Have you ever found yourself running through a list in your mind of all the things you have going for you, summarizing all the qualities and attributes that make up the best of you into a concrete selection of “desirables?” And once you have this list, have you ever mentally stacked yourself against the standards that your family, friends, love interests, employers, etc. have for someone who is “desirable” to see how you’d compare?
I have a feeling that for most people, the answer to those two questions is “yes,” which breaks my heart. I myself have the tendency to do exactly this. When we view ourselves in terms of what other people might find desirable in us, we have reduced ourselves to an object to be consumed. This way of thinking is something that I think many people today–especially young people–fall into, in large part because of the culture of death and use in which we have all grown up.
Our utilitarian culture only values people for what they can do and how they can perform. That’s why preborn children, especially those with disabilities or deformities, are killed in their mother’s wombs, and the old, disabled, and terminally ill are ostracized, sent to nursing homes, or euthanized. That’s also why tens of millions of men, women, and children are currently being trafficked for sex and why pornography and our hookup culture have replaced real relationships built around sacrificial love and truly knowing another person. These forms of dehumanization are some of the most extreme consequences of our culture’s utilitarianism, but the truth is that in our broken sinfulness we all in some way see ourselves in terms of how “marketable” we are.
At the heart of each of us “marketing” ourselves to other people is the inherently human desire to be seen, known, and loved which God has given us. But when we summarize ourselves into a collection of desirable characteristics and try to become someone who we think other people will want to befriend, date, hire, etc., we are trying to earn love. It’s one thing to strive to grow in virtue and to develop our strengths, working daily to root out our vices and overcome our sinfulness–Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23)! But when we believe that we will not be loved and cared for unless we are desirable in the eyes of our culture or another human being, we have lost sight of the fact that our worth is found in God alone. The truth is that we do not need to earn love. God loves us unconditionally. We don’t need to “sell” ourselves to God. Jesus already invested His entire self to purchase us from the bonds of sin and death. God was completely sold on us the moment He first loved us into existence! We as human beings are worthy of being loved simply because we exist and not because of anything we can do or any quality we possess. This is the inherent dignity which God has given us–an intrinsic quality of always and everywhere being deserving of respect no matter what we have done or what we have failed to do. Even when we sin and offend God and hurt others, His love for us does not change. The Father embraces us even when we resist Him.
Essentially, what this all means for each of us is that we were not made to consume and be consumed, but to love and be loved. It is terrifying to be yourself around others and to be vulnerable with people, even people you know and love. It’s so easy to present ourselves as if we are the sum total of our greatest characteristics because we are afraid of being rejected because of our flaws, but Jesus is calling us to rest in His love for us and to not be anxious about how others view our worth. Speaking from experience, this is not easy and requires great trust in His Divine Mercy, but we were made to live grounded in the firm foundation of His love for us. The next time we are tempted to place our worth in our abilities, possessions, status, or attributes, let’s call to mind the fact that Jesus showed us our worth when He sacrificed Himself on the Cross, giving everything so that we might be saved from sin and death. Pope St. John Paul II put it well when he said: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
Here are some practical ways that we can each grow to rest more fully in God’s constant and infinite love for us and help us see ourselves the way God does:
- Pray 30 minutes a day in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Speaking from experience, returning to Jesus in prayer every day changes us to be more like Him and will help us to see ourselves the way the Father sees us, as His beloved children. Even if your prayer is dry and it is hard to pray, when we are in the presence of Jesus He is always conforming us more and more to Himself!
- Pray with Scripture every day. Countless times throughout the Bible, the Lord reminds us of His great love for us and how precious we are to Him. Praying with Sacred Scripture will help us to form our minds and rewire our thought patterns so that we may adopt the wisdom of God and reject the wisdom of the world. What we take in through our minds matters, because our minds are very powerful and habits of thought are very difficult to break. If we are not regularly taking in what God wishes to say to us through the inspired text of Sacred Scripture, we are that much more vulnerable to being deceived by the Evil One and the lies he pushes on us through our culture.
Seek out a spiritual director. Spiritual direction is incredibly effective at helping us root out the lies that Satan has planted in our hearts. A good spiritual director will help us to bring all of our insecurities to the Lord and advise us on how best to combat the ways that we try to earn love and encourage us to have confidence in Jesus’ endless mercy!