Summary: Where do we get our sense of value from - externals or God’s love for us?
My wife, Di, and I were sitting in the family room watching TV with our daughter, Janet, the other night when suddenly, Janet noticed the new watch Di had got for Christmas. She said with a mixture of awe and new-found respect, "Mum, you’ve got a Fossil watch. That’s so cool!" Well, we’d bought it because it looked good and was in the right price range, but Janet knew that it was "in". For those in the know, this watch had a certain value that had nothing to do with its timekeeping ability or its aesthetics. It was the right brand!
That isn’t an isolated incident is it? So much of what people do and especially what they buy today is determined by their ability to impress; or by what our peer group thinks. We know that peer pressure is one of the greatest motivating factors for young people as they grow up, but sadly it doesn’t go away with age, even if it may get weaker. Just think how hard it is for men in our culture to show their emotions in front of other men. Think how much time some people take deciding what to wear, what goes with what, what will look right for this occasion, what people might think if I wear that. Ask yourself, "what is it that makes me act like that?" "Why am I so worried about what other people will think? Sometimes it’s for good reasons. You may dress up a bit when you go for a job interview. You might tidy yourself up a bit before you have dinner with the in-laws. You might dress appropriately for a wedding or a funeral to show respect to the host, or the deceased. But why do some people buy only Nike or Armani or choose to drive around in BMWs or Mercedes when a Commodore or a Hyundai will get you there just as quickly? Isn’t it because there’s a certain prestige involved in having the ’right’ brands. Like a Fossil watch.
It’s something to do with the desire to impress isn’t it? We love to impress people don’t we? We love to think that people have noticed us and think well of us. And the way we do that is by concentrating on externals. But you know, that desire to impress, that desire to be thought well of, is really just an expression of pride. Pride in what we do or what we’ve achieved, or simply how we look. And that’s a problem for us because pride is one of the most deadly of sins. It’s deadly because by its nature it keeps us from God. Gerald Hughes once described pride like this: "Pride is when we want all creation to reverence and honour us rather than God." According to Isaiah, the proud will be judged because they exalt themselves (Is 2:12)
The trouble is, this is such a subtle temptation. There’s such a fine line between being accomplished or efficient or professional, things which are good in themselves, and deriving our personal value from that achievement. One sign that we derive personal value from these things is the way we tend to exaggerate them to make ourselves look better. Do you know what I mean? "Oh I’ve been trying to ring you all week, but you were never there." (Well, I rang you on Monday and again on Friday). "We recycle everything these days". (At least I do if I’m going in the direction of the recycle bin). "If I’d been there I would have given him a piece of my mind." (Actually, I probably would have sat there, seething in silence, smiling sweetly, just like you did). It’s so hard to be honest in our self-assessment let alone in how we present ourselves to each other.
Now before we go any further, let me say that there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about myself or about a job well done. It’s right to be congratulated when you’ve achieved something significant. The trouble comes when we begin to rely on those achievements for our sense of self-worth.
In fact this is a problem not only for the high achievers but, strangely enough, for those whose temptation is to feel bad about themselves, to think how unworthy they are, despite what they’ve achieved or because they feel like they haven’t achieved anything worthwhile at all. What happens then is that they try to heap up trophies to prove how worthwhile they are. This takes a number of guises. It might be surrounding ourselves with things, it might be having the perfect body, it might be in achieving professional success, it might be in gaining more and more academic qualifications. It might be in having the perfect home if you’re a woman. It might be in having the latest car or the best computer if you’re a man. If you’re a parent with bright children, it might be in having high achieving children.