“You matter.” “You are important.” “You are special.” I’ve heard the words a number of times over the years. I’ve spoken them too. It seems most often to occur in groups, as a hearer or a speaker. There’s something deep within me that longs to experience this kind of affirmation—and to believe it. I bet it’s there inside of you too.
The Subaru grandma’s exhortation, “you matter…don’t give up” (previous post) affirms the timeless reality of each individual’s worth. But what does that mean, really? And where does that sense of meaning come from?
Can I be special by being ‘good’ enough? I remember Dr. Louis Foltz, in his Child & Adolescent Human Development class, describing the Four B’s: Beauty, Brains, Bucks, and Brawn. These metrics arise from a psychosocial dynamic related to the generalized other, from whom we may derive our sense of identity and value in this world. I.e., “I am who I think others think I am.”
Beauty is king, especially amongst the younger generation. Our screens bombard us with images, demanding adoration and provoking envy. “Wow. I wish I could look like that.” Beautiful faces and bodies enchant us and leave us wondering, “how can they be that pretty?” They’re happy to monetize their beauty, exploiting our worship and envy.
When Beauty reigns supreme, we click links and expand articles, feverishly chasing the god of beauty. We subscribe to exercise programs, buy make-up products, and drown in an ocean of nutritional programs. Thousands of dollars go to plastic surgeries. And millions of lives become what they worship—momentary images, deprived of any sense of purpose beyond these moments of obsession. The iron grip of pornography epitomizes this phenomenon, leading to massive mental health problems and absenteeism from life in general (on both sides of the screen).
When Beauty fades or otherwise loses its appeal, Brains come to the foreground. The priests of brains pander their ideas in every sector of society: politics, religion, health & fitness, wealth management, cooking, business, parenting, etc. We become dependent upon their simple hacks for everyday convenience, or we subscribe to sophisticated programs for business success. Acolytes of these priests of practicality, we then seek affirmation of our own intelligence. We talk about what we’ve been able to accomplish and how we did it, and we tell others how they should too. However practical or provocative these ideas may be, brains go the way of beauty. What’s the point?
Bucks. “Show me the money!” Cuba Gooding, Jr’s character from Jerry McGuire. Money is the ticket to freedom. We can have whatever we want. We can do anything we want. We can even pay other people to do what we don’t want to do. Money, however, is a horrible master. We get what we want, at the cost of time and energy spent elsewhere; and we lose the novelty of a possession or privilege, looking at more vacation porn, or searching for the next gotta-have-it. We frantically grasp for something to pull us out of the abyss of nihilism, never being completely satisfied.
Brawn provides one last handhold in this downward slide. The bitterness of broken promises finds a shallow purpose in being tough. When we go to Brawn, we demand respect, and we rebel against anything or anyone attempting to obligate us. People with antisocial personality traits infamously employ Brawn to get the privileges and possessions of the previous three (Beauty, Brains, Bucks); and they inherently presume that others will pay for it. Either figuratively or literally, however, unchecked brawn will eventually get you to prison. No one wants to be around this kind of person; and a sustained, secure relationship is out of the question.
So, again, can I be special by being good enough? No, at least not by the measures promulgated in popular culture. I can never be good enough (or good enough at being bad) in order to obtain a lasting sense of significance. This is where anger, if I’m not careful—and if you’re not careful—can turn to apathy. Eventually, like a house of cards, just the right brush of a fingertip will destroy every one of these distorted bases of value.
Is there anything wrong with the four B’s, per se? No. The problem, in substance, lies in our pursuit of any identity or sense of value apart from our Maker. Consequently, we alternate between two sides of a treacherous ridge line: self-loathing or conceit. Like the self-obsessed queen from Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, we keep returning to that mirror on the wall, never secure in its fleeting affirmation of our worth.
The late Leanne Payne speaks to this dynamic, in her book, The Healing Presence. It’s a deep book, which I especially appreciate for her irreverence toward humanistic psychology. She confronts the over-emphasis upon psychological insight, calling it “the disease of introspection.” Instead of the self-loathing or conceit borne from self-consciousness, Payne reminds us about Whose we are and how He intends us to live in this life. It’s the “incarnational reality,” as she calls it, encapsulated in the verse, “…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27b).
Max Lucado and Sergio Martinez convey these truths in their children’s book, You Are Special. The small, wooden character (Punchinello) asks of the Craftsman,
“Me? Special?…Why do I matter to you?”
Like Punchinello, each of us has a growing list of reasons why we should not be loved or deserving of a place in this world. “I’ve been divorced—twice.” “I can’t seem to shake loose of pornography.” “I declared bankruptcy.” “My son killed himself.” “I’m too this or not enough that,” and so on.
But the Craftsman sees past our sins and supposed shortcomings:
“Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me.”
It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that. As Payne might say, we need to turn away from the despair of self-consciousness and toward the hope of God-consciousness. No enduring sense of identity or purpose can be found within oneself. If God made us (and He did), then the Maker and His Church have the primary authority to determine these matters. What does God say about who we are, what our purpose is, and how our value is measured?
Neil Anderson’s book, Victory Over The Darkness, affords a helpful introduction to such a breadth of Biblical statements. Granted, we can only lend credence to these affirmations if we have the most fundamental belief: faith. As the letter of Hebrews describes it, “by faith we understand that the universe was made by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (11:3). Maybe you’re not so sure about that, or you have some questions and objections about believing in any God who thinks you matter. That’s fine. Keep asking the questions and seeking the answers. It’s part of life’s journey.
From my part, I’ve realized the emptiness of the idols of this world, whether summarized through the four B’s or otherwise. On a recurring basis, I have to admit that I’m powerless and unmanageable on my own; that there’s One Who can restore me to sanity; and that turning my will and my life over to Him is the only sensible choice. (Steps 1 - 3 of the 12-step process.)
This is not a new concept. Jer 2:13 reads, “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (NASB). This is a great metaphor for the insatiability of idolatry, addictions, or anything other than God for our deepest satisfaction, most stable identity, and enduring sense of purpose.
How about you? Or maybe some people you’re closest to? What’s your list of reasons why you think God shouldn’t care about you, or why you think you don’t matter?
Maybe it’s time to give up, but in a good way—give up the habits that never bring satisfaction or security, and seek what can only be found in our Creator and His people.
Anderson, N. Victory Over The Darkness. (2000). Bethany House.
Lucado, M. You Are Special. (1997). Crossway Books.
Payne, L. The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union With Christ. (1995). Baker Publishing.