Worthiness, the Art of Becoming Empty

Do you ever have a day where you struggle to feel fulfilled?

I do, and it’s maddening. I should know better, and yet, there it is again–the self-disappointment, the frustration, the loathing at my own unimportance. Why is my self-worth continually bound up in my productivity? I blame my culture, of course. The fast-paced rat-race of suburban America will steer the best of Christians toward a pattern of materialism and competitiveness. But no convent or monastery could ever rid the soul of the quest to accomplish, to leave a mark, to fulfill destiny.5033007-2xs
Even when I make the right choice to visit the sick or spend time with my children instead of checking something tangible off my everlasting list–I still struggle to stand tall at the end of the day and point to what I’ve done. I long to validate myself, but I continually fall short.

As a life-long believer in Jesus and his teachings, I know all the correct responses required to fight the battle against low self-esteem:

  • I am created in God’s image
  • He knew me in my mother’s womb
  • He created me for a purpose
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made
  • My body is a temple of the Holy Ghost

All this was spoken into my life throughout my childhood, yet I still believe the lies:  do more, be more, get more. I can never do enough or accomplish enough to satisfy the longing.

This age-old conflict played out among the first family, and it’s been plaguing humanity for over 6,000 years. After the fall in the Garden of Eden, Adam was cursed to physical labor that could never be finished. Eve was cursed to feel subordinate to her husband, yet maintain the desire to control him. While blessed with children, she was cursed with the struggle to balance love and discipline, heartache and delight. She would always strive to do more for her family and always feel like she hadn’t done enough. Sounds familiar.

Her children would experience the same angst. When God explicitly instructed them in the art of worship–the mode of having a spiritual relationship after their parents had screwed up the intended mode–Cain and Able responded differently. Longing for God’s acceptance, Cain brought the best he had produced (still under God’s control, but a lovely accomplishment, nonetheless). Able brought exactly what God required–a life sacrificed, with no accomplishments attached at all. God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Able’s. (Maybe my spiritual success isn’t linked to my general success as a person.)

Perhaps worth is intrinsically tied to worship of the Creator, instead of a worship of oneself. Perhaps when I lift up what I have done (still a result of God’s grace), all the blessing and all the worthiness leak out of it, and I am left holding an empty trophy, which I discard in my quest for another. Surprisingly, I can never keep the trophy filled. I am always left feeling empty and worthless.

I would venture to guess that fulfillment is only achieved through the art of becoming empty. When I have nothing left with which to glorify myself, I am truly fulfilled (i.e. perfect in God’s eyes). Only then, being perfect, I won’t care about feeling important.

Worthiness is pride, wrapped in a blanket of pathetic self-absorption. It’s the reason I so often feel cheated, competitive, unnoticed, unimportant, and imperfect. I’m still under the illusion that my life is all about me.

It’s time to re-read all those oxymorons spoken by Jesus, which still cause people to scratch their heads:

  • he who loses his life will find it
  • if you want to become great, become a servant of all
  • the first shall be last, and the last shall be first
  • whoever humbles himself will be exalted

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:5-11

Emptiness. Followed by supreme accomplishment.

3 thoughts on “Worthiness, the Art of Becoming Empty

  1. Ellen Hart

    This is my favorite entry ever, and something that I have struggled with throughout my walk. When I have “success” I worry that I am not being faithful in the hidden things, and when I am in a season of life that doesn’t appear “successful” to the world, I discount the hidden productivity that is priceless in God’s economy.

    What does that leave me with? Utter dependence on God for my worthiness, understanding that “His ways are not our ways,” and that he rules all in spite of our weaknesses and struggle.

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      Thanks, Ellen. Well said. I think we all have to keep telling ourselves the truth. Our natural outlook on self-image is not from God’s perspective.

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