I’ll never forget the darkest day of my life. I was a star athlete as a high school senior. (My, how things change!) I was admired and respected by nearly everybody, both faculty and students. (In those days most jocks didn’t feel moved to slam “nerds” up against lockers.) But none of that made up for my darkest day.
I was tapped to referee a football game in which I wasn’t playing. My hero, a much-admired teacher, had a rooting interest in the game. It didn’t take long before he started commenting, “That was a stupid call!” “What’s the matter, are you blind or something?” “I can’t believe that call!” Although the words—and the tone in which they were delivered—hurt, I tried my best to ignore them and go on.
Early in the third quarter a play ended on the sideline in front of the teacher. I was right there and made the call. He exploded in my face. As calmly as I could I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m sorry. I’m doing the best I can.” He looked me back and said, “Your best isn’t good enough!” His words devastated me. I threw the ball on the roof of a nearby building, found the deepest, darkest corner of that high school, and cried for two hours straight—a macho 17-year-old with no mama in sight.
Why did I cry? Because in the words of my hero, “Your best isn’t good enough,” I heard something even worse: “Your best will never be good enough. You shouldn’t even be allowed to live. You are no better than pond scum!” I felt worthless and hopeless.
Every human being needs to know that they are worth something, that they have value. Yet we all have moments when we realise that something deep down inside is broken and we don’t know how to fix it. We have all faced times when our best wasn’t good enough. Many drown such moments in alcohol, blur them with drugs, or medicate them with chocolate, funny movies or chronic overtime. Many spend their lives running, never finding a place to hide for long.
Three ways to seek life
The rest of us turn our attention to fixing the problem. If we are worthless in some deep, inner sense, then that will have to change. So we turn our efforts toward one or more of three popular ways to measure human worth. We seek value through the things we have, through the things we’ve done and/or through the people we know.
1. The things we have
Many seek meaning in the “bottom-line” approach. They value themselves in terms of houses, cars and bank balances. The more you have, the more you’re worth. Or, as the bumper sticker says, “When things get tough, the tough go shopping.”
Chester thought he could find life in possessions. He grew up in the drug-infested streets of Fort Apache, the South Bronx. In his neighbourhood, young people often admired pimps and prostitutes because they drove fancy cars and wore fancy clothes. When I asked Chester what he thought happiness was, he said, “Happiness is a big black Cadillac!”
Let’s face it, the bottom-line approach does feel good, but the sense of value doesn’t last. Our precious toys rot, rust and crash. Better models come along. And in the end, “you can’t take it with you.”
2. The things we’ve done
Others prefer the self-development or performance approach: “I’ll make myself into somebody if it kills me!” We seek value by succeeding in sports, games, work and/or hobbies. We knock ourselves out to get higher degrees, more prestigious positions, or greater fame and fortune. “If only I could be the best _______ in the world, then I’d really be somebody.” When reality doesn’t quite live up to our goals, we often imagine success in our daydreams.
But those who achieve their fondest dreams discover that the sense of worth doesn’t last. Star quarterbacks get old and frail, beauty queens get old and wrinkled, and teachers get old and mindless. And even those at the top of their game have a bad day now and then. Achievement is real, but we won’t find lasting value in it. I certainly tasted this reality to the full that day on the football field.
3. The people we know
People also view life as a matter of “who you know”. We find value in terms of what other people think of us. We feel worthwhile when others praise us, promote us and love us. Teenagers blossom when other teens think of them as uniquely valuable and special. Affairs often happen, not because someone is prettier or nicer than a person’s spouse, but out of the need to be affirmed and held valuable by someone else.
And we think it works secondhand too. If you have a relationship with one of the richest, brightest, smartest, most famous or most powerful people in your world, you feel more valuable as a human being. We all like to “drop names”, even when our claims to relationship are exaggerated.
But as good as a meaningful relationship feels, as beneficial as it is to our self-worth, we realise that even this approach has its limits. People discover things they don’t like about us. They change their minds, move away or die. Rejection hurts the most in those relationships in which one has loved the most. Many people have told me that I wasn’t good enough, but it was when those words came from the person I most admired, the one I wanted to be like when I grew up, that the words of rejection left lasting marks.
What then? Is there no way out? Is there no secure path to a genuine and lasting sense of worth?
Possessions, performance and people are good things. They are part of the spice of life, but they are not life itself. If true life were found in possessions, performance and people, professional basketball players would be the happiest people on Earth. After all, they make millions of dollars a year, they’ve reached the top of their vocation, and they are admired by people all over the world and have all the romantic options anyone could possibly want. Why then is drug abuse a major issue in professional basketball? Why are some players so angry and dysfunctional? Because life, real life, cannot be found in money, performance and people alone.
Jesus is the answer
But all is not lost. What if we could find a friend who knows all about us yet loves us just the way we are—so we know that friend’s opinion of us will not change? A friend who’s genuinely valuable (a superstar) and who lives forever (so we can’t be bereaved by death)? Such a friend could give us a strong sense of self-worth and meaning in our lives. And that sense of self-worth wouldn’t be hostage to the ups and downs of the stock market, the highs and lows of our daily performance, or the moods and whims of our other friends and relatives.
That’s what Jesus is all about. The Bible tells us that He’s worth the whole universe (He made it), yet He knows all about us and loves us just the way we are. His death on the cross established the value of human beings. When the Creator of the universe—more valuable than everything and everyone else in it—decides to die for you and me, it places an infinite value on our lives. And since the resurrected Jesus will never die again, my value is secure in Him as long as I live. (I’ll take forever!)
If I’m that valuable to the greatest Person in the universe, then it doesn’t matter whether I’m rich or poor, great or small, famous or ordinary. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me.
To have Jesus is to have life, even in poverty, sickness and bereavement. To know Jesus this way is to understand why the martyrs chose to die rather than reject Him. They discovered that life without Jesus just wasn’t worth living.
When it comes to life’s ultimate question—the question of the meaning, the significance of our lives—Jesus is the answer.
How to know God accepts you
1. Understand that He loves you
“God is love” (1 John 4:8). When we love someone, we want to have a relationship with them. God is seeking to have a relationship with you! You can’t be so bad that God will turn away from you. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were afraid and ran from Him, but He came looking for them (Genesis 3:1-9).
2. Understand that He forgives you
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). You don’t need to feel condemned for the wrong things you’ve done. Ask Jesus to forgive you and you can let go of the condemnation. There’s no limit to the number of times He’ll forgive you (Matthew 18:21, 22).
3. Understand that Jesus’ goodness stands in place of your sinfulness
Paul said he wanted to be found “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ . . .” (Philippians 3:9). You can never be “good enough” within yourself to qualify for God’s love. He gives you Jesus’ righteousness and then you’re perfect in His sight.
4. Understand you’re an imperfect human being who makes mistakes
Paul said that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No-one is perfect. The most miserable people in the world are those who think they have to obey God perfectly right now. They cannot accept their limitations and they punish themselves whenever they slip up. So when you give in to a temptation ask God to forgive you and then praise Him that He counts you as perfect right then. You can say, “Thank you, God, that You accept me where I am right now, including all my imperfections. Please help me to grow beyond them.”