I choose to believe I’m worth more than you can imagine. At least, if you haggle with me, I’ll still be worth the universe.
How much are you today?
There was an incident in college, twenty-seven years ago, that I will never forget. It made me feel valueless. We were waiting for class to begin when I overheard a conversation between two of my classmates.
“So, how much are you [worth] today?” the first girl asked.
Together, they surveyed her branded clothes and jewelries, braces included, and proceeded to add the costs of all items. The total figure was easily ten times my material worth. I was wearing no jewelries and my clothes were bought from the flea market outside the church near home. And I wore no braces. A few of my teeth were not even real.
Ten years later, I read Viktor Frankl’s book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. I still insist that I did not pick the book. It picked me one afternoon as I casually browsed the titles under Psychology (also reads ‘Self-help’). I had some tough questions that needed answers. I could feel I was about to give in to the call of insanity.
Who am I?
Did I know me? What was I made of? I drew two columns with headings ‘Can be taken away’ and ‘Cannot be taken away’. I was doing an inventory of my worth. What made me likeable? More importantly, what made me loveable – my value as I perceived? It was horrifying to note that most of the reasons for being valuable were fleeting – youth, physical appearance, education, job/position, possessions, circle of friends, connections and abilities.
So, I pictured myself disabled from an accident, which I prayed, and still pray, so hard to God will not transpire. Will my education even serve its purpose if my brain were also damaged? There was no question that I could easily lose my house and car, most probably my job and some of what I called friends (party-friends). What I had under ‘Cannot be taken away’ was negligible.
I changed my life’s outlook. I underwent one of those introspective processes (again). I began my quest for my authentic self. I asked what made me unique. Although many people might possess similar characteristics and values, my whole make-up distinguishes me from others – perhaps my kindness and generosity, the kind or quality of love I share, the compassion I feel for humankind, my empathy, my will to live to the fullest and most of all my relationship with my Creator. I gathered they all have to do with my chi, my soul. I focused on nurturing my spiritual needs.
Almost immediately, I started feeling better. I was less self-conscious and more confident. I believed in the power that was my essence. This was my self-worth that no one could take away from me, not without my consent. I learned that security, inner peace and harmony come from knowing that it doesn’t matter what happens to my physical being, how much or how little of material possessions I accumulate, my relationship with my God, my authentic self and humankind is the most essential.
By whose standards?
Tribulations and adversities may come my way but I have the choice to remain steadfast in my belief that I am complete and perfect, exactly as I was created. I would say it boils down to unwavering faith. After all, when we talk about worth, what basis do we use to arrive at this worth? Whose standards are we using? And when we finally come up with the value of something, and more importantly someone, is that not subjective? We all know that we are all unique individuals. Thus, we have a saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
This means that when I seem to veer off and need to be reminded of my value, how others perceive me is not as relevant as how I see myself, knowing that their perspective is different from mine. Furthermore, they may know of the deed but what about the intention? For instance, I may give the church R10 on Sunday and another gives R50. Anyone looking on may say that the other person is more valuable to the parish church on account of his more generous contribution. Take out of the equation the possibility that I may be sharing my meager resource, I may be giving more outside of the church. It doesn’t even matter that the other person may have millions in the bank account. When we have incomplete information, we are in no position to say with absolute certainty that one is more worthy than the other. In fact, should we even view one being more valuable than the other?
“One sad thing about this world is that the acts that take the most out of you are usually the ones that other people will never know about.” – Anne Tyler
Worth in my God’s eyes
Therefore, I stress that my worth is measured in my own heart, as much as yours is in your own heart. And even when I don’t feel good about me, when I see myself as useless, worthless and a waste of oxygen, it does not mean that my worth has dropped to zero. There is never a time when we are totally unworthy. For as long as we are alive, fighting for our spiritual growth, or even when we have become complacent, there is still one power that unfailingly believes in all of us. There is always the One who does not lose hope on us. We have God, and it is heartwarming to know that He will never give up on us. In His eyes, we are all worthy, so worthy that He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us. If God, who is all powerful and almighty, believes in us and our worth unconditionally, how can we disagree? How can we allow ourselves and others to discount us?
A friend’s story
I had a friend back in a small town in Mpumalanga (province). When I met her, she was dating a much older man. I seriously did not see what she saw in him. However, recognizing our individual preferences, I accepted her choice in men. I couldn’t really dissuade her anyway. He was divorced, had a child from a woman he did not marry and had another two children from his ex-wife. He was a recovering alcoholic who, after realizing the harm he had inflicted upon himself with alcohol abuse, made AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) half his life. The other half of his life was his job as a salesman.
Many of my friend’s family members and friends disagreed with her choice, too, but we let her as it was her life for which she was completely responsible. Eventually, she managed to convince him to get married and she later gave birth to a son. I lost touch with her for a while as I was a disappointed (I know now, that’s not right) when after I took her with me to Johannesburg to start over – before she was married – she opted for the easy way out and called him take her back to her old life. This was after three days of being away from him, not alone as she was with a friend.
A couple of years later, she called and confided in me that the marriage was a failure. He still neglected her. Worse, there were times he ignored his own child. She had run away before but she always went back. It was her comfort zone. It was immaterial (to her) that she attempted to end her life several times because she was miserable with him.
The call came one day and I sensed her urgency. She was leaving him and she was taking the child with her. She didn’t wish to inconvenience her family which left her with no one else but me. I got in my car and drove 160km, in a hurry. We hastily loaded the few possessions she packed, leaving him with most of her belongings. At least she understood that they were only material things. There was no time to waste. She made her decision. This was forever. She was not coming to Johannesburg just for a holiday. She was going to start her life over.
When the burden is too much to bear
I gave her some responsibilities as store assistant and made sure that she felt at home in my family’s home. I sent her child to my son’s old nursery school. I paid her, although not substantial. I gave her new clothes and she had nothing to want since everything was provided at home. But as life goes, challenges are ever present. She had a very low self-esteem, which was understandable. I thought that being out and meeting people was doing her good. It was not enough.
A month later, contradictory to what I assumed she knew was best for her, she left. Despite my support and encouragement, starting over was too much for her. She was convinced that she was a burden to me in spite of my protests to the contrary. She told me that she chose to go back, although her husband did not ask her to come home. In fact, he didn’t exert much effort in finding out where she was. This was the last chance, she had said to me, and that if it didn’t work she would just kill both of them. I was pretty rational and calm. I asked who she was referring to with the word ‘both’. She did not answer. I was afraid she meant the child and her. I never did find out.
I was sure I made a resounding argument that her suffering was temporary and that her life was bound to improve. I was mistaken. I had one conversation with her after that, over the phone and a couple of weeks later I got a letter thanking me and my family for the help extended to them.
Then, there was nothing. I called a few times. Nothing! She seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Or perhaps her mobile phone was permanently switched off. I was really saddened.
I let her go. I did not contact her husband to find out about her. It was her life. It is sad, but she made her choice. There is only so much we can do for others; the rest is up to them. Maybe I was too late. If perhaps I had been there in the early stages of the failed marriage, we could have chatted about life’s uncertainties and the ever present possibility that a marriage was not meant to be and that it is self-betrayal to settle.
“You are a woman of great style and enormous substance. Did you know that? You are a woman of beauty, intelligence, vision, warmth, power, influence, strength, wit, generosity, compassion, and soul. And if you don’t see this, you’ve been looking for your worth in all the wrong faces, and I don’t care who you live with.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach, ‘Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self’