Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of what it means to be worthy. I’m reading the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, written by Brené Brown and this topic is one she highlights. In her research, Brown finds that the people who are the most compassionate, the most vulnerable, the most courageous and the most loving are the ones who believe they are worthy of being loved. Many of us – myself included – will say that I will be worthy IF……if I say or do the right thing, If I get good grades, If I get into the right college, if I lose weight, if I am accepted by the right people, if I get the right job, if I get promoted; and on and on. Funny thing is, that type of feeling worthy is a trap. It is a never ending chase of trying to answer the question: “am I good enough”. If that is the type of worthiness we seek, we will never be good enough; we will never be worthy enough. The fact of the matter is – we are all a work in progress. Many of us never lose that weight, are too shy to speak up and seldom say the right thing or we don’t get the job we want or the promotion we desire, or we bomb a test, or we don’t get into the right college. And then what? Does that mean we are not worthy; that we are not valued; that we are not loved or lovable? Chasing to be “good enough” is a goal that we can never achieve because there will always be one more hurdle to overcome. There will always be some place where we don’t measure up.
The problem really is that often; we are trying to be what we think others want us to be. Brown has a helpful piece of advice and it is this: strive to be authentic rather than to be liked. If our goal is to be liked, more often than not we will be disappointed. Striving to be liked puts the power outside of ourselves. Someone else has to “like” us. Striving to be authentic keeps the focus on thoughts or actions that I control. I choose whether or not I act in an authentic way.
I have also been thinking about this idea of worthiness in the context of my relationship with God. I’ve been struggling with the inherent paradox between humility and worthiness. I used to be a Catholic. Before receiving communion during the Catholic Mass, there is a prayer offered which states “Lord I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” That is a prayer of humility. It says I am not worthy of God’s love. But yet, we are also told that just by the very nature of being human, we are loved as a child of God; that we are worthy of God’s love. How can one be both worthy and unworthy at the same time?
I am humbled by the fact that there is nothing I can do or say to make myself worthy of God. And yet, there is nothing I NEED to do or say in order to receive God’s grace and love. I am good enough, just as I am. I don’t have to try and be something I am not. I don’t have to improve who I am. I can be authentically me. I am God’s beloved. We are all God’s beloved. And that is good enough.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.