March 30, 2017

I can't help it. Every time an acceptance speech starts with, "First, I gotta give all the glory to God…" I shake my head. These are usually artists or athletes at the pinnacle of achievement, the culmination of countless hours of preparation, and yet they defer…why? I think it is a high-road technique (the HIGHEST road). It is a stunt-double for humility when the usual "awww shucks* won't cut it. Most of us struggle to gracefully accept a trivial compliment let alone navigate the minefield that awaits in the award acceptance speech. There is certainly social utility to demure and spread the credit around but that, "glory to God" part is a vestige of church and Christian culture.

Every time we screw up, we bare the full brunt of the pain and sorrow we've caused. We strayed from the path. We missed the mark. We have to deal with the consequences. Yet every time we succeed, well…we couldn't have done that on our own. "To God be the glory."

We are not worthy. There is non righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Between church, Sunday school, Youth Group, and the 90 minute round trip commute to Christian School where we carpooled with the Pastor's wife - there was no escaping this message. I think it was intended to normalize shortcomings but as a teen, struggling with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, I can't help but wonder if being steeped in Christian culture magnified these feelings.

Fulfillment and meaning were derived from determining God's plan for our lives and sticking to that. Simple, right? This profoundly important purpose was revealed through a process strikingly similar to the childhood "Hot and Cold" clue game. Friction & hardships generally meant we were headed in the wrong direction and/or God was trying to teach us a lesson. Cold, colder, ICE COLD! Blessings generally meant God felt like giving us a treat and/or we were on the right track. Oooo getting warmer!

In short: bad stuff = we missed the mark, good stuff = God.

This worldview can be liberating for those who want to put some space between themselves and important decisions. Let's call them the, "Jesus take the wheel" types. If you aren't driving, life just happens to you. I know many devout Christians who prefer this arrangement. As someone who doesn't even let the car decide when to shift gears (I drive stick), this notion did not sit well with me.

If we rely solely on faith and do not determine our own path - except when we stray - how can we ever feel successful? How can we derive a sense of purpose? It seems that in our vigilance to vanquish arrogance, we kept pride and self-worth outside the gates for bearing a passing resemblance to their uglier cousin. If at the first sign of success we deflect all credit to the big man upstairs, we're just left holding the scraps. How can we not feel perpetually like a worthless failure, or at best, a charitable drone?

When I asked some believers about this they were quick to point out scriptures that portray God as loving, caring and deeply concerned with every aspect of our lives; the lilies of the field and so on. Still this suggests worth is only derived from the extent to which we have a "divine" lineage (made in God's image), are fulfilling our divine calling (God using us as helpful puppets) or are valued and loved by God (even though we don't deserve it).

How can we accept love from God -- or anyone for that matter -- if we don't feel worthy? Most Evangelical Christians believe that accepting God's love (His sacrificial gift) is central to salvation but the very idea runs counter to the notion of grace. Grace is getting something other than what we deserve. And I was told time and time again that I don't deserve God's love and forgiveness but I get it anyway. This was supposed to provide comfort. I was supposed to be grateful. But to me it sounds more like a tyrant scattering food on the ground for the peasants. "You are not worthy to be here with the Supreme Leader, but he has taken pity on you and provided bread. Be grateful."

Whether or not this is a distortion of the scriptures, it is a reflection of the Christian culture that surrounded me during that time. The depravity of mankind is a central pillar to Christianity and is crucial to establishing the need for salvation. While it serves this purpose well, the collateral damage is a crisis of self-worth. If we're just a bunch of screw-ups, why would God even bother with us? Why do we bother?

Filed under: self worth

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