The following is adapted from my newest book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart
“Human personhood must be respected with a reverence that is religious. When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred. For that is what human beings are: we are created in the image of God.” ~USCCB, Economic Justice for All
The Source of our Dignity
Do you have any idea of what you are worth in the eyes of God? Words can barely describe it.
The modern world has a skewed view of what gives a person dignity. We tend to think that our dignity is tied up in our possessions, our status, our accomplishments or our position in society. But none of these things is powerful enough or stable enough to convey the innate dignity that each of us has in the eyes of God.
A friend of mine is caring for his elderly father. His father can do little for himself. He is weak and sickly and it is difficult for him to get out of bed. But my friend loves his father. He visits him daily in the nursing facility. He brings his father little treats and tokens of his affection. He tells the staff stories of his father’s younger days, the adventures he had as a young man and the kind of father he was. My friend’s love shines out for his father. Thanks to my friend’s dedication, even the staff treats my friend’s father with a little extra respect. They don’t know him. They don’t have any reason to consider him in any different light than any of the other patients in the nursing home. So why do they take a little extra time with him and speak to him more gently? Because he is loved.
A baby can’t do anything for herself. She can’t bathe or feed or dress herself. She can’t help pay the bills or clean the house. Despite all this, strangers see her and say how beautiful and precious she is. Why? Because she is loved.
Our dignity and value as persons is not found in what we have or what we can do. It is anchored in God’s undying, perpetual love for us. As the quote at the top of this article asserts, each person is sacred and worthy of awe because of God’s miraculous love for us. Even if the love of others fails, God’s love never fails (1 Chron 16:34). God loves you so much that not only has he made you in his image, but he was born, lived, suffered, died and rose again so that you might know how much you are worth to him. And if that wasn’t enough, he loves you so much that he wants to transform you into someone who is perfect and immortal and can be intimately united to God–so that you can spend all of eternity being loved by him.
Envy: The Twisting of our Dignity
When we forget that God’s love for us is the root of our sense of worth and dignity, envy takes hold. Envy represents the twisting of our Divine Longing for Dignity. It tells us that our dignity is not rooted in God’s love for us, but rather in having, doing, and being everything that the people around us have, do, and are. Envy chains us to a treadmill that makes me run after everything that everyone else has so that I can feel “as worthwhile as” they are. The problems is, no matter what I acquire or achieve, either someone will always be further up the ladder or I will always run the risk of losing what I’ve accomplished and, by extension, what sense of dignity those accomplishments have afforded me. The more I give into envying someone else’s life, marriage, family, money, position, or anything else, the more I have separated myself from the experience of God’s love, which is the only true foundation on which my dignity can rest.
So when I am tempted to give into envy, how can I recover?
3 Steps to Beating Envy and Reclaiming my Dignity in Christ.
1. Recenter the Battle. When we give into envy we tend to beat up on ourselves. “Look at how pathetic I am? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be grateful for what I have?” None of this works. The only way to beat envy is to identify the threat to my divine longing for dignity. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel my dignity is threatened?” “What is making me feel unworthy of God’s love?”
For instance, “I feel that God doesn’t love me because I am not successful like so-and-so.” Or “I feel that God does not love me because I don’t have the family that so-and-so does.” If we can identify the perceived threat to our dignity, we can identify the idol that is separating us from God’s love.