“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne. We are all intimately connected to thousands of events, people, places, and things. Americans love to speak of their independence and autonomy but these things are largely fictions, cultural myths we create to defend our own egos. In truth we are always connected, dependent and being depended upon. It is in these connections that we find our worth clarified. Worth is about connections.
We live in a sea of connections. Sometimes the connections are undesirable and at other times they are intentionally developed. As Ed Welch has said:
We are connected to things that have been forced on us, such as the sins of others, or we are connected to things we love, such as work, hobbies, or even the people who love us. (Side By Side, 69)
Yet whether we are connected to things we desire or things we don’t want, we are always connected. These connections shape and influence us, they tell us things about ourselves. Some of their descriptions and labels are true, and some are not. Sometimes the words of our connections make us feel “worthless,” for worthlessness is about connections too. So, for example, when I am betrayed or victimized, my connection to those events or to the people who wronged me may color my perception of myself. I may say to myself, “No one loves you. You are ugly. You are trash. You have no friends.” Those connections color my perception of myself and of my worth. Yet, positive connections shape me too.
Our relational connections help to give us meaning. There are a few words that have amazing power to give us joy and purpose. Think of the power of phrases like:
- I need you
- I love you
- Thank you
- I’ve missed you
- I trust you
These simple phrases identify connections and these connections give meaning, hope, and purpose to our lives. We need others and they need us. That mutual need helps to give us worth. As our connections grow so do our feelings and sense of worth.
Yet, the reality is that often these connections are fragile, broken, or insufficient to really define us. We put a lot of hope in these connections and some hope is appropriate. Yet, all hope will be lost if we let these various connections bare the full weight of our worth. There is only one connection that can ultimately carry such weight: our connection to Jesus. If I tie my worth to events eventually they will lose their luster, they will be replaced by new events with less stellar associations. If I place my worth in the hands of others they will disappoint me, let me down, or even harm me. If I put my worth in activities, things, or places these too will eventually crumble, erode over time, or be replaced. My worth is about connections, but it is most intimately tied to my connection to Jesus. In Jesus I can give myself to full rest. Worth is declared not on the basis of my life and accomplishments, not on the basis of my value to others, not on the basis of where I have been or what I have. My worth is tied, instead, to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us plainly:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
In Christ we have complete forgiveness for our sins, and we are made to become the very “righteousness of God.” Our whole worth is flipped upside down in Christ. This is the ultimate connection. This is the connection that grants me worth because Jesus makes me righteous before God.
The other connections matter. There is a sense in which worth is connected to these things as we feel our value and importance in the lives of others and in our world. Yet, these cannot sustain us apart from the worth we are given in Christ. Have you lost a spouse? You still matter. Are you suffering from a debilitating illness? You still have value. Are you divorced, abandoned, betrayed, homeless, addicted, fearful, or lonely? Friend, you are important. Worth is about connections, all connections, but only Jesus can fully sustain that sense of worth because only Jesus can truly make us righteous. Be connected to Jesus and find that you worth is secure regardless of your changing earthly connections.