There are people, women especially I think, who never quite get past the internalized belief that if others don't value us that we therefore have no value. I see where this understanding comes from. When women are present in our fairy tales, and most of our movies even now, they are heterosexual romantic interests primary, if not solely, and their value comes directly from being loved by a man. When these are our primary stories, our identifying narratives, the stories that tell us who we are in this world, the idea that maybe we have worth all on our own, all by ourselves, separate from a male partner but also separate from the friends and family we love us is foreign, strange, and in some way incomprehensible.
What happens, then, when someone we love stops valuing us in the way they once did? Or when we become aware that the assumptions we had about someone's care for us turn out to be false? In those moments, we suffer not only the loss of the relationship or friendship, but truly, a loss of ourselves. We can become confused about who we are without that other person's affirmation. We can feel that we do not have worth. In some cases women have confided in me that they feel they don't even exist when they are not with another person who values them. When they lose their husbands or partners in any way, it can be devastating not only because of the loss itself, but also because it confronts their very assumptions about who they are and what they are worth. You may find that hard to believe. But it's true. This year, 2017, I have heard from women for whom this is a true-ism. We have a long, long way to go.
I am hoping that perhaps the increase in movies and books that value women and women's love differently, especially when those movies are made for children, will contribute to women's sense of self-worth, independent of those around them, and especially independent of their "necessarily-male" partner. Movies like Frozen, where the "true love" was between sisters; Brave, where the tension was between mother and daughter; and Zootopia in which there was no romantic interaction at all with the main character, who was a female - these movies give me hope that perhaps we are learning to teach and instill a different sense of worth in our girls and, as they grow, in our women.
But in the mean time, I have this to say: a belief that our worth comes from those around us is problematic, untrue, and deadly. From a faith perspective, perhaps especially, we are valuable simply because we are. We have been loved into being and that makes us beautiful, worthy, and valuable all on its own. God created us for relationships - yes with each other. But more, God created us to be in relationship with God, God-self. And that is high praise indeed. You have been loved into being because God wants a relationship with YOU. How awesome is that!
When we start to embrace the fact of our own value, it radiates out of us. When we come to understand that our worth comes from simply being in this world, a child of God, a brother or sister to all of creation, we carry ourselves differently. That confidence changes us, flows through us, and challenges us then to be more who we really are, more true to who it was we were created to be.
As I'm writing this, I find myself reflecting on a children's book written by Max Lucado, You are Special (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1997). The story describes how every day the Wemmicks walked around giving each other dots or stars. They would put a dot on another Wemmick if they didn't like them or thought they were ugly or bad. They would put a star on another Wemmick if they thought they were pretty or talented or good. The Wemmicks sense of worth was determined by how many dots and stars they each had. But one day, a Wemmick who was covered with dots and who therefore mostly hid away from the others met a Wemmick who had no stars or dots on her. When others tried to give her a dot or a star, it would simply fall off. As you read on in the story, you find that her ability to let the dots and stars roll off of her came from a strong sense of self-worth, of value given to her by spending each day with her maker, the one who loved her into being.
I wish in reality it really were that simple. I wish that our faith would simply wipe away any hurt or sense of worthlessness or ugly dots given to us by others that we might experience. The truth is harder. Since we were created also to be in relationship with others, if those relationships are going to be genuine, they will involve a level of vulnerability that will leave us open to being hurt, rejected, and even scarred by others. But while grief at a loss is healthy, the devastation to our sense of self-worth is not. And that is something we can work on, even as we strive to stay open and vulnerable.
In Lucado's book, the solution for the Wemmick covered in dots was to daily spend time with the one who loved him into being. That would be good for us as well: to daily spend time with the One who loves you, who wants you, who values your existence, whatever that looks like for you. Meditation, hiking in nature, talking to the trees or your pets, quiet prayer, Yoga, Tai Chi - however you get in touch with that which breathes life into you, centers you and brings you back to yourself, however you allow God (or the Universe or whatever you want to name it) to remind you that you are loved - spend time with that, preferably daily. But for today let me also be the one to tell you: You are worthy. You are loved. You are valuable. You were created to be you because you are loved just as the person you are. Try not to let others define who that is for you. Try especially to not let others tell you you aren't worth much. You've been loved into being. And each day that you breathe, you are loved into being again. Hold that truth in your heart.
And watch the dots roll off...