At the end of the calendar year, many of us tend to get a bit introspective and/or navel-gazy.1 We consider our accomplishments; where we’ve succeeded, and where we’ve fallen short. Perhaps we wanted to read a certain number of books this year, read the Bible in full, or complete a project. Maybe we got up the courage to do something we had never done before.
Whatever the case, there are some areas where we feel pretty great about ourselves. There are also some where we are consumed with how far we fell short. And for most of us, that latter group can become all-consuming.
The doom spiral of utilitarian thinking
Why do we do this? I mean, as an obsessive/maniacal reader2 I enjoy reading as much as I do. But I also feel a little bit of unnecessary anxiety when I’m behind on my goal. Reading my Bible regularly matters, we should read the Bible in its entirety. But how long that takes is entirely arbitrary. And as for our other projects and goals. The risks we took and the ones we resisted… I think you get the idea.
We put so much emphasis on accomplishments, positively and negatively, because we live in a society that values people based on utility. What we do, what we offer, that’s what makes us valuable. It’s what matters. Or so we’re implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—told.
The truth we need to be reminded of
But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking: it’s not true. Not even a little bit. No matter who you are, what your background or beliefs, you need to know this: you are not your accomplishments.
You’re not the number of books you read or didn’t read. Or, if you’re an author, the number of books you sold (or didn’t). You’re not the result on a balance sheet. You are not what you do or have done. Do not define yourself by those things.
You are a human being, worthy of dignity and honor simply by virtue of that. A person made in the image and likeness of God (even if you don’t believe in him), made to reflect something of what he is like into the world—something you do whether you acknowledge him or not. A person who God loves not because of anything you have or have not done, but because he chooses to.
A love ultimately displayed in sending Jesus into the world to walk among us. To live and die and live again so that anyone who believes in him will enjoy life with him as people with a new identity—as God’s beloved children.
Commit to embracing the good news
This is another one of those truths that, as one of my pastors would say, is easy to say, but hard to live. It’s something I know I struggle with. And I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. We’ve been conditioned to believe the lie that we are only as valuable as our accomplishments.
Breaking that conditioning is difficult.
Sometimes it feels impossible.
We will not find any kind of peace, any sort of comfort, in anything conditional. After all, a “yes” with a qualifier is a “no.” So let’s do away with those qualifiers. Let’s strive to reject the doom spiral of utilitarian thinking. Instead, let’s help one another see the basis for our value for what it is, and rejoice in that.
- Yes, this is, in fact, a word.
- Tim Challies uses the term “obsessive” in his annual reading challenge for anyone who aims to read 2 books a week. On Facebook, Darryl Dash suggested “maniac” as a better option. Either way, I feel seen.