The following article, printed in the January 4, 2004 issue of VISTA (Wesleyan Methodist magazine) was a summary of my battles with significance. The original title was Significant to God. One of my friends, after reading the article, said “This article was so helpful, I am going to read it every day of my life!” His comment was part of the inspiration to write Lord I Feel So Small, my completed book.
Lord, I Feel So Small!
It happened about ten years ago; I reached a crisis point in my own feelings of significance. I had been battling feelings of low self-esteem and failure. “Lord, I feel so small, so unworthy.” In a moment of clarity, I paused for a moment to record more completely what I felt about myself—to nail it down. What I wrote shocked me, but helped me crystallize the unbiblical, feelings-oriented thoughts that were sapping my strength and joy.
In the following months, as I probed further, I discovered that I had been believing lies. And worse, they formed a pattern of thought that had dominated my 50+ years of life. The Lord led me to consider the biblical issue of personal significance, assisted by the Scriptures and helpful study books. The insights proved permanently life-changing.
The Basis for Significance
In my study, I discovered that the desire for acceptance and significance is God-given. Proper feelings of significance are crucial to our walk and relating properly to ourselves, our God, our spouse, and others. Feelings of worth and significance are crucial for accomplishing the work God has given us to do. When Adam and Eve fell, humankind discarded its high call. This was the beginning of mankind’s struggle to discover our place. We will never truly find it until we again embrace our creator and His call. Left to ourselves we cannot find the fuller picture of our significance as persons, and are sentenced to exist in varying measures of deception.
Believers are equipped in the Word of God to discover the exhilarating facts of our immeasurable worth. But though proper feelings of significance are God-given, when we seek to fulfill our needs in the wrong ways, we will be sadly disappointed. It is like building a house upon sand; only disaster will result. Here are some of the building blocks I discovered:
For most people, the foundation for their sense of significance began with their parents. The selfless love and acceptance of parents forms the soil for the rest of life. The converse is also true—rejection, disapproval, or conditional acceptance can form a poor basis for proper self-esteem and relationships with others. Many are marred in childhood by parents who communicate ”You never do anything right! You’ll never amount to anything!”
In my own case, I had never done well in school and was called a “daydreamer” by my teachers. All that was wrong was a long-term search for my identity and an emptiness until it was discovered. Part of the picture was my dad, who had little to give to others. His mother had died giving birth to he and his Downs Syndrome twin, and he was raised by relatives. Though he was a loving person, because of his own deficit, he was never able to hold a job, had many personal failings, and had little to give to my mother and his children.
For many, a proper foundation for self-concept was not laid in childhood. But whatever our deficit, all of us must turn to our Heavenly Father and immerse ourselves in His immeasurable love. It is there that we will discover our true foundation and identity—the starting place for building a joyful, fulfilling, God-centered life.
The Right Yardsticks
As I studied, I discovered that I was measuring myself by the wrong yardsticks. I was measuring myself not by biblical or God-given measures, but by the yardsticks of the world. You could well ask “How could you so seriously miss the biblical truths of God’s love and call?” From the time I awoke in the morning and walked into the world, I was immersed in worldly values—measures of success, accomplishment, appearance, status, wealth, etc. For example often the success of others wounded me. When I envied their achievements I felt like a failure. Why would my loving God give that cherished and coveted success to others and not to me?
At other times I was wounded by the criticism or flawed measure of others. Often their estimation stemmed from shallow values, self-centered motives, or pride.
The Approval Trap
The desire for a sense of my personal worth led me to seeking approval from others. I began to base my security on what I perceived others thought of me. I was trapped in doing virtually anything to make people happy. But it seemed the more I tried, the less affirmation I received. Though warmed by the circle that loved and accepted me, I grieved when criticized. I was unable to balance their comments with God’s evaluation of a person’s worth. I couldn’t say no to what others asked of me. I clawed desperately for approval and appreciation. And the more I became ensnared in the approval trap, the less willing I became to step out and risk in life. I lived on the defensive to limit the pain of failure. It seemed I could not live without the approval of others.
In contrast, it is imperative that we live only for the “Well done!” of Almighty God. He knows our frailties, yet He loves us intensely. Let Him be your constant encourager, friend, and counselor. Live to please Him alone.
Healing Pain and Rejection
From early childhood, I lived with the philosophy that you never know who will be the next person to “stick you”—to inflict pain. The fear seemed justified by wounds received from others, including the mocking and bullying of other children in the veterans’ housing unit where I lived. Other wounds stemmed from the marital conflict of my parents. I recoiled in pain when hurt, but the impact was a demeaned feeling of not having full status as a person. I withdrew and nursed my wounds, not wanting to face the next day. I concluded that, “It is impossible for me to be whole. Pain is normal for me. I can never be happy.”
The basis for healing is the love of God. The Father gave His precious Son for us because He so valued us. Christ offered Himself willingly at infinite cost because He so treasured us. With God, love is not just talk. He continually proves how much He treasures those He has created in His image. We should swim daily, continually, in the love of God. This is our imperishable foundation. Not only does He love you, He likes you!
Healing From Failure
Personal failure is another wound that can injure our sense of significance. I once worked in snack bar in college days. It was a busy place and those who worked behind the counter were always bumping into each other. One evening my right forearm touched the edge of the pizza oven. Instantly a two inch portion of skin and flesh on my arm vaporized. It was not a slow burn, but an instant searing impairment that would require months to heal, and even then would leave a scar. Failure can leave a scar, especially when the failure is moral. It singes our mind, emotions, will, and spiritual life.
All of us have failed. Yet because of the cross, as we turn to Him in repentance and faith, we can receive cleansing that declares us “not Guilty!” in the Father’s sight. We can receive not only the God who forgives, but who works to remove the poisonous sources of sin within us.
The study on significance, initiated about eight years ago, was truly life changing. My feelings stemmed not only from the areas I have described, but also from a strongly introspective temperament. But the light of God’s full love and acceptance has continued to grow. It has fueled a new era of blessing, joy, and risk in relationships and challenges. One definition of God’s mercy is His love to the helpless. I was helpless, trapped in demeaning views of my own significance. By God’s mercy I have begun to step into the freedom and victory that God intends for all of us.