Years ago a pastor friend of mine told me a story. He claimed the story came out of the history of Russia, a history that pre-dated the Czars when the Russian people lived in nomadic clans. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how historically accurate the story is. Pastors have an ability to tell stories to one another, and like the game “telephone” in the hands of pastors a story that starts off about a man in a telephone booth calling home, can turn into a story about an orangutan on a boat hunting geese. You know what I’m talking about. I did some digging around and I cannot confirm or deny every detail of the story I was told, but I can tell you I love the meaning the story holds.
According to the story, a Chieftain of a nomadic Russian clan was both well respected and loved. He was respected for his commitment to deal with his people justly. He was loved for his commitment to deal with his people kindly and graciously. Apparently the main law established by this Chieftain was very simple – do not steal from your fellow tribesman. If you were caught stealing, you would be bound to a post, stripped bare, and whipped with 40 lashes. One day someone discovered that some of their belongings were missing. To everyone’s horror it was discovered that the Chieftain’s own daughter had stolen the missing property. In that moment, in the spotlight of complete failure, broken law, and public embarrassment for her father, that daughter (and the rest of the clan) would discover what she was really worth to her father.
Think for a moment and consider how you would honestly answer the question; what do you think you’re really worth? In my observation, there are two common ways most of us attempt to define our worth and therefore answer that question. The first, and most common way many of us define our worth is with our performance. We tell ourselves – “my performance defines my worth” because our sickly world system has trained us to think, “The more I do and the better I do it – the more valuable I am.” When we believe our performance defines our worth we work very hard to produce as much as we possibly can as perfectly as we can. The problem is, this approach to defining our personal worth falls short when we inevitably discover that we’ll never be able to do enough, well enough, to prove we’re valuable enough.
The second most common answer to the question “what do you think you’re really worth?” is the answer we give after we’ve discovered that the first answer doesn’t really work. We tell ourselves, “My worth is what I persuade myself to think it is.” Psychology generally describes this as “having a strong sense of self-worth.” It’s the idea that people, who know their performance is not a good measure of their worth, can instead define their own value with lots of happy thoughts, and positive thinking. However, as with performance based worth, this approach also falls apart when our conscience screams at us, “You can’t define what you’re worth all by yourself without significant others in your life somehow confirming it!”
Whether we like it or not, our worth has been, is, and will continue to be defined by what the significant others in our lives tell us about our worth to them. You might say, “Great! That’s not good news for me, because the significant others in my life have not been very kind.” It gets worse. The greatest test of our actual worth to significant others is usually discovered in how they treat us when we’ve blown it, and blown it bad like the daughter of the Russian chieftain. We don’t really know that much about our real value when a significant other shakes our hand in some moment of triumph. We actually discover what we’re really worth in the way the most important people in our lives relate to us in our most despicable moments. So what do you really think you’re worth?