I have learned that many people feel that they do not measure up. Indeed, at times, most people feel that they are not good enough. Unfortunately, a deep fear of not being valued subconsciously controls the lives of many persons.
The fear of not measuring up is very closely related to the fear of losing love. These two fears certainly overlap, but there are subtle differences. These two innate fears affect one’s self-image and sensitivity to the opinions of others. Like the fear of losing love, the fear of not being valued is also prevalent in individuals who did not receive adequate care and attention while growing up. In essence, they feel, “I must not be worth much if my mom and dad don’t even care about me.”
The basic fear of not being valued is most acute in those who have been put down when they were young. Individuals are handicapped by a demeaning family culture when they are programmed by their parents to believe that they “aren’t any good,” “can’t do anything right,” or “won’t amount to much.”
This fear of not being valued is also created by overindulgent parents who expect very little from their children. A child raised without limits subconsciously feels a lack of love. As previously mentioned, individuals with an entitlement mentality often become upset when they don’t get what they want. They react this way partially because their inflated sense of worth is threatened. They fear the loss of esteem or not being valued.
Children who grow up in a home environment where an individual’s value is dependent on their performance also develop a distorted view of reality. In our society, many, if not most, persons subconsciously equate a person’s value with how influential they are with others. It is as if you can calculate the worth of a soul by multiplying how much they accomplish by the number of persons it impacts. However, the economy of heaven is not equivalent to our temporal valuation system. The worth of a soul—each and every individual soul—has infinite worth to God. Unfortunately, many of us do not really internalize this principle, so we go through life comparing and judging others while we attempt to establish our worth (even to ourselves) by desperately trying to accomplish things or by denigrating others.
Because the gospel rightfully creates a culture in which individuals seek excellence, Christians should be vigilant in maintaining a proper balance between expecting the best of our youth while not making them feel that their worth is connected to their performance. As in golf, our efforts will produce much greater results if we are able to find the sweet spot and not overemphasize positive principles to the point that they produce diminishing returns. A misguided value system based on performance results in people seeking prominent positions, taking offense easily and being susceptible to discouragement.
The opposite approach also creates a problem. As with the fear of losing love, individuals attempt to mask their fear of loss of esteem through shallow endeavors. Video games give a whole generation of lost boys a pseudo-sense of accomplishment as they conquer one more level in a digital world. Like Peter Pan, they never grow up. Likewise, as much as we refuse to admit it, most of what adults spend their time pursuing are similarly meaningless accomplishments through less obvious methods. Much of our drive to succeed or excel at something is nothing more than a vain attempt to satisfy this subconscious fear of loss of esteem. A strong work ethic that is not balanced with a clear understanding and appreciation of our dependence on God and his grace produces the destructive terrible trio of pride, discouragement, and a judgmental attitude.
The fear of not being valued or not measuring up often motivates individuals to try to prove their value, so the focus shifts from the Savior to themselves and their own efforts. Instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God and to establish God’s righteousness, they seek to establish their own righteousness, which is impossible for “none is good, save one, that is God” (Luke 18:19). In essence, they abandon the Lord and are left to themselves.
Some Christians become weary in performing good works because they have a flawed or inadequate understanding of the gospel. They fail to grasp the whole essence of the good news of God’s love, which is expressed through his grace. Of course, we make mistakes and can’t do it all. That is all part of the plan. It really doesn’t matter that you fall short all the time. God has it handled. To think any differently would be similar to expecting an infant to drive a car when it can’t even crawl. It’s ludicrous. So is our thinking when we expect our actions to be perfect. In this fallen world, it is impractical to try to do everything perfectly, and that is OK. God only asks that we make an acceptable offering to him, not a perfect offering. God assures us that our offering is acceptable if it is made with a sincere heart. That is it. Nothing more. Sincerely trying to learn and do the Lord’s will is really all he asks of us. Hence, our attempt to prove our worthiness actually detracts from this effort because we are relying on ourselves instead of the merits of Him who is the only one mighty enough to save us from ourselves.
Instead of judging our performance based on a need to be perfect, I think it is better to compare ourselves to batters in baseball who are considered great if they hit the ball only 30 percent of the time when they are at the plate, and even then, they get many opportunities to hit the ball each time they are at bat. Perfection is a process of becoming more fully developed, which comes as we learn to rely on and trust in the Lord and his strength, not our own feeble efforts. We must start at the bottom of a ladder and ascend step by step in order to arrive at the top. It is the same with the gospel. So why do we seem to feel it is a race to be perfect today and beat ourselves up when we obviously fall short? It is because of our misunderstanding of God’s plan and undervaluing his love for us. Children learn better in a positive environment, and so do we. God wants us to enjoy life not only because he desires our happiness, but also because we generally learn better when we don’t worry about failing.
Many good people become discouraged and despondent because they have a flawed value system to determine their self-worth. They believe that their value is tied to their performance, so their fear of not measuring up obstructs their ability to tap into the peace, power, and hope that God freely offers them through his grace. Paul taught that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Gal 5:22). So if we are missing this love, joy, and peace, we must be missing the boat in how we invite the Spirit into our daily lives.
A clear understanding of the gospel brings hope, not despair. We need to change the way we think about and look at things; otherwise, we will remain trapped in an ever-repeating loop of flawed thinking with its disappointing results. I suggest that we seriously reconsider our whole approach to how we try to please God. Our primary objective should be to understand and do the will of God, to trust him, and to rely on him, not on ourselves. Trying to prove our self-worth through our good works is actually a form of pride that is counterproductive. We need to exercise faith in God and his love to set us free from this fear and our flawed thinking.
That is why He wants us to feel His love, and why He established ordinances or sacraments so we will more fully rely on his promise of salvation. One of the main purposes of the Christian sacraments or ordinances is to increase our assurance in God’s grace. God promises to give us salvation when we covenant through baptism to accept and follow Christ. God wants us to rely on this promise. This covenant is reaffirmed through the ordinance or sacrament of confirmation. The very term confirmation means to reaffirm. We likewise reaffirm the baptismal covenants during the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which regularly helps us remember God’s promise of grace and reaffirms His promise of salvation.
Remembering is the key. We will not always be enamored with our spouse, but remembering the prior feelings will rekindle it. We will not always be pleased with our children, but remembering the times we were will refresh it. We will not always feel God’s love, but remembering when we did will reawaken those feelings and revitalize our soul. As we remember those times when the Spirit testified to us of the unfailing, infinite love that God offers us, we invite the Holy Spirit to return and reaffirm God’s love. That is one of the main purposes of frequently repeating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.