Worth, Humility, and Pride (Where we’ve got it all wrong)

I was in church on Sunday and during worship a familiar song came up. It is called “Canons” by Phil Wickham and I’ve sung it many times before. This particular Sunday, however, I found myself caught off guard by the chorus.

Singing, You are holy, great and mighty
The moon and the stars declare who You are
I’m so unworthy, but still You love me
Forever my heart will sing of how great You are

It doesn’t seem too bad, right? I was singing along, contemplating each of the lines until I got to the third one:

I’m so unworthy, but still You love me

I’ve sung this line so many times, I’ve put my heart and soul into it, but on Sunday I realized something: This line is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but it perpetuates a sense of worthlessness amongst Christians that I’m beginning to realize shouldn’t exist. Phil Wickham’s song isn’t the only one out there that encourages Christians to sing about how unworthy they are. It is a concept that isn’t restricted to singers, either. There are preachers, pastors, and teachers out there who all agree with a single concept: Christians have no worth in the eyes of God.

Do you realize what that says about God?

If we are so unworthy, why does God love us? He is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being that could crush us like ants if he wanted to (and has a history of, if you take a gander at the Old Testament). If we are nothing but worthless, wretched creatures, then why would God desire a relationship with us? He probably wouldn’t.

Sin is an issue, I do not deny that, but why do we so often tie “sin” and “worth” together? Obviously God doesn’t. Show me where in the Bible is says, “and because humans sinned they became worthless,” and I will write a follow-up about how wrong my observations are. I don’t think that is going to happen, though.

If sin made us worthless (which is the same word as unworthy, but when we use the word unworthy we pretty it up and make it sound like we’re not referring to ourselves as worthless), why would God continue to pursue us? If human beings did not have inherent worth (instilled there by their creator), why would the creator of the universe send Jesus to earth to die a miserable death? That seems to be an unnecessary step to take to try and redeem a worthless creation.

From God’s actions I think one thing can be surmised: He believes his human creation to be worthy of love and pursuit. There is something inside of us that He tries to reach and show us.

Yet we continue to call ourselves worthless and tremble at the feet of God begging Him not to stomp us out because we’re such wretched, horrible creatures that deserve nothing but death, torment, misery, and pain. We put on this veil of false humility where we claim we’re worthless so that we will appear to be humble, because it seems prideful to believe we have worth. I had a friend at my old church who once told me this: Humility isn’t about degrading yourself, it is about realizing it isn’t about you and there is more to the world than yourself.

Humility is being willing to accept and pursue what God thinks of me, even if I’m not willing to believe those things about myself quite yet. Honestly? Degrading myself and believing I am worthless in the eyes of God is easy. Opening myself up to the fact that God believes I am worthy and taking His opinion (someone else’s opinion) as my own conclusion, on the other hand, is a lot harder because it means I’m no longer in control of how I think about myself.

Suddenly there is more to my world than my own opinion of myself, and that just doesn’t fly.

That’s pride, and it is one hell of a beast to battle.

Cognitive Dissonance

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When I found a yellow sheet of paper in my school mailbox I was expecting it to be an advertisement for a school event. Instead, on that yellow sheet of paper, were words telling me that I was going to be winning an award at Honors Convocation Chapel. For those not in the know, at the end of the year my school puts on a special chapel for graduates. Everyone graduating in the spring gets to wear their cap and gown and all of the professors wear their regalia as students who have gone above and beyond are recognized for their hard work.

As a December graduate I was not expecting to get anything, so when I found that fateful yellow piece of paper in my mailbox I was over the moon. Somehow I was finally good enough.

Yet the joy that piece of paper brought me was soon diminished as my anxiety set in. What award was I getting? Was it stupid to be so excited about it? Was there someone else who deserved it more than me? What if they made a mistake? There is no way that I have done well enough to get an award…

The thoughts ran rampant and I slept terribly the night before Honors Convocation Chapel because all I could think about were the things that could go wrong. I have anxiety issues. I’m working on it.

I think above all of the anxiety issues and unfortunate events that arose after I received the award (the ceremony going off without a hitch as I didn’t pass out or trip on my way up or down the stairs), I learned something: I put a lot of thought into all of the reasons I don’t deserve an award and completely neglected to pay attention to the reality of the situation. I fight to talk myself out of being happy about being recognized. Why?

I’m posing the question and I don’t even know if I have an answer. There is something about being recognized as someone who is good and successful that directly opposes this other part of me, a part of me that is the exact opposite. Cognitive dissonance comes into play and because I can’t come to some compromise between wanting to be happy in being recognized and validated and this underlying lie I’ve always told myself that I’m not worth it. So instead I justify: I didn’t deserve it or want it anyway.

The best illustration of cognitive dissonance comes from one of Aseop’s fables. A fox sees some grapes and wants them. He gets up on his hind legs trying to reach them but cannot. Then, he decides he really didn’t want the grapes after all because they were probably sour anyway. The award is the grapes, my inability to see myself as worthy of receiving recognition is the inability to reach, and the denial of wanting the recognition in the first place is my justification. Now the question becomes this: How do I move away from that?

Well simple, by admitting that I am someone worthy of being loved and recognized because I am someone who is able to do good things.

Easier said than done most days, but I’m working on. Tonight I’m just going to sit with the idea that it is okay to be proud of the certificate I now have framed on my shelf. After all, I have to start somewhere.