Where I live, it’s been raining heavily for almost a week. It’s the first day (Sunday) that the sun has been out in a long while, but few days ago, I ventured out to Walmart during what turned out to be a flood-causing downpour. As I rushed in the store, I noticed an older gentleman walking his cart full of groceries to his car, becoming soaked because he had no umbrella. Since I did have an umbrella, I quickly ran to him and walked him to his car. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t seem like the type to gush. It’s okay. I get those people; they make me comfortable.
After we’d put the last bag in his trunk, I took his cart into the store, where many more people were waiting for a break in the rain, standing with their carts and groceries and no umbrellas. They all began telling me
That was so nice!
I’m so glad you did that!
I smiled. It’s hard to walk by someone without an umbrella in the rain when you’ve got one, you know?
I should tell you now that my umbrella is very large and has the name of a neighboring town stamped prominently across it.
It’s at this point that an older woman looked at me and said, “You’ve just restored my faith in the people of *that town*.”
Now, I don’t live in *that town*, but what if I had? I perpetually think of really great comebacks a few days after incidents like these, when my brain crushes to a halt because I can’t believe what someone just said. I laughed at how silly this woman’s comment was – a woman from a prominently white town of a few thousand people making a snide remark about another prominently white town of a few thousand less people – to someone she assumed lived in that town. I thought about what I could have, maybe wished I would have, said in response to her simply ridiculous comment. But then I thought about what might have driven her to say such a thing, wrapped up in the trappings of a “compliment” to a perfect stranger, and I became a little sad.
I want to talk to you about worth.
I am no better (or worse) than someone because of my last name. I am no better (or worse) than someone because of my education. My home town. My family. My profession. My ethnicity. My past. My socioeconomic status. My faith. My fertility. My marriage. My disorder/disability. My nationality. My opinions. My political affiliation.
Am I suggesting that we’re all of the same moral character? That we should all have the same gilded reputation? That we are all fine as-is? Am I suggesting that it simply doesn’t matter what we do? (1) Of course not. That would be absurd.
When I say “better,” I’m not talking about morals and reputation. I’m talking about worth. Morals are encouraged, reinforced, and cultivated; a reputation is earned. Worth is something I was born with.
Because if you strip away all my accomplishments and mistakes, the very thing that makes me worthy is the same reason that every human who has and will ever live is worthy. I believe we are worthy because we are made in the image of a Divine Creator, and what He makes is good.
When I find myself slightly damp, out of breath, and on the receiving end of a backhanded compliment from a complete stranger in the lobby of Walmart, I see someone who has become caught up in the trappings of comparison. I see someone who has forgotten why she is worthy, and why I am worthy. When I hear good, worthy people verbally combing the character of others for impurities, I hear insecurity and misplaced importance. Because if I remember what makes me worthy, I’m not going to sit around patting myself on the back for the morals I live by and searching for the flaws in others. It’s the same foundation that is going to keep me afloat when I make mistakes of devastating magnitude.
And yeah, I’m saying “I” because I need a reminder. When my worth is caught up in what I’ve done, for good or ill, I’m much more likely to be unhappy and on the hunt for fault in others. I’ve felt it. And if even Jesus walked this earth and said, “Why do you call me good?”(2) I’m thinking he’s focused on worth, too. So I’m going to start seeing others (and myself) through that lens.
(1) I believe Paul addressed this as he spoke to the Romans. Following his exploration of life-giving grace extended by the sacrifice of One who believed all were worthy, he challenges the readers to leave forever their places of bondage and sin in response to such a gift. (Romans 6:1)
(2) Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18