Why are we terrified to admit to who we are? I do not mean your flaws or sins. I mean WHO YOU ARE. Why do we as human beings recoil at any claim of our inherent worth? We hear someone declare that human life is sacred, or that we are made in the image of God, or that the human person possesses an inalienable dignity that only a human can possess, and we balk. Downplay it. Avoid the topic. Point out all that is darkness so that we do not have to face the light that exists in us. Why are we afraid of who we are?
Events of recent weeks, headlines and online chatter, have me contemplating a long loved quote of the great St. Augustine:
“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
I have a few ideas of why we are afraid to look with rightful wonder upon ourselves and our neighbor:
1. Acceptance of who we truly are would require us to raise our standards by about a mile. My chosen behaviors, the actions of others, the circumstances we settle for, the lies we tell ourselves to be more comfortable in this world: they would all be knocked down by the standard to which the human person, in all his greatness, deserves to be held.
2. We could not look upon the evil humans can and do commit with either indifference or tolerance.
3. Acknowledging the truth about ourselves leads to acknowledging the truth about every single other human person. The couple in the house next door; the terrorist; the kid who comes to your door; the murderer in prison; the handicapped man bagging your groceries; the elderly woman no longer productive in society; the jerk behind you at the ball game; the unborn child; your spouse; your best friend; your worst enemy. The truth of who we are as human beings demands a radical change in our treatment of each other, no exceptions.
4. Belief in this truth opens the door to all the answers to life’s great questions. This seems like a welcome treasure to gain, but I believe that actually having those answers is a frightening prospect for must of us because having them would require us to do something about them.
This quote from Marianne Williamson is one I’ve come back to again and again for personal inspiration. You have probably encountered it before. Read it slowly and maybe twice.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Even well-meaning Christians hesitate over the truth of the inherent worth of every human person. They settle into the idea (the more comfortable idea) that any worth and dignity they possess is only because they have Christ living in them. They decide to believe the theologically unsound notion that if Christ did not live in them, they would be worthless. This is not true. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. Let me repeat that. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. That is why Jesus came! If it were not true, you would not mean enough to God for Him to send Jesus to die for you!
You are not worth everything because Jesus died for you. Jesus died for you because you are worth everything! If Christians want a leg to stand on in evangelization, we cannot treat anyone as less than what they are.
This belief in the dignity of every unique person does not give rise to the lie that is modern tolerance. “I’m ok, you’re ok” is not the message here. Nor does it mean that everything else is meaningless. Who you are as a human being infuses meaning into all of your time, all of your encounters, and all of your endeavors. And like I mentioned already, it raises the standard for what is ‘ok’ tremendously higher than where we tend to place it on a daily basis.
The true nature of your personhood and that of the person you encounter next today means that you and the other are worthy of love and nothing less. Authentic love is desiring the good of the person (yourself and others) and then doing something about it. If we hold each of our behaviors, attitudes, and words under the spotlight of that definition, how much authentic love would we find?
I beg you as I beg myself, stop being afraid of your own worth.