  There is the other side of the story.  We messed up, we sinned and if not for the sacrifice of Jesus we will all be going to hell.  What makes us saved is not our worth. If it was, then why does the Bible say we are saved by grace?  Paul said in Phillipians 3:8 "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ." NLT version.   God chose to love us regardless of sin.  We cannot overstate his grace and mercy.  We are nothing without him.  Our boast should be in Christ.  Yet we don't have to look down on ourselves.

  • --Well, wow. I hadn't heard of Brene Brown 'til a couple of weeks ago when she was mentioned on another blog and I ended up watching her TED talks - more than once. I bought 'Daring Greatly' and am reading it slowly to take it it,,, A lot of this stuff makes sense of a lot of other stuff I'm dealing with and I kind of feel like God is trying to teach me about vulnerability, but I'm questioning it too and wondering if it's really him or just me trying to analyse and fix myself as I often do (and have extra motivation to do at the moment)... aaand now here she is again on Boundless. When I start seeing the same thing popping up in all kinds of different places I find it's usually worth paying attention...

  • --@JenM: We have no quarrel over the great joy the LORD has in the saints, and the great esteem with which Jesus holds them, as he was sure to recall the Father's promise - not one who was given to Jesus Christ would be lost.  However, you get slippery with "all of us" - God cannot be a universalist if we are rightly told by the Lord Jesus Christ he will send some away from his presence forever.

    Regarding what is presentable to the LORD:

    Galatians 3: "26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

    What then does being clothed in Christ mean? Who are we clothed for? You do not have to try to invent answers to your questions; many things have already been revealed.

    Why could only the high priest be in the LORD's presence once a year, and all others would die, without Jesus Christ to be between us and the Father?

    Colossians 3: "3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived."

    We should rejoice in that image of God, in us, redeemed and scrubbed clean by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Those who will be cast aside also were born in the image of God, and chose to follow wickedness and perversion to ruin.

    We are created to worship the LORD and to enjoy Him forever.  This relationship was only made right as an offer to all humanity by Jesus Christ.  Why, if there had been no human sin, there would have been no death, and the final victory was crushing death.

    Genesis 6: "5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth."

    God did indeed almost pull the plug; God searched a long time; Noah is introduced to us at 500 and only enters the ark at 600. It is obvious that He sought others and found not one other righteous person who worshipped Him in the manner and practice He taught to Adam and Eve and their descendants.

    Leviticus 10: "1 Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command."

    The LORD is exacting, and, without divine intervention, we cannot worship Him in the way required.  Fortunately, this door has been beaten down, and things can be made aright.  Although the LORD may meet you wherever you are, He will perfect you, and He will conform you to Jesus Christ, and this involves removing those things that are not of Christ.  It most expressly does not involve accepting the broken imperfections; they are to be removed, either through the walk of sanctification, or by some future mystery to be revealed. We should walk a narrow line to ensure we do not glorify these things that ultimately will be cleansed by blood and fire. If you have pride in things not of the LORD, you put a stumbling block in the way of those who need to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.

    "I read Daring Greatly recently and it had a profound impact on me as well....sin should drive us to guilt which should drive us to repentance and a right relationship with God, but the kind of shame that makes us hang our head and despise who we are....that is not of God."

    You should be careful on this bandwagon of shame vs. guilt - it is trendy, but can quickly become a-biblical; these trends happen every few years to move new books. I point out that, even after the sacrifice was made for Adam and Eve, they continued to wear clothing; even after accepting Jesus Christ, you continue to wear clothing.  

    In the direction of your position, and perhaps something closer to a traditional way of understanding excess grief for sins, it is clear that one must trust in Jesus Christ's atonement being sufficient, so a confessed sin is forgiven and, although remembered, should not be coveted like a private, weeping wound and its own font of sin. We are specifically commanded by Paul not to wallow in things as it is unseemly and suggests the Lord's death was insufficient.

    (Note Well: The only prayer we are told that can be made by an unredeemed person is to call upon the Lord and accept Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father; all other prayers are as vile to the LORD as was the strange fire and will not be perfected by the Holy Ghost. Call upon the name of the LORD and the salvation of Jesus Christ; that is the good news to the unsaved; that is the forgiving Father. We should pray all unsaved people do not look to themselves, or to an image of God given to Adam and marred with sin, but reach out to the only salvation and the only covering and cleansing.)  

  • --@Alyson:

    Who would suggest harm to people who has argued that we are under direct order to be joyous and evangelize them? The recognition that many will incline to Cain's path does not mean one wishes those people ill. You cast aspersions upon me with your straw-man; further, given that the history of wars say only 7% had religious motivations, I think you conflate "Christendom" with "Christianity".  We know of the Albigensian Crusade not because it was commonplace but because it was so rare.

    You should retract and renounce your implication that I suggested anything for the unsaved than to pray that they would reach out to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation as a calumny and false accusation. The passive aggression of your strategy notwithstanding, you slander me falsely by clearly choosing to reject a well-understood Biblical term "the children of Satan".

    Many readers of Boundless are seeking the offer of Jesus Christ, wrestling with the inheritance of Adam, and could be led astray without clarity.  All sorts of people who did not have Christ but had their inheritance from Adam, made in the image of GOD, smeared with the offal of sin, are dead and will be refused by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Just because you have been ordered to respect the reflection of God in man, does not mean that reflection has not been made corrupt and odious to the LORD; these are not conflicting positions.

    Those who are saved are, without the one acceptable prayer of a contrite sinner's heart accepting offered redemption, would be no different from the inheritance of Satan's children, which is the natural state of all humanity.  You, I, JenM - all born into sin; all sinners without Christ; all children of Satan until adopted into the great family of faith in the LORD through the sacrificial payment of Savior Jesus Christ.  The only thing that does it is Jesus Christ's sacrifice - you don't know your catechism:

    The great Apostle John, present at the transfiguration, identified the two potential parentages of mankind in 1 John 3.  However, he was simply a slave repeating what his master said when Jesus Christ himself divided the world:

    Matthew 13:

    "37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear."

    There is nothing of the old man that is put off in the new birth that is favorable to the LORD, that is why we walk in a life of sanctification and endurance in learning the ways of Jesus Christ.  In the new birth, we are born in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and, indeed, our owner and master. In this, the Father is greatly pleased, and adopts us into the great family of faith.

    These are indeed hard things, but, we are in the situation where, indeed, we have the greatest gift possible, unearned, and therefore, there is nothing that can be put aside in a safe or held, but the gift has to be shared with the world -- and all of those people who are still the children of Satan. We should rejoice in that, the Image of God can be scrubbed clean with the blood of Jesus Christ, and this is on offer, but there is no pride in who we were, which had the Image of God covered in sin, made judicially right by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and eventually made practically aligned with Christ by the walk of sanctification.  

  • --JenM, you say "I'm sorry, I just can't agree with the comment from jaybees, and I think that thought process, although well-intentioned, does a lot of damage to people who are earnestly trying to live their lives in a faithful commitment to God." with regard to what makes God happy with any one man. If you are in opposition to what he said, then you are in opposition to basic, biblical theology.

    Alyson, you said "If they are the devil's children or the devil's servants, then they have nothing positive to offer, and the world would be better off without them, so the argument goes." which could not be further from the truth. No one who is a rational human being and a Christian would want to just kill people off, to condemn them to hell. Foolish littler girl, if you are a Christian, you want to go preach the gospel to them and entreat them to believe and repent.

  • --I never said violence committed in the name of Christianity made sense nor implied that anyone on this thread condones violence. I was saying that the idea that non-Christians and "heretics" have no worth is a dangerous idea when carried out to an extreme because it is a type of dehumanization, and violence is usually preceded by dehumanization. The past is filled with many examples such as the European wars of religion, the Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials, to name a few. There is also a long history of abuse and exploitation in the name of Christianity. Obviously the New Testament teaches non-violence, but many people who claimed to be Christians ignored that.  

    Most Christians in recent times will not take the idea to the violent extreme, but it can often manifest in subtler ways such as forgetting that our battle is with the devil, not flesh and blood.      

    Also, I am not saying that everyone is saved or holy because they were made in God's image. Everyone has sinned, and God is the Creator and Judge, so he has the right to save or destroy.

    Finally, there is no reason to resort to juvenile name-calling.      

  • --"Foolish littler girl" Does it strike anyone else as ironic that there would be ridiculous character-attacking name calling in the comments section of an article about shame?

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