A good friend recently asked my three-year-old son Joseph, “Do you know why your parents wanted to have a child . . . to have you?” Joseph responded fairly quickly, “So I would be nice to Ben.” Benjamin is Joseph’s one-year-old brother. My wife and I were surprised by how easily Joseph answered the question. It was as if he had been thinking about it. We were also a little saddened by his response. On the one hand, we were glad that Joseph understood the importance of treating his brother well. But for Elise and I, it felt like Joseph’s thinking went further. It seemed like he was beginning to believe that the ultimate point of life was to behave well – that his essential value depends on his utility.
After a moment’s reflection, I easily understood Joseph’s mindset. After all, so many of our conversations with him revolve around monitoring and coaching his interactions with Benjamin. How could they not! Our peace and safety depend on it. Nevertheless, we did not like the subtext that was sinking in for Joseph.
Fortunately, the conversation between Joseph and our friend gave us the chance to tell Joseph that we wanted him in our lives simply because we wanted to love him. Hopefully we will be able to uphold that message in the coming years while trying to keep our household from descending into something resembling a scene from Lord of the Flies. And Joseph has important work to do as well – he will have to fight to believe that our love, and more importantly God’s love, is freely given.
Of course, Joseph’s fight is everyone’s fight. We all struggle to ignore the voices telling us that our value lies in our manners, our grades, our beauty, our intelligence, our humor, our money, our success, our charity, our chastity, our humility, our virtue. At a core level we all know that if our value depended on these things, we would be in serious trouble. Nevertheless, the voices are loud and hard to ignore.
Many people – powerful people – have bought into the lie that their value depends on their performance, and their sense of security rides on that lie being passed on. When you buy a Porsche, you want people to notice you at the stop light. I realize that this is a gross generalization. It is not meant to be a judgment against Porsche owners, and just to be clear, I would love to own a Porsche! For some, scripture memorization can be just as vain. They take the Bible out for a spin and glow when people notice. The point is, we live in a world that is constantly valuing people based on non-eternal values. We all know this, and to a degree, we all buy into it.
And so the fight continues. We all have to exercise faith to believe that we are valuable beyond measure because God loves us, and He loves us because we are his children. It is that simple and that difficult. Thankfully, Jesus knows it is that difficult, and is eager to respond when we implore Him as the disciples did in Luke chapter 17, “Lord, increase our faith!”
Hopefully, as a starting place, we can be as honest as Joseph was when we examine the question of where we find our worth. Thankfully, Joseph has not yet learned to censor his gut-level honest answers in favor of more socially acceptable answers. As a result, his heart was open to hear the truth.
Lord, give us a childlike faith that is open and honest. Help us see clearly where we find our value. Give us ears to hear the truth that you love us right now and eyes to see your eternal Kingdom all around us.